Retrofit rates are stagnating in key countries, says report

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

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, according to a study from sustainability consultancy 3Keel for Kingspan.

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.

The publication includes a deep dive analysis of building emissions data of some of the highest performing countries in last year’s inaugural study, and 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.

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.

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

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