Skills shortage means Government must opt for retrofitting or new builds

Up to 20,000 specialists needed for retrofitting scheme, says climate expert

The Government will have to choose between retrofitting houses to make them more energy efficient or building new homes due to a shortage of qualified workers, a member of the Climate Change Advisory Council has warned.

Prof John FitzGerald, who formerly chaired the council, said up to 20,000 specialists would be needed to retrofit houses every year in response to the climate crisis but that workers were already in short supply as the Government grapples with the housing shortage.

A retrofitting scheme is likely to form a major part of the Government’s new plan to tackle climate change, which Taoiseach Micheál Martin said on Tuesday would be ready by the autumn.

In a statement responding to a stark UN report on the climate crisis, Mr Martin said “the time to act is now”. The report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), compiled by more than 230 leading climate scientists, warned that major climate disruption was inevitable and, in many instances, irreversible.


“If you are going to ramp up retrofitting in the next five years, the Government are going to have to choose between retrofitting houses or building new houses. It is not a question of the money, it is a question of the people, and they aren’t there to do both,” Prof FitzGerald said.

Papers exchanged between political parties during government formation talks last year detailed how a retrofit taskforce in the Department of Climate Action was examining financial and funding models for improving the energy efficiency of homes.

They suggest that a funding model could see a mix of exchequer money, low-cost loans (potentially including a loan-guarantee scheme) and so-called green mortgages.

Prof FitzGerald, who writes a column for The Irish Times, said that 10 per cent of emissions arose from heating households.

“The problem there is that to get to a B2 rating where you are decarbonising households, you need to move to electric heating. Heat pumps produce water at 40 degrees, not 70 degrees as is in standard central heating systems,” he said.

“So you need far more insulation in the houses and to put in new radiators or to pull up the floors and put in underfloor heating to make it work. That kind of investment will be very large. You are looking at €25,000-€50,000 per household, with 1.5 million households.

“You are looking at €10 billion-€15 billion to be spent by households and the savings on fuel will not pay for the investment. People are going to have to spend their own money doing it.”

Regarding agriculture, Prof FitzGerald said livestock numbers would have to be reduced to address emissions and farmers would need to be facilitated in using a certain amount of their land for the planting of trees.

He also cautioned that Cork and Dublin may in future need tidal barriers as rising sea levels become a bigger issue in the coming decades.

In his statement, Mr Martin promised that the Government would set out fresh climate targets for every sector shortly.

The plan would “reflect our higher level emissions reduction ambition and will set out the direction of Ireland’s response to the deepening climate crisis”, he said.

“We will set out in detail, sector by sector, the targets and steps necessary to achieve our overall objectives.”

Climate change conference

Pressure is building for global actions to tackle climate change to be agreed at a United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP26, taking place in Glasgow in November. Mr Martin described the meeting as being of significant importance.

“Translating science and urgency into policy and action is one of the most important challenges that we as a nation now face, and COP26 with full and active Irish participation will provide a critical forum to achieve this.”

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe earlier defended the Government’s ambition in combatting climate change, saying it was committed to increasing taxation on carbon in each budget until targets were met.

He told RTÉ’s News at One that the climate action plan would aim to reduce emissions by 51 per cent by 2030.

“It is the reason why we have made decisions to tax carbon emissions and invested revenue in activities that will reduce emissions,” he said.

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times