Retrofit Rates And Building Emissions Reductions Are Stagnating In Key G20 Nations, New Study Shows

14 November 2023

  • New research by 3Keel finds reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from buildings are stalling in key EU countries, plateauing in the UK and reversing in the USA
  • The new Global Retrofit Index study reveals that none of the countries assess will meet their net zero climate commitments based on the current trajectory of building emissions reductions
  • Analysis shows that improvements in Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) ratings have stagnated in the UK, France and Ireland, with the vast majority of certificates still rated as ‘D’ or ‘C’. Similarly, Germany’s housing stock remains over-reliant on fossil-fuel heating
  • The study outlines sizeable barriers to retrofitting national building stocks including private investment, workforce skills shortages, and limited awareness among the general public
  • The report identifies five key elements for a successful national retrofitting framework to deliver the solutions and innovations required to tackle retrofitting at scale

Reductions in carbon emissions from buildings are stalling in several G20 countries in Europe (UK, France, and Germany) and emissions are now rising in the USA, warns a major new study from sustainability consultancy 3Keel for Kingspan, the global leader in high-performance insulation and energy-efficient building solutions. The Global Retrofit Index interim report – a follow on from the inaugural 2022 study – examines building emissions trends and retrofitting rates to identify the gaps between current action and what is required to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement*.

Retrofitting refers to the deep renovation of existing buildings with new technologies and high energy efficiency measures in order to reduce their energy consumption and remove fossil-fuel reliant systems in order to make them compatible with a zero carbon built environment.

The publication includes a deep dive analysis of building emissions data of some of the highest performing countries in last year’s inaugural study, with the addition of Ireland’s relatively young building stock this year.

While progress has been made in some EU economies – the Netherlands, France, Ireland, and Germany – the analysis finds that emission reductions in these countries are now stalling. The UK’s emissions are also beginning to plateau and in the USA, GHG emissions from buildings are increasing.

The comparative performance of building emissions reductions across 6 countries between 2010 and 2020

Analysis by 3Keel has revealed the reductions in building emissions over the past decade and the additional cuts required to align with the national net zero scenario of each country [see Table 1 below].

If each of the six countries continues with its current GHG emissions reduction trajectory and retrofitting rates over the past ten years, by 2040 these major global economies will be some distance from achieving their respective net zero pathways.

Table 1

Detailed analysis of Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) data shows that buildings in the UK, France, and Ireland have seen relatively little improvement in the past decade with the vast majority still rated C, D or below. This means they are not energy efficient enough to deliver the decarbonisation required by the Paris Agreement. Meanwhile, Germany’s residential building stock continues to be over-reliant on fossil-fuel heating.

Though retrofitting solutions already exist, the study identifies sizeable barriers preventing rapid and widespread implementation, including insufficient private investment, an inadequately sized and skilled workforce, and limited awareness among citizens and building owners.

Despite retrofitting remaining a significant challenge, its importance in decarbonising the built environment has never been more evident – 80 per cent of the buildings that will be standing in 2050 have already been built.

Recognising the barriers to decarbonisation, the report also identifies five key elements that are central to delivering a successful 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 practice and data transparency

Each of these elements is crucial to enabling effective, affordable, and at scale retrofitting of national building stocks. Retrofitting building stocks also offers significant opportunities and benefits beyond meeting climate targets, including job creation, reductions in social inequality, and improved health and quality of living.

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. However, this study shows a concerning stagnation of progress. Our analysis of six countries with old building stocks reveals that reductions in building emissions are now stalling and retrofitting rates are lagging far behind what is required to meet net-zero goals.

The tools and technologies required to improve energy performance in buildings already exist. Co-ordinated efforts between governments and the private sector are now needed to overcome implementation barriers and rapidly scale retrofitting to drive down building emissions globally.”

Bianca Wong, Global Head of Sustainability at Kingspan said: “This analysis again demonstrates the importance of retrofitting as a lever in decarbonising the built environment if we’re to limit global warming to 1.5˚C and meet the objectives set out by the Paris Agreement.

“With this report, we encourage policymakers and the construction industry to continue to work together to facilitate change, through innovation and regulation, to bring forward workable ideas to support retrofit solutions and reduce global building emissions.”

Download the report here

* The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change. It was adopted by 196 Parties at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris, France, on 12 December 2015. It entered into force on 4 November 2016. Its overarching goal is to hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels” and pursue efforts “to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels”.

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Appendix A

Notes to Editors 

About Kingspan

Kingspan is the global leader in high-performance insulation and energy efficient building solutions. The companies in the Kingspan Group are united by a vision of a better built environment – one that reduces carbon emissions, promotes wellbeing, and is circular by design. As the global leader in high-performance insulation and building envelope solutions, our mission is to accelerate a net zero emissions future-built environment with the well-being of people and planet at its heart. The goals in our Planet Passionate sustainability programme include net zero carbon manufacturing by 2030 and a 50 per cent reduction in CO2 intensity in our primary supply chain partners, also by the end of the decade.

Kingspan Group companies are active in over 80 countries and employ in excess of 22,000 people in more than 200 manufacturing facilities. The Group is headquartered in Ireland.