The government has just published provisional figures showing that the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions fell by 3% in 2018.
This is welcome news, but the fact remains that we need to reduce carbon emissions by at least 3% every year if we’re to hit our target of an 80% reduction on 1990 levels by 2050. With the support of other public bodies, the government is identifying different means of meeting these targets, and setting policy accordingly – for example through the ECO3 scheme.
In the rush to meet these new demands, attention can sometimes gravitate towards the most visible and exciting new technologies for greenhouse gas mitigation. These new technologies and techniques, such as improved renewable energy generation and carbon capture and storage, will play an important role in achieving worldwide emissions targets. But while pushing to encourage and embrace these methods, we mustn’t forget the most powerful force for change in our arsenal – cost efficiency.
Emissions-reducing measures that deliver a rapid and tangible return on investment will always be the best solution. Private investment at scale is much more likely when there is a solid business case to act – whether for an individual household or a large multinational corporation. And where government subsidy and incentives are required, cost-efficient measures deliver the most impact for the taxpayer’s pound.
When you consider greenhouse gas emissions reductions in these terms, there is one clear winner: improved building insulation. A report by McKinsey on the cost efficiency of different greenhouse gas abatement measures put building insulation at number one. In fact, the case for building insulation is so strong that its installation delivers a net financial benefit, thanks to the associated cost savings from reduced energy demand in buildings.
This return on investment for insulation is felt by all. Occupiers gain more comfortable, healthier buildings, with reduced heating and cooling costs. Landlords experience fewer rent defaults as tenants find energy bills more manageable. Developers gain buildings that are easier to market, and we all benefit from the environmental impact of reduced carbon emissions.
42% of the UK’s carbon emissions are attributed to the built environment, so buildings are an obvious place to focus efforts. New buildings are already subject to strict energy performance requirements, but there’s still an enormous opportunity to decarbonise our existing building stock. Especially since it’s estimated that 80 percent of the UK’s buildings in 2050 already exist today.
Without addressing this existing building stock, it will be virtually impossible to achieve the UK’s climate goals. Retrofitting high-performance insulation should still be our plan A.
By Steve Smith, Head of Product Management and Business Intelligence, Knauf Insulation