Yesterday, I spoke in the Seanad that if Ireland is serious about climate action, timber construction needs to move beyond innovation, and into the mainstream. It can be done, it must be done, and we must now all work together to rapidly increase the use of timber across the construction sector.
The data on CO2 emissions for Ireland, as highlighted at COP 27 in Egypt, made for eyewatering headlines. They reinforce the urgent need for us to rethink every aspect of our lives in order to reduce emissions.
On the top ten list of known emitters in Ireland, there was one road network, one oil refinery, one gas field, three airports, and something a lot of people may not be aware of – four cement plants.
Yet, many of us may not normally think of cement when we think of greenhouse gas emissions. We tend to think of cars and planes, of energy production, and of agriculture.
Timber, may never be a total replacement for cement, but in many cases, it can be the lower emission alternative.
In Scotland for example, home building is now dominated by timber construction, with about 80% of homes being timber frame. Here in Ireland, it is closer to 20%. Ireland is a big producer of timber, and at present, export over 70% of it.
It will take a combined change of focus on architects, engineers and planners, as well as construction workers and indeed our own attitude in Government to encourage timber construction. We have to do all we can in the coming months and years to reduce the emissions profile of our built environment, and timber can help us do just that.
Producing 1 tonne of cement releases 0.6 tonnes of CO2.
Producing 1 tonne of steel releases 1.85 tonnes of CO2.
Producing 1 tonne of wood absorbs about 0.75 tonnes of CO2.