Three days out from COP26, the Irish Green Building Council has highlighted the urgency to address the carbon emissions associated with buildings across their whole life cycle.
The most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concludes that immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are needed to keep global warming at 1.5°C. This requires all sectors to ramp up their climate ambitions. For the construction industry, this means reducing emissions at all stages of a building life cycle.
Pat Barry, CEO of the Irish Green Building Council (IGBC) said: “New homes built to the current building regulations must reach a minimum Building Energy Rating (BER) of A2. They are energy efficient, however this only tells part of the story. Additional emissions are produced through mining, quarrying, transporting and manufacturing building materials, as well as through the construction of new homes. With half a million homes to be built in Ireland by 2040, these present a significant, unaddressed challenge”.
Important first steps to tackle the environmental impacts of buildings across their lifecycle have been taken at European level with the introduction of the Level(s) framework for sustainable buildings. Level(s) is a key part of the implementation of the EU Green Deal and Renovation Wave – which are expected to provide considerable funding to Ireland. It is made up of key indicators to mainstream sustainable buildings, including life-cycle assessment (LCA) and life-cycle costing (LCC).
Mr. Barry added: “The Level(s) framework and life-cycle assessment are not widely used in Ireland yet. This means we are missing real opportunities to reduce our carbon emissions. To address this gap, the Irish Green Building Council in partnership with the industry is developing new tools and training programmes”.
As part of the EU funded LifeLevel(s) project, the IGBC is trying to mainstream life-cycle assessment through green public procurement. The Government of Ireland’s annual public sector purchasing accounts for 10% to 12% of the country’s GDP – and thus has the potential to provide significant leverage in seeking to influence the market. The IGBC has already trained over 100 building professionals in the use of Life-Cycle Assessment in 2021 and will be rolling out capacity building training to more building professional and procurers in 2022.
One of the main challenges to date is the lack of data on carbon emissions associated with construction and operation of the Irish built environment, and on the impact of the National Development Plan’s targets on these emissions. To address this issue, the IGBC has commissioned a “Whole Life Carbon in Construction and the Built Environment Ireland” report to UCD’s Climate Emergency Research Group. Initial results, alongside recommendations developed in partnership with industry, will be released during COP26.