We must achieve a zero carbon housing system to tackle the climate crisis

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Securing a “Green New Deal” to provide sustainable housing for all should be at the heart of the government’s housing plan for all.

The housing crisis and the climate crisis are two of the main issues we need to address as a country.

But while there is a sense of hopelessness in the face of climate issues, there is also a potential for hope: we have the opportunity to face the housing crisis and raise people’s living standards through improved housing. , while solving the climate crisis.

It will only be achieved if we make a major change in how we currently respond to these vital social, economic and environmental concerns. Currently, the housing targets in the Climate Plan are insufficient to cope with the scale of the two crises.

At the EU level, Ireland has agreed to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by at least 55% by 2030 from 1990 levels, but the recently passed climate law only predicts a 51% reduction in GHG emissions by 2030 compared to a baseline. from 2018.

This inadequate response is also visible in the weak targets set for reducing emissions from the residential and housing sector. The government’s program and the Climate Action Plan set targets to renovate 500,000 homes and install 400,000 heat pumps in existing buildings over the next 10 years.

If this is achieved, emissions would be reduced from 6 million tonnes in 2017 to less than 4 million tonnes by 2030. This only represents a 33% reduction in emissions, which is totally insufficient given the magnitude of the crisis.

Meanwhile, housing renovation targets were not even met last year and likely will not be in the next 10 years, given the insufficient public funding allocated and the dominated approach. through the market as part of climate and housing policy.

Emissions from the housing sector actually increased last year. Yes, increased in this time of climate emergency. The EPA has shown that the impact of people working from home as a result of Covid-19 has resulted in an expected increase in greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 of almost 9% compared to 2019.

This highlights the need for our homes to become much more efficient, especially in the context of a larger home working environment. As pointed out in this journal earlier, the number of private homes that were renovated last year was more than 25% below the target.

In the field of social housing, which is a key responsibility of the State to guarantee energy-efficient housing and achieve climate targets, only 1,405 local authority housing units were renovated in 2020. At this rate of progress, it will be necessary to 120 years to renovate all of our 170,000 homes. social housing stock – far too late for climate change and rising sea levels.

This indicates the lack of recognition of the urgency we face when it comes to climate change. The level of funding that needs to be allocated to this is absolutely huge. But what is the alternative?

Renovating 500,000 housing units at a cost of € 50,000 per unit will require expenditure of € 25 billion over 10 years, or € 2.5 billion per year. This is more than double what we currently spend on social housing construction each year. But it is necessary.

The state can now borrow at a lower cost. It should not be seen as a cost, but rather as an investment.

It is an investment in the future of humanity. In crude accounting terms, the state will reduce the costs of health spending associated with substandard housing – asthma, bronchitis, mental health impacts.

It will also be an economic stimulus and a real opportunity to retrain and retrain workers who lost their jobs during the pandemic in this new green economy.

Building new homes is also an incredibly energy-intensive and energy-intensive process. The carbon emissions associated with building a new home in Ireland, called embodied carbon, are approximately 30 tonnes.

After the combustion of coal and oil, cement manufacturing is the most carbon-intensive activity in the world. In the construction of new housing, priority must therefore be given to alternative and more sustainable building materials, with low or zero carbon.

It is in the construction of new housing that the excessive reliance on the private market to provide housing is really problematic. The government has been reluctant to implement higher building efficiency standards in order to keep costs low and profits high for real estate investment funds.

However, high-rise developments are more destructive to the environment. Mid-rise, compact and passive housing is more climate-friendly.

But the private market, especially Ireland’s new rental construction owners, Global Real Estate Investment Funds, are keen to develop high rise buildings, while developers are keen to build 4 bedroom suburban semi-detached houses. Neither is durable.

The most environmentally friendly way to deliver new homes is to use existing homes and renovate abandoned buildings. The greenest building is the one already built.

Ireland has a huge number of vacant and abandoned buildings in the heart of our towns and villages.

The 2016 census showed that there were around 180,000 vacant homes, enough for at least six years of housing supply.

As urban planning expert Gavin Daly points out, housing will have to become more interventionist and directly involved in dictating what will be built, where, when and by whom.

For example, why are we allowing the construction of more hotels, luxury apartments and short-term tourist rentals when we need sustainable and affordable homes?

We need to work on a new vision and a new agenda. Private for-profit investors and developers will not. We need a new system of values ​​and a new model of planning and housing.

This is why the government’s next plan for housing for all must put the transformation of our housing system to zero carbon as a central objective.

A new public housing construction and renovation agency must be set up to undertake a huge recruitment of workers needed for the renovation and construction of new housing.

Politics must act through the prism of a common societal and environmental good. Business as usual cannot continue.

The vested interests of owner speculators, the interests of fossil fuels and an economy based on endless material consumption can no longer prevail. We need a revolution in the way we understand and approach housing, and how it relates to the climate.

We can end energy poverty through a just transition. We can improve the living conditions and the standard of living of those who struggle and live in poverty.

We can achieve greater equality. We can solve the housing crisis.

If we really want to make a real transition, all existing and new housing developments should implement climate change mitigation measures, through green building measures, tree planting, water harvesting. , underground heating systems, solar panels and wind turbines.

These require a major investment that the state has the capacity, capacity and responsibility to make.


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