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Retrofit insulation or miss zero-carbon target, says study

27 Oct 22 The world’s leading economies will miss their 2050 zero carbon deadline unless they ramp up rates of building refurbishment, says a new study.

The report was sponsored by insulation manufacturer Kingspan
The report was sponsored by insulation manufacturer Kingspan

According to 3Keel, a firm of sustainability advisors based in Oxford, UK, fewer than 1% of existing buildings in major economies are being given energy efficiency retrofit upgrades each year. This is way below the target of 2.5% by 2030 set by the Paris-based International Energy Agency.

3Keel was commissioned to produce the Global Retrofit Index report by Kingspan, a manufacturer of building insulation products headquartered in Ireland. Thermal insulation is one of the primary retrofit measures used to improve the energy efficiency of buildings.

Under the terms of the COP21 Paris Climate Agreement, the G20 group of developed nations is committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

“Energy use in buildings is responsible for more than a quarter of global [greenhouse gas] emissions. To achieve net zero by 2050, we will need to upgrade (retrofit) hundreds of millions of buildings to be more energy efficient and operate without fossil fuels,” says the report.

“We already have the ability to do this, thanks to established technologies such as insulation, heat pumps and solar panels.”

While the report argues that the rate of energy efficiency retrofit upgrades needs to speed up, it does not claim that doing so will ensure the 2050 net-zero targets are met.

According to the report, while many G20 countries have achieved some reduction in building-related emissions, they are all failing to do so at the speed and scale required to achieve their 2050 net zero goals.

“No G20 country in this study scored well across all the criteria and even the best performing European countries have a long way to go to meet the IEA’s target retrofit rate of at least 2.5% per year by 2030,” said Kingspan Group’s head of sustainability, Bianca Wong.

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The Global Retrofit Index assessed how well G20 countries (and two non-G20 countries) are meeting the retrofit challenge. The index scored each country against 11 criteria relating to emissions performance, government action being taken and the performance of existing building stock.

A score above 80 (out of 100) on the index would represent a ‘good’ performance but even the top-ranked country, Germany, scored only 62 and most countries scored less than 50. This indicates a need for far greater action to reduce emissions from buildings, said 3Keel.

According to the International Energy Agency, 20% of existing buildings should have an energy retrofit by 2030 if they are to meet global climate goals but the Global Retrofit Index says that in most countries retrofit policy and strategy is piecemeal and inadequate.

The report says that retrofit rates could get a major boost if minimum standards of energy performance were required when buildings are rented, sold or renovated.

The top five countries on the index are Germany (61.5), Netherlands (56.3), France (55.5) UK (52.8) and Croatia (52.0).

The worst-performing countries are Japan (28.8), United States (28.8), Turkey (26.0), Saudi Arabia (23.0) and China (21.5).

Michael Lord of 3Keel, who co-authored the report, said: “Our findings clearly show that we urgently need to significantly increase the retrofit rate globally and ambitious government action will be vital to support the building and construction sector.

“To achieve the level of reduction needed, the energy performance of existing building stock will need to be significantly improved and deep energy retrofits needed to achieve the deep cut in emissions we must make. In countries with older building stocks, the need for retrofits will be even greater”.

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