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Back in May, the Scottish Government set a target of 2045 to meet net zero carbon emissions, and an aim for Scotland to be carbon neutral by 2040. This was swiftly followed by Edinburgh City Council committing to operate on a net zero carbon basis by 2030, fifteen years ahead of the national target.

As well as ensuring their own operations are net zero carbon, the Council is proposing a number of measures including introducing a low-emission zone, re-designing the city centre to focus on pedestrians, cyclists and public transport rather than cars, and boost clean power generation capacity and energy storage.

The built environment contributes around 40% of the UK’s total carbon footprint. Almost half of this is from energy used in buildings and from infrastructure – mainly roads. New buildings are more energy efficient; however the challenge for a city like Edinburgh, with many old, listed buildings, is how to retrofit them and incorporate innovative and effective climate change mitigation measures into the fabric of the city without changing its essential character.

We are facing a climate emergency and it is time for action. Whether we succeed or fail depends on our ability to collaborate across Scotland’s public, private and civic sectors. The climate emergency is all-encompassing and we don’t have the tools to deal with it. Our regulatory, economic and social frameworks are currently highly fragmented. We have to get them aligned to maximise our potential to work together for Scotland’s benefit, and the world. Scotland is a small country, but with ambition and focus we can put systems in place here that others can come from all over the world to learn from and implement. At Hollis we have recently completed the first BREEAM Excellent rated fit-out of an existing office space in the North West of England, on our own workplace in Manchester. The principles learned here from our in-house team of experts can be used in Edinburgh, which has a similar make up in our built environment.

The net zero carbon targets are a challenge, but they are also an opportunity. Also back in May, Christiana Figueres visited the city to receive the Edinburgh medal for her work as a world leader on climate change and her efforts at bringing nations together to deliver the Paris climate agreement. Edinburgh Science convened a roundtable with Christiana, who threw down a challenge – if not you, then who? If not now, when? As Christiana says, nothing gets done without optimism. We should not see net zero carbon as the target, but as the gateway to transform the built environment to give back more than it takes – to the environment, to people’s health and wellbeing and to society at large.

As published in the August / September issue of Business Comment magazine.