Over the last week I have definately become increasingly supportive of direct governmnet intervention as a means of improving the level of sustainable developments across industry sectors and society. The Irish government has already demonstrated how real change can be encouraged through the use of education, awareness campaigns and financial incentives. I believe that Ireland will soon witness another change in attitude when EU Directive 2002/91/EC is implemented by the government in January 2007.
This directive concerns energy efficiency in all buildings. As part of the directive all houses will be issued with a Building Energy Rating (BER) and Advisory Report on how to improve the efficiency of the building. These reports must be provided to all purchasers, tenants and users.
Its difficult to describe just how important the housing market has become not only to the Irish Economy but to Irish people themselves. Latest figures show that on average house prices are increasing at 1% per month with a national house price average of just under €300,000. The housing market represents 62% of the construction industry, which is currently one of the key drivers of the economy and employs over 15% of the workforce. However, with the new BER system in place some believe that many houses will see a decrease in their value as people will now be made aware of their energy efficiency before purchase, lease or use. Energy prices are already soaring in Ireland, people are definately becoming more concerned. Alongside this new system, Sustainable Energy Ireland now offers government grants to new home owners for the purchase of wood chip burners (to replace oil and gas burners) and solar panels. These grants can cover the entire cost of solar panels and 2/3 of the cost of the burners.
As the property boom continues, and energy prices soar, I believe that those who have ignored the importance of energy efficiency and sustainable development will suffer financially. Construction companies that are continuing to ignore this could find themselves in a position where they will have to change their practices very quickly while companies that identified the importance of energy efficiency years ago will benefit from increased demand throughout the country. In a very short period of time I believe the Irish people themselves will increase the importance they place on this issue.
While a shift in the Irish’s attitude may have developed eventually, we have seen this week that action must be taken now. Education and awareness will continue throughout the country. However I fully support the EU in their decision to issue this Directive and force all countries to comply. Leadership requires vision, commitment and the ability to make the tough decisions. Our governments must all act as leaders, while we work together to change our own attitudes and consider how we can help others to continue to develop their nations through sustainable means.