Ireland Must Ditch Concrete, Scale-Up Timber: Climate Report

The Climate Change Advisory Council is calling on the Irish government to establish an "overarching national strategy for all aspects of the timber industry."

Wed 29 May 24


Ireland must ditch steel-and-concrete construction and prioritise timber-based construction, with the Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC) – now calling on the Irish government to establish a high-level cross-departmental task force to prepare an “overarching national strategy for all aspects of the timber industry.”

That is according to a new report, Annual Review 2024 – Industry and Waste Review, which is also pushing for “updates to the building regulations that support increased use of timber in construction.”

The report examines how the industry and waste sectors meet their climate responsibilities and what they must do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – including cement production, which the CCAC said “is one of the primary sources of emissions in Ireland.”

Accordingly, “it is critical that the government reduces cement use by supporting sustainable construction methods,” which includes “rapidly increasing the use of timber in all buildings in Ireland and implementing modern methods of construction.”

As it stands, just 24% of new Irish buildings in 2020 were made from timber frames—compared to 83% in Scotland—and Ireland has some of the world’s most restrictive building requirements for mid-rise and high-rise construction.

AdobeStock 4263875 fotor 2024052913419
Just 24% of Irish housing is made from timber-frame, with the vast majority of Irish building and construction projects instead using steel-and-concrete building systems. (Photo Credit: FILE #:4263875 via Adobe Stock Images)

The CCAC is pushing for a rapid escalation in timber frame building and to introduce whole-life carbon assessments and targets for public buildings, which is crucial in meeting climate commitments.

Eliminating concrete from building supply chains is critical.

Coinciding with the launch of the new report, Marie Donnelly, the chair of the CCAC, said: “Updates to the building regulations that support increased use of timber in construction should be consolidated with the establishment of a high-level cross-departmental task force.”

Ms Donnelly said “targets must be set, and measures must be introduced to support the reduction of emissions in cement production.” Before adding that, introducing financial incentives to encourage retrofitting over demolition and rebuilding would also help reduce cement demand.

Cement is the most widely used material on Earth, and the CCAC reports that the vast majority of Ireland’s industrial emissions come from four cement plants: Drogheda, Limerick, Ballyconnell, and Kinnegad.

Cement production is one of the world’s most carbon-intensive processes. With Ireland’s four large cement producers, contributing to the vast majority of Irish greenhouse gas emissions. Footage courtesy of @Factora.

Half of the cement produced by the plants is exported, with the vast majority of exports bound for the United Kingdom, which late last year introduced its own roadmap to net-zero construction.

Instead, the CCAC is pushing for the government to embrace mass timber as part of its Modern Methods of Construction Leadership and Integration Group, adding that the “MMC encourages products such as cross-laminated timber and timber frame that can replace concrete and steel in many applications, such as floors, roofs, walls and stairs, due to their strength and versatility.”

Urgent need: Link timber frame expansion to commercial forestry

The report argues that increasing the use of timber in construction projects can partially mitigate the challenge of meeting housing demand while accelerating the decarbonisation of the construction sector.

However, “there is an urgent need for more detail in terms of how the expansion of timber frame construction will be realised, as well as its linkage to commercial forestry in Ireland,” it said. Last year, Wood Central reported that Ireland is now amongst the lowest in the EU for tree planting.

The Irish government has introduced a €1.3 billion programme to boost deforestation and tree cover. Footage courtesy of @rtenews.

Efficiency in design and construction is another crucial approach for reducing the emissions associated with construction – with the report pushing for all public buildings to meet the requirements of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland’s 2030 climate challenge.

“This would require between 33% and 66% less energy demand, 40% less embodied carbon, and 24% less water usage along with improvements to site biodiversity and achieving core health and wellbeing targets.”

Decarbonisation roadmap for industrial heat needed

In addition to focusing on the construction and cement sectors, the CCAC also called on the government to urgently publish the decarbonisation roadmap for industrial heat. It said this would provide policy direction to guide industry investment decisions and support switching away from carbon-intensive fossil fuel energy sources.

The CCAC also noted that methane produced by decomposition in landfill sites is the most significant contributor to waste emissions, which increased by 7% in 2022. In 2022, Ireland’s circularity rate, which measures the proportion of waste material recovered and returned to the economy, declined to 1.8% from 1.9% in 2021 and is significantly below the EU average of 11.5%.

Call for support for businesses in planning for climate change.

Commenting on the report, a CCAC member, Julie Sinnamon, told Irish-based publication RTE: “Our review recommends creating a just transition plan for jobs supporting those most impacted by the transition to low carbon economy.”

“This must include a coordinated Government assessment of the skills required to deliver our national climate objective,” including “relevant State education agencies and employers would then be able to make training investments in support of a transition pathway for the industrial sector that does not disadvantage sections of the workforce and the wider community.”

Ms Sinnamon said, “Business has an important role to play in increasing our resilience to climate change, and the challenges presented to businesses by our changing climate cannot be underestimated.”

“Further targeted initiatives are required to capitalise on opportunities for adaptation to climate change, including funding support for businesses to develop products and services that promote innovations in adaptation.”


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