THE CLIMATE ACTION PLAN IS AN AMBITIOUS EFFORT TO TACKLE CLIMATE BREAKDOWN. BUT HAS THE GOVERNMENT BITTEN OFF MORE THAN IT CAN CHEW?
As this issue of Irish Construction Industry Magazine was going to press, news broke that Iceland was about to mark the passing of Okjokull, its first glacier lost to climate change. The glacier, which a century ago covered 15 sq km of mountainside in western Iceland and measured 50m thick, had shrunk to barely 1 sq km of ice and less than 15m deep. A memorial plaque, set to be unveiled in the next few weeks, will include these words: “In the next 200 years, all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path. This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it.”
The news of Okjokull’s passing has reminded us that climate change poses a serious, very real threat to the lives of ordinary people across the world but we don’t need to look as far as Iceland to see the effects of climate change; in Ireland, increased temperatures have had knock-on effects on Ireland’s natural environment and increased the number of animals suited to warmer temperatures. An increase in the frequency and impact of storms has also been recorded in the last few decades and as an island nation, we’re particularly vulnerable to increasing sea levels with coastal regions facing issues of flooding. The government’s recently released climate action plan has, according to Minister for Communications and Climate Action Richard Bruton, set the ‘road map’ for government policy on climate change between now and 2030 and also to 2050. It includes 183 action plans and a timeline for delivery, some of which will take years to fully implement while others are set to be actioned later this year. All of these plans are intended to ensure that the State reduces its emissions by 30% between 2021 and 2030, therefore meeting its obligations under the EU greenhouse gas emissions target.
Several sectors are targeted in the plan including agriculture, transport, waste, energy and building. When it comes to the latter, several proposals to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels have been put forward. One of the most interesting is the ban on oil-fired boilers from 2022 and gas boilers from 2025, with a focus on heat pumps going forward. The plan projects that 600,000 heat pumps will be installed in Irish homes over the next decade. Plans will also be developed for ways of having oil and gas boilers replaced in existing homes, but no new regulations will be introduced before 2026. Home heating produces about 10% of Ireland’s carbon emissions so tackling this big ticket issue was a no brainer. However, the move to phase out gas and oil boilers will have a massive impact on installers and a knock-on effect on the industry overall. Today, approximately 40% of Irish homes have oil-fired boilers; manufacturers and installers working in this sector will be forced to adapt to newer technologies or risk being left behind. The installation of heat pumps poses another difficulty for the sector in that a house must be insulated and ventilated to a high standard in order for a heat pump to be effective. That costs money and not only that, it requires skilled workers to carry out the work.
Editor of Irish Construction Industry Magazine