Scotland commits to UN’s high-performance buildings initiative

Michael Matheson and Olga Algayerova

A network of International Centres of Excellence for High-Performance Buildings has been launched, signalling a commitment to the sustainable development of buildings in an initiative led by the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).

International representatives were joined by Michael Matheson (Scottish Government cabinet secretary for net zero), and Olga Algayerova (executive secretary of the UNECE), for an official signing of the agreement at the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre (CSIC).

CSIC has been selected as Scotland’s centre of excellence. For the duration of COP26, the centre is hosting a showcase of sustainable construction in practice, with events, exhibits and prototypes to demonstrate the possibilities of the sector in helping to meet the net zero challenge.

High-performance buildings are designed to use ‘minimal’ amounts of energy for heating, cooling, lighting, and ventilation. Providing education, training, and other resources, the centres will support local industries to move forward in line with the UN Framework Guidelines for Energy Efficiency Standards in Buildings.

The framework largely focuses on three goals: reducing the energy consumed by buildings so that additional requirements can be met using no carbon or low carbon energy sources; increasing the carbon stored in buildings; and the greater use of building materials and systems that are low in embodied carbon.

Olga Algayerova and Stephen Good

Stephen Good, CEO of CSIC, said, “This week Scotland is taking centre stage in the climate change conversation and every sector is now looking at what can be done to make meaningful progress. In construction and the built environment, as one of the biggest contributors to emissions, we have a responsibility to drive transformation and mainstream low-carbon innovation. Decarbonising buildings is perhaps the biggest challenge we face and no single nation can tackle the issue alone.

“Collaboration and international knowledge exchange will help to unlock a range of opportunities, with many nations working together for a common cause. It is fantastic to see CSIC recognised as a centre of excellence, and we look forward to working with the wider network to put the built environment commitments made at COP26 into practice.”

Representatives from the South West College InnoTech Centre in Northern Ireland, passivhausMAINE in the United States, EnEffect in Bulgaria, Passive House Canada and the UK-wide Passivhaus Trust also attended the ceremony, while the Building Innovation Hub in Washington, DC, and the Building Energy Exchange in New York joined virtually.

Olga Algayerova, executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Europe, added, “Buildings and the built environment must be the highest priority for action by communities and by countries to deliver not only the Paris Agreement, but also the whole 2030 agenda. Buildings are critical across all the sustainable development goals. The goals go beyond decarbonisation, though decarbonisation is the most urgent as the climate crisis is existential. In fact, when we succeed with this initiative, we will have made a major step in breaking the historic link between development and carbon emissions, and that is the game.”