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Construction’s Stagnant Emissions Reduction Jeopardises Critical Net Zero Targets

A new study by sustainability consultancy 3Keel, commissioned by Kingspan, the global leader in high-performance insulation and energy-efficient building solutions, has brought to light a concerning trend: greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions from buildings are stalling across key European Union countries, showing a worrying plateau in the UK and a reversal in the USA.

The Challenge of Stagnation

The Global Retrofit Index interim report reveals that, against the commitments of the Paris Agreement, the current trajectory of building emissions reductions falls short. This is particularly alarming given the vital role retrofitting plays in the decarbonisation of the built environment—a process that upgrades existing buildings with new technologies and energy efficiency measures.

Dissecting the Data

The report’s deep dive into building emissions data from 2010 to 2020 exposes a stark reality: if current GHG emissions reduction trends and retrofitting rates continue unchanged, by 2040, these leading economies are set to miss their respective net zero pathways significantly. The UK’s emissions are not only plateauing, but in the USA, they are on an upward trajectory.

Detailed analysis of Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) data has shown minimal improvement across buildings in the UK, France, and Ireland over the past decade. A large majority remain rated as ‘D’ or ‘C’, far from the efficiency needed to meet the Paris Agreement’s decarbonisation targets. Similarly, Germany’s reliance on fossil-fuel heating is a significant hurdle yet to be overcome.

Barriers to Progress

The report outlines major obstacles in retrofitting national building stocks, including inadequate private investment, skill shortages in the workforce, and a general lack of awareness among the public and property owners.

A Framework for Success

To combat these challenges, the report recommends five key elements for a successful national retrofitting framework:

  1. Setting net zero building performance standards.
  2. Developing a national retrofit plan.
  3. Providing financial incentives and support.
  4. Upskilling the workforce and scaling the supply chain.
  5. Promoting best practices and data transparency.

These elements are essential for enabling large-scale, effective retrofitting of national building stocks.

The Wider Impact

Beyond meeting climate goals, retrofitting offers numerous additional benefits, including job creation, reducing social inequality, and enhancing the health and quality of life. It’s worth noting that 80% of the buildings that will stand in 2050 have already been constructed, making retrofitting not just beneficial but imperative.

Industry Call to Action

Report author Olwen Smith, Principal Consultant at 3Keel said: “With over a quarter of total global emissions stemming from the operation of our buildings, retrofitting is a pivotal lever for decarbonising the global economy.”

Kingspan’s Global Head of Sustainability, Bianca Wong, echoed this sentiment, urging policymakers and the construction industry to collaborate, innovate, and regulate to drive retrofit solutions and reduce global building emissions.

As global temperatures continue to rise, the construction industry faces a pressing mandate to escalate its retrofitting efforts. The Global Retrofit Index report serves as a stark reminder that without aggressive action and comprehensive strategies, the goal of a net-zero emissions future remains a challenging endeavour.

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