State may need to limit home-building to just 21,000 units a year to meet climate targets

Irish Green Building Council says ‘all new homes must be highly energy efficient, but the construction process itself must be low carbon’

To meet its climate targets the State may need to limit the construction of new homes to just 21,000 units a year, significantly below the current construction rate (expected to be 25,000-28,000 this year) and significantly below the 33,000 units envisaged under the Government’s Housing for All strategy, a new report has indicated.

The study by the Irish Green Building Council (IGBC) considers how Ireland’s construction and built environment sector might reduce emissions by 51 per cent by 2030, the target set out in the State’s Climate Action Plan.

Currently the sector accounts for 37 per cent of the State’s carbon emissions, the same as agriculture. Approximately 23 per cent are generated from operational emissions associated with the energy households and businesses use to heat, cool, and light their buildings, with the remaining 14 per cent coming from what the report describes as embodied carbon, the emissions associated with the construction of the building in the first place.

The IGBC’s report said projections to 2030 show that the national retrofit programme, which aims to carry out energy-saving retrofits on up to 500,000 homes, will lead to a significant decrease in emissions from operating buildings. However, the new construction targets contained in the National Development Plan and the Housing for All policy will likely negate these savings unless embodied emissions, primarily from the use of concrete and steel, are fully addressed.


The report presents three possible scenarios “to scope their future impact on overall emissions from the built environment”. The first “business as usual” scenario, which assumes the rate of construction and retrofit increases as planned but no efforts are made to address embodied carbon, results in emissions from the sector increasing by 2030.

The second scenario, which assumes the same build rate but with significantly reduced carbon intensity around new builds, sees a decline in emissions but not enough to reach the 51 per cent target.

The final scenario, which achieves the required reduction in emissions, applies the same reduced carbon intensity around new builds but also reduces the number of new homes that are built from 363,000 to 239,000, or to 21,000 annually.

It also assumes that over 33 per cent or 124,000 units of the original building target are sourced from the 166,000 permanently vacant properties identified in the 2022 census, the 29,317 vacant commercial properties identified by GeoDirectory, “and the very extensive vacant space above retail premises or other commercial properties in our town centres”.

“This ties in with existing Government objectives to regenerate towns and settlements across Ireland to reduce need for new construction,” the report said. The finding suggests the Government’s development and climate strategies may be on a collision course.

The IGBC does not explicitly recommend adopting the measures laid out in scenario three but it does advocate making better use of the existing stock, including vacant and underused properties, and reducing the carbon intensity of new construction.

IGBC chief executive Pat Barry said: “All new homes must be highly energy efficient and deliver as per design, but the construction process itself must be low carbon.”

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy is Economics Correspondent of The Irish Times