Scotland should be leading the global decarbonisation response - Paul Beaton

Judging the success of COP26 is just as likely to be linked to whether you’re a glass half empty or glass half full individual as anything else. It’s incredibly hard to work out if real progress is being made when the scale of the challenge that we all face seems so immense.

Scotland showed ambition with onshore wind.
Scotland showed ambition with onshore wind.

It was actually towards the end of COP26, on the day when the conference focused on the built environment, that I listened to a fascinating discussion between a panel of experts all intrinsically linked with decarbonising the public sector estate. Comments from Stephen Vere, programme director for net zero at the Scottish Futures Trust, especially resonated when we look at what’s happening here.

The sense of urgency demonstrated by the majority of engaged world leaders is a sign of real intent and purpose, but as Stephen articulated – is the pace and scale of delivery on the ground really matching the rhetoric?

The uncomfortable truth for Scotland is that ISG’s Sustainable Buildings Monitor survey – a UK-wide research paper on emissions and energy performance of commercial building assets, placed Scotland firmly at the wrong end of this particular league table. When we think of the progressive policies that have led to Scotland’s burgeoning onshore wind turbine programme, we need now to be equally ambitious for the next crucial phase of decarbonising our future. The fact that 40 per cent of carbon emissions are related to either the construction or operation of our buildings shows the scale and opportunity of the challenge ahead.

Returning to Stephen, he recognised that Scotland could take a real leadership role through an ambitious and deliverable public sector response to decarbonisation, but noted the cost of doing so could be greater than £5 billion for the public estate in Scotland alone. Crucially he didn’t know where this money would be coming from, but recognised that a public and private sector partnership response would be critical. But actually, the point being made by Stephen went deeper. He also stressed the importance of really focusing on the need and requirement of our buildings, recognising that this is a pivotal time for us to really interrogate if our public buildings are in the right place and fit for our future needs.

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Collaboration was one of the key words that I picked up both from the public sector discussion and pronouncements from COP26 – we’re only going to tackle this global crisis by coming together and effecting change at every level of society. The privilege of being part of an international business like ISG is the wealth of information and knowledge sharing that goes on – taking lessons, innovations and best practice from across our teams and applying this insight across any setting.

My colleagues in Cambridge are finalising what will become an exemplar global project for deep office retrofit. Using a fabric first approach, that prioritisies sustainable materials, circular economy principles and lifecycle operational performance, we have been watching progress intently and asking endless questions so that we can bring these learnings directly to our Scottish clients.

With 80 per cent of the buildings that will exist in 2050 here today, the retrofit agenda should be one of our absolute priorities to ensure that Scotland does not remain the UK emissions league table laggard. We have a clear opportunity for Scotland to become a global exemplar in built environment decarbonisation through policies that actively encourage game-changing public private partnerships that can release a wealth of sustainable investment, and also through progressive and ambitious regulation. We have the tools and capability to transform Scotland into a global decarbonisation leader, and as Stephen explained, the public sector is the perfect catalyst for this transformational change.

Paul Beaton, regional director of ISG’s Scottish business

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