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Ireland should aim to halve carbon output from new buildings to support a sustainable environment

15th February 2023 - Fine Gael Press Office

Ireland should set a target to halve carbon output from new buildings and aim to perform better at recycling and the reuse of materials in the construction sector, according to the Fine Gael Policy Lab.

New Construction is Ireland’s largest user of materials, and particularly those with high environmental impact such as cement, metals, and glass. New buildings embody 7m tonnes of carbon emissions. However, the sector has the worst record in recycling and reuse of materials.

By setting a target to halve such emissions, we could make positive gains in protecting our environment. Some of the changes needed include:

  • A Wood First strategy for building
  • Salvage Construction and Demolition Waste
  • Consider Refurbishing before demolition
  • Design buildings for flexible use and high utilisation of space
  • Create a market for the reuse of salvaged materials.

The Fine Gael Policy Lab found there is enormous potential for the application of circular principles in construction, but this will require developing a framework of policies to support transformation in better protecting our environment.

Public authorities hold many of the aces needed to drive the change, but they have not focused on the challenge. There is an opportunity now to sit down with all of the stakeholders and forge a Construction Sector Green Deal as has been done in the Netherlands, with the inclusion of immediate actions to promote the wide adoption of better practices, better material choices and better recovery.

In Ireland the construction sector annually uses at least 2 ½ tonnes (2,5000kg) of material for every person in the country. Emissions embodied in new buildings account for one tenth of all greenhouse gas emissions, but we neglect better choice of materials like timber, and the lower impact opportunities of refurbishment rather than demolition.

The ambition for the sector suggested is to halve the embodied carbon which goes into the typical newly built unit and to achieve a 25% reuse of recovered materials

The report highlights the need to change our thinking on the way: public bodies and regulators interact with construction sector, careful segregation of materials on building sites, our buildings are designed, better utilisation of the buildings that we have:

Deputy Richard Bruton, Chairman of Fine Gael’s Parliamentary Party said: The policy lab process has shown there is real capacity and appetite for change. Construction stands out as the sector using more materials than any other and generating more waste for disposal. It embodies carbon in what it builds but also shapes our lifestyles which can have a huge impact on the lifetime emissions associated with the building.

It has a particularly complex supply chain from the original person who commissions the building through finance, design, regulation, procurement, and construction, which all need to be aligned to deliver better outcomes.

“Progress has already been achieved through the requirement that new and substantially refurbished buildings have “near zero energy use”, in addition to the national retrofit scheme and new measures to address vacancy dereliction and town renewal. All these measures offer an opportunity to apply the learnings from a circular approach.

Deputy Emer Higgins, member of the Oireachtas Housing Committee said, “Whether we’re bringing old houses back into use or developing new estates, climate action and the ethos of a circular economy need to at the forefront of decision-making both by industry and by Government.

“The recommendations around planning process, use of timber and the market for recovered material are innovative but practical mechanisms for achieving this and have the potential to generate new jobs, income and industry which means an added economic bonus. It’s important to bring all key stakeholders together and that’s why we’re recommending the establishment of a Construction Sector Green Deal which proved effective in the Netherlands when it comes to changing culture and practices.

“In the long term we need to develop a rating system to showcase buildings that have been delivered within the parameters of the circular economy, that’s why it’s so important that now we share best practices so that companies lean from one another into the future.

Fine Gael Councillor Kevin Duffy, who is based in Kildare, welcomed the release of the policy paper which highlights the importance of this issue for the construction industry.

“The challenges we face and opportunities that can be unlocked. It’s an insightful discussion document that will facilitate further industry and stakeholder consultation on the way forward.”

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