Scotland must tackle emissions from our homes to hit net zero by 2045 - Kirsty Connell-Skinner

The average house in Scotland emits just over three tonnes of carbon dioxide every year. While you might hope that your Covid-19 curtailed holiday plans have lowered your carbon footprint, unfortunately sitting at home for a year still emits the equivalent of three return flights between London and New York.

Kirsty Connell-Skinner is Project Manager for the Housing, Construction & Infrastructure Gateway, part of the Edinburgh & South-East Scotland City Region Deal.

Scotland can’t meet legally-binding targets cutting greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2045 without tackling housing emissions – whether from heating, electricity, waste or construction. Focusing on residential property not only reaches net zero carbon by 2045, but also improves the quality of our homes while reducing household bills.

What’s critical to achieving this – alongside improved standards and new technologies – is a skilled workforce able to meet low carbon housing design, retrofit and construction demands.

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With world leaders gathering for COP26 in Glasgow later in 2021, it’s critical for Scotland and the wider UK to demonstrate now how collaboration and clear thinking can help solve some of our construction carbon challenges.

Thanks to the Edinburgh & South-East Scotland City Region Deal, the Housing, Construction & Infrastructure (HCI) Skills Gateway is investing £6 million to 2025 to address the critical skills gap obstructing our low carbon housing aspirations.

Based at Edinburgh Napier University and working in partnership with Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt Universities and Borders, Fife, Edinburgh and West Lothian Colleges, HCI is a model making best use of public funds, piloting then securing private sector buy-in to sustain and expand a highly skilled construction workforce, ready to address the built environment challenges of a net-zero carbon world.

Over the next year alone, we will support over 300 young people from the region’s most deprived areas to explore digital and design construction roles. There are over 800 college places in short courses upskilling in emerging net-zero roles, whether installing electric vehicle charging points or better waste management techniques. New pathways to accelerate construction careers, like timber engineering or remote verification inspection, are in development. Meanwhile, postgraduate scholarships targeted to those underrepresented in construction leadership will ignite change in the sector’s wasteful and adversarial culture.

The HCI Skills Gateway isn’t alone in seeking solutions to these challenges. The Construction Scotland Innovation Centre has announced 500 places for those unemployed or at risk of redundancy to train in Passivhaus standards – a world-renowned approach to highly energy efficient buildings. And with Professor Robert Hairstans’ appointment as Founding Director of the New Model Institute for Technology and Engineering’s Centre for Advanced Timber Technology, his inclusive industry-based educational model of the Built Environment Exchange, established at Edinburgh Napier and latterly via HCI, will generate significant value return for the sector through talented industry entrants dedicated to accelerating the utilisation of timber, digitisation and factory-based approaches for construction.

The technology and knowledge for us all to live in high quality, low-carbon and resilient homes exists. But without increased investment through programmes like the HCI Skills Gateway to train built environment professionals – as well as changing construction culture – we will never achieve either the scale or rate of transformation necessary for a net-zero carbon future.

If we want homes fit for the future, it’s time to support people in gaining the new skills necessary to build them.

Kirsty Connell-Skinner is Project Manager for the Housing, Construction & Infrastructure Gateway, part of the Edinburgh & South-East Scotland City Region Deal.

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