Decarbonisation efforts stalling in Europe and US, new study finds

Glass high-rise buildings Image: Adobe Stock

A new study has found that efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from buildings by improving their energy performance are falling short in Europe.

The Global Retrofit Index, published by sustainability consutancy 3Keel and insulation specialist Kingspan, studied six countries with old building stocks and revealed that key EU member states will not meet their net zero commitments, due to factors including investment shortfalls, skills shortages and a general lack of public awareness.

According to the study, improvements in Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) ratings have generally stagnated in the UK, France and Ireland, with the vast majority of certificates still rated as ‘D’ or ‘C’. These results show that respective buildings are not efficient enough to meet Paris agreement goals for decarbonisation.

The picture is similar in Germany, where housing stock is said to be “over-reliant” on fossil-fuel heating.

Worldwide shortfall

Of the countries analysed, the US had the worst record for buildings emissions between 2010 and 2020, showing an increase of 3%.

From this point, a reduction of 73% will be required for the US to align with its 2040 net zero scenario.

In Ireland, however – where a 25% reduction in buildings emissions was seen between 2010 and 2020 – a 99% reduction will be required, if its net zero scenario is to be met.

Image: Kingspan

The biggest improvements have been made in the Netherlands, which has reduced buildings emissions by 36% over the analysis period.

Even here, though, a further 64% reduction will be required by 2040, to bring the building stock back in line with the country’s net zero target.

Barriers to decarbonisation

Given that the vast majority (80%) of the buildings that will be in existence in 2050 have already been built, the report highlights the importance of retrofitting for the improved energy performance of many of these buildings.

It also outlines the barriers to delivering a successful retrofitting framework, including:

  • Setting net zero building performance standards
  • Developing a national retrofit plan
  • Providing financial incentives and support
  • Upskilling the workforce and scaling the supply chain
  • Promoting best practice and data transparency

As well as decarbonisation of the building stock, a successful framework for retrofitting could lead to further societal benefits, such as job creation, improved health and a better quality of life.

Image: Kingspan

Report author Olwen Smith of 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…reveals that reductions in building emissions are now stalling and retrofitting rates are lagging far behind what is required to meet net-zero goals.”

According to Smith, “Coordinated 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.”

Click here to register for a free webinar, based on the findings of the retrofit report. The event will take place on Thursday, November 23, at 3pm (UK time) 

The full Global Retrofit Index report can be downloaded here.


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Andy Brown Editor, Editorial, UK - Wadhurst Tel: +44 (0) 1892 786224 E-mail: [email protected]
Neil Gerrard Senior Editor, Editorial, UK - Wadhurst Tel: +44 (0) 7355 092 771 E-mail: [email protected]
Catrin Jones Deputy Editor, Editorial, UK – Wadhurst Tel: +44 (0) 791 2298 133 E-mail: [email protected]
Eleanor Shefford Brand Manager Tel: +44 (0) 1892 786 236 E-mail: [email protected]