The latest figures present a stark case for urgent action. In October 2018, a landmark report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated that the world needs to remain below a 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature rise in order to avoid catastrophic consequences. To achieve this, we must collectively reduce CO2 emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and achieve net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050.
However, according to a new UN report titled United in Science, current Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – the commitments made by countries as part of the Paris Agreement - to reduce emissions around the globe by six GtCO2e by 2030 would need to be increased fivefold to hit these targets.
For the construction industry, which represents about 39 percent of global CO2 emissions, presents its own challenges – as well as opportunities to act.
Last month at Climate Week NYC, Kingspan, together with other construction industry companies, pledged commitments and joined new initiatives to tackle climate change. Kingspan will now look to the academic community during Global Climate Change Week to see what further action must be taken.
The urgent need to legislate to realise energy and carbon saving opportunities
The extent of the emissions gap means that the world must act, and fast. Taking operational emissions first, global research, as outlined below, demonstrates that an ‘envelope-first’ approach to new and existing buildings can reduce CO2 emissions significantly.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) report ‘Transition to Sustainable Buildings’, space heating and cooling together with water heating are estimated to account for nearly 60 percent of global energy consumption in buildings.
As buildings account for 36 percent of all final global energy demand, any positive changes in these areas would make a significant impact. This also represents a large opportunity to reduce CO2 emissions, particularly due to the fact that space and water heating provision in some countries is dominated by fossil fuels. Meanwhile, cooling demand is growing rapidly in countries with highly carbon-intensive electricity systems such as ASEAN, China and the United States.
The report continues to say: “A high-performance envelope in a cold climate requires just 20 percent to 30 percent of the energy required to heat the current average building in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). In hot climates, the energy savings potential from reduced energy needs for cooling are estimated between 10 percent and 40 percent.”
According to the 2017 IEA report Energy Technology Perspectives: “high-performance buildings construction and deep energy renovations of existing building envelopes globally represent a savings potential more than all the final energy consumed by the G20 countries in 2015, or around 330EJ in cumulative energy savings to 2060.”
However, according to the 2017 GABC report ‘Towards a zero-emission, efficient and resilient buildings and construction sector’, under the current trajectory: “Final energy demand in the global buildings sector is predicted to increase by 30 percent by 2060.
“As a result, buildings-related CO2 emissions would increase by another 10 percent by 2060, adding as much as 415 gross tonnage of CO2 to the atmosphere over the next 40 years – half of the remaining 2 degrees Celsius carbon budget and twice what buildings emitted between 1990 and 2016.”
Furthermore, the 2018 edition of this report stated that: “Over the next 20 years, more than half of all new buildings expected to exist in 2060 will be constructed. More alarmingly, two-thirds of those additions are expected to occur in countries that do not currently have mandatory building energy codes in place.”
This is all within the context that reducing energy demand is viewed by the IPCC as a low-risk pathway to a 1.5 degree scenario. Its 2018 report stated: “In energy systems, modeled global pathways limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius with no or limited overshoot generally meet energy service demand with lower energy use, including through enhanced energy efficiency, and show faster electrification of energy end use compared to 2 degrees Celsius”.
Voluntary codes support the high-performance envelope approach, but at Kingspan we believe legislation must be introduced, and swiftly, in order for such change to happen at scale.
The need for a broadened focus on Whole Life Carbon in buildings
This year at Climate Week, the World Green Building Council (WGBC) released its new report, ‘Bringing Embodied Carbon Upfront’.
The report states that: “Carbon emissions released before the built asset is used, what is referred to as ‘upfront carbon’, will be responsible for half of the entire carbon footprint of new construction between now and 2050, threatening to consume a large part of our remaining carbon budget.”
It goes on to demand “radical cross-sector coordination to revolutionise the buildings and construction sector towards a net zero future and tackle embodied carbon emissions.”
The WGBC’s report, which called for net-zero embodied carbon in all new construction and renovations by 2050, is a milestone in this regard. In pursuit of this target, the WGBC also called on the industry to ensure that by 2030, all new buildings, infrastructure and renovations will have at least 40 percent less embodied carbon.
Embodied carbon includes emissions caused by extraction, manufacture, transportation, assembly, maintenance, replacement, deconstruction, disposal and end of life aspects of the materials and systems that make up a building.
For this reason, the construction industry is increasingly recognising that sustainability in buildings has come to mean a “whole life” approach, including both embodied and operational carbon. Adapting circular thinking on material use and selection will also be an important factor in helping to curb the growth of embodied carbon emissions from new construction.
Kingspan believes that it is essential to deploy holistic, comprehensive and science-based approaches to whole life carbon assessments to ensure that lower carbon emissions in one phase of a building’s lifetime are not outweighed by high emissions in another.
Kingspan is actively working to reduce the embodied carbon of our products through the use of renewable energy and working with our supply chain to achieve our verified science- based scope three GHG emissions targets.
Kingspan's new industry commitments and partnerships
At Kingspan the impact building materials have on the carbon footprint of a building and on the wider issue of climate change is recognised.
That’s why the company has made three new commitments, joining with like-minded partners, to accelerate the transition to a net zero carbon future.
- As part of the 10th annual World Green Building Week, the World Green Building Council has issued a bold new vision for how buildings and infrastructure around the world can reach 40 percent less embodied carbon emissions by 2030, and achieve 100 percent net zero emissions buildings by 2050. World Green Building Week saw Kingspan endorse the Bringing Carbon Upfront Report and join the World GBC’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment, thereby committing to only owning and occupying assets that are net zero carbon in operation by 2030.
- Kingspan has been invited to join the EP100 initiative led by the Climate Group, a global initiative bringing together a growing group of energy-smart companies committed to doing more with less to improve their energy productivity.
- Kingspan has partnered with 30 other building industry leaders through The Carbon Leadership Forum, measuring and reducing the carbon footprint of building materials. The result is the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (“EC3”), an open source tool for architects, engineers, owners, construction companies, building material suppliers and policy makers to compare and reduce embodied carbon emissions from construction materials.
Kingspan believes that collaboration is critical to address the enormous challenges ahead. That’s why partnerships are a key pillar of the soon-to-be-launched Planet Passionate programme, which will see the company achieve Net Energy and Carbon positive manufacturing by 2030 and drive innovation to enhance the environmental footprint of our products and systems.