Timber use in building can help hit housing and climate goals, forum hears

State urged to target big industry emitters if it wants to meet 2030 climate change targets

Increasing forestry and the use of timber in construction would help address both the housing crisis and Ireland's efforts to meet its climate targets, according to a conference.

It comes as building analytics experts say it would be significantly more efficient for the Government to target industry to meet 2030 carbon-reduction targets rather than focusing purely on residential retrofitting.

Changing Irish building practices to rely more on timber frame construction would be faster and cheaper than traditional housing, according to Forestry Industry Ireland director Mark McAuley, which hosted the online conference.

Along with architect Robert Bourke, he also argued for extending the use of timber in commercial buildings, saying it had the potential to save the State a further million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually.


“With timber, you have a building material that stores carbon rather than emits it. Carbon is locked away in the fabric of the building. It’s a virtuous circle,” said Mr McAuley. But he said issues with forestry licensing and harvesting needed to be addressed urgently.

Investment in forestry

Economist John FitzGerald, speaking at the same event, said a successful forestry policy, delivering a significant increase in new planting over the coming 30 years, could capture 100 million tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2050.

"At the price the Government recommends for carbon dioxide, this would be worth over €25 billion to Ireland, before you count the value of the timber produced," said Dr FitzGerald, who is a member of the Climate Change Council and a contributor to The Irish Times.

“Investment in forestry is one of the ways that we can both make the people of Ireland better off and produce a large reduction in Ireland’s net emissions of greenhouse gases.”

The conference also heard calls for greater emphasis on embodied carbon in the building process in how buildings are rated. Embodied carbon refers to the emissions involved in sourcing raw materials for construction, the processing, transport and use of them in building, and then disposing of them at the end of their useful life.

It is distinct from “operational carbon”, which is the emissions once a building is in use and is currently measured in energy efficiency.

Industry-wide initiative

Building analytics software group CIM has said separately that Ireland needs an industry-wide initiative to run in parallel with the national residential retrofitting scheme if it is to have any chance of reaching its 2030 emissions targets.

CIM general manager Paul Walsh says the State will not be able to deliver on its 7 per cent year-on-year reduction in carbon dioxide without a credible solution for industry.

And he said results would be much more dramatic if the focus is put on a small group of huge emitters rather than a huge group of small emitters, such as the residential sector.

The Government has announced a major residential deep retrofit scheme. But concern has been expressed about the number of companies available to do the work, its affordability for homeowners and the time it would take to complete.

"The Irish Government is missing a huge opportunity to deliver significant CO2 reduction across industry by not introducing binding legislation that forces a small cohort of large emitters to act," Mr Walsh said.

“There is 75 times’ greater cost efficiency [per kilogram of carbon dioxide savings] to be gained by deploying data analytics software on industry compared to the National Retrofitting Residential Scheme.”

Dominic Coyle

Dominic Coyle

Dominic Coyle is Deputy Business Editor of The Irish Times