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Edinburgh World Heritage/News/Draft 2030 Climate Strategy for Edinburgh: our response

Draft 2030 Climate Strategy for Edinburgh: our response

10th September 2021

Nicholas Hotham

The draft 2030 Climate Strategy for Edinburgh lays out how the city will ‘enable, support and deliver action to meet our net zero ambition’. The response of Edinburgh World Heritage is focused on the role that the Old and New Towns World Heritage Site and its communities will play in delivering the net-zero ambition.

Overall, we support the vision and principles set out in the draft 2030 Climate Strategy, as well as many of the actions. Reducing carbon emissions across the city, while ensuring its resilience against the impacts of climate change will benefit our historic environment as well as local communities in the World Heritage Site and beyond.

We welcome the recognition and role the draft strategy gives to the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh World Heritage Site, which supports our belief that the historic environment and our traditional buildings are part of the solution to effectively dealing with the climate emergency. This would be through undertaking sensitive, conservation-led changes to buildings to make them more energy efficient, and delivering improvements to the public realm to help the city adapt to new climate conditions.

The draft strategy covers both climate change mitigation actions, which will enable us to achieve net-zero carbon emissions, and adaptation actions, which will protect our historic environment from the effects of a changing climate. The supporting structure for the implementation of the strategy will require significant collaboration with partners, as well as evidence-based decision making, starting with the delivery a pilot projects to inform scaling up.

We would also note that many of the measures are also an opportunity to strengthen the conservation, understanding and appreciation of the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh World Heritage Site. The transition to net zero will create opportunities to enhance the historic built environment and greenspaces, to improve the condition of buildings, and reduce the running costs of individual dwellings, making them accessible to a wider range of people.

We would highlight the following key points for consideration:

  • Our experience has taught us that ensuring a building is wind and watertight, and is properly maintained, is an essential first step in the journey to improving energy efficiency. Proceeding with any upgrade before these basic steps are in place is counterproductive as it reduces the effectiveness of any energy efficiency measures.
  • Proposed alterations or improvements to our traditional buildings and public realm must be based on conservation best practice, and individually designed to respond to Edinburgh’s unique historic environment. Fully understanding the significance of the historic environment – particularly the World Heritage Site’s Outstanding Universal Value – is the key first step that will unlock the potential for such change.
  • The strategy will impact various aspects of people’s lives and requires to be undertaken with the consent of local communities. Our experience also tells us that sufficient time needs to be spent in understanding potential barriers preventing individuals and communities embracing change, and that recommended measures need to be subjected to full public scrutiny through a comprehensive engagement process.
  • While we applaud the sense of urgency in the strategy, several of the proposed timescales may be too ambitious based on the level of change and resources required to achieve the net zero targets. There is therefore a risk of unintended negative consequences arising from the speed of delivery of the strategy, such as irreversible damage to historic buildings, public spaces, and neighbourhoods. For example, any initiative which reduces the desire or need for residents to come to the city centre may have a detrimental effect on the local economy, change the historic use of land, and accelerate the trend towards a tourism monoculture in the Old Town. These risks will be mitigated by engaging with local communities, businesses and other stakeholders on proposed strategies, embracing a conservation-led approach, and involving appropriate experts.

Urgent action to address the Climate Emergency is essential, in Edinburgh and across Scotland. We believe we will only deliver these challenging goals through collaboration and partnership. Edinburgh World Heritage stands ready to support this major city initiative, and ensure the historic environment plays a central role in delivering the vision of a net zero, climate resilient city by 2030.



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