We are at a critical moment on climate action.
Indeed, we are now on the brink of missing the opportunity to limit global warming to 1.5°C by the end of this century. Collectively, we must now deliver a 7.6% emissions reduction every year between 2020 and 2030. To put this in context, this is roughly equivalent to the drop in emissions prompted by global economic shutdowns to counteract the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
Across the world, we have not yet committed sufficiently to achieve this goal. We must close this ‘commitment gap’ to protect our future. And, as we grapple with the Covid‐19 pandemic and look to put the world on a stronger footing, climate action must be a central pillar of economic recovery plans.
For those of us in construction, we know our industry is one of the biggest contributors to carbon emissions globally. The construction and operation of buildings accounts for 36% of global energy use and 39% of energy-related CO₂ emissions. Statistics suggest this is likely to increase, and with global floor area expected to double by 2060 and energy use on the rise, this trend is set to accelerate.
There are however big questions about how best to tackle the reduction of carbon in buildings, and even whether or not buildings are the right sector to place significant emphasis. To this end, we have worked with AECOM to understand the role that buildings play in the decarbonisation of the wider economy, and what strategies are needed for the global built environment to hit the targets set out in the IPCC 1.50 scenario.
For this soon-to-be-published research, AECOM built a bespoke model of global building stock, both existing and projected, using three building archetypes. Across five modelled scenarios, only one met the IPCC targets: an envelope first design approach together with high-efficiency services and crucially, mixed low carbon heat sources including solar thermal. There were two underpinning factors that were critical to the targets being met with this scenario: very high energy-efficiency in buildings together with a significant acceleration of the retrofit rate to 4%. The research also explained that given the increasing competition between sectors such as transport and industry for decarbonised electricity, energy-efficiency in buildings is critical to free overall capacity in the grid.
Very importantly, all of this is possible with existing technologies and skills, and will provide significant employment opportunities during a time of global crisis.
This will not be easy but Governments have shown through the pandemic that they are prepared to take strong action in times of need. Climate change is a global crisis happening in slow motion, but nonetheless requires this same level of urgency.
Businesses in the construction industry must also demonstrate leadership and take meaningful action. To this end it is very heartening to see the groundswell behind the WGBC’s Advancing Net Zero Initiative and we are proud to sponsor this very important global project.
At Kingspan we are fully committed to playing our part. As part of our Planet Passionate 10-year sustainability programme, we have joined the World Green Building Council’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings commitment. We are also committing to significant further carbon reductions in our operations and our products by 2030, following a trajectory that we have been on for 10 years. We have set 12 hard targets to achieve by 2030 including net zero carbon manufacturing and a 50% material carbon intensity reduction from our primary supply partners. It is an exciting time to be an Ambassador for this movement, and I am greatly encouraged to see so many world leading stakeholders from across sectors playing their part this week.
Today, all efforts must be focused on mobilising the resources needed to tackle these multiple challenges. These resources must be deployed wisely to benefit people and accelerate the transition to a sustainable and resilient economy. Buildings can play a central role in combating the effects of climate change, in a way that provides economic opportunities during a time of global crisis, whilst also improving the quality of life of millions for decades to come.
Gene M. Murtagh – CEO, Kingspan Group Plc
Gene M. Murtagh is a World Green Building Week #ActOnClimate campaign Ambassador.
 Emissions Gap Report, UN, 2019
 Global Energy Review, IEA, 2020