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COP26 may be over but the real task now lies ahead

By Sally Thomas, SFHA Chief Executive.

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It’s nearly a week since COP26 came to a close, and, while the event itself may be over, globally, we’re just beginning the monumental task that lies ahead if we’re to save our planet. For the social housing sector, what faces us is critical. Housing associations and co-operatives have the most energy efficient housing stock in Scotland, and many have already started to develop low and zero-emissions homes, but this isn’t enough – we must now work even harder.

It was a privilege to represent Scotland’s housing associations and co-operatives at COP26, when I spoke during a UN Side System Event on how we can decarbonise our housing stock in an inclusive and affordable way. I was proud to highlight how our members are already tackling climate change and to discuss the sector’s determination to continue this progress. However, housing associations and co-operatives are faced with many competing challenges on the journey to net zero. The Scottish Government has set ambitious targets for all new social housing to be zero emissions by 2026 and to deliver 110,000 affordable homes by 2032. At the same time, we must also focus on our existing stock: by 2045, over two million homes must transition from fossil fuel-based heating to low and zero-emissions systems. Above all, we must ensure that it is not the poorest who bear the brunt of climate change: both here, in Scotland, and worldwide. The cleaner – but often more expensive – heating systems we need must not leave tenants struggling to pay their rents or fuel bills.

So how do we both achieve the Scottish Government’s targets and protect tenants in the transition to net zero? As well as ensuring there is adequate and sustained investment, we must take a fabric first approach to new and existing homes, building and refurbishing them to be as well insulated as possible. This will help to deliver warmer homes and lower energy bills for tenants.

One of the most crucial aspects is partnership working. None of us can do this alone. While we need leadership, direction, and resources at a national level, we can make a profound difference locally in arresting climate change: benefitting our tenants, communities and economies in the process. Across Scotland, there are numerous examples of housing associations working with local councils, government, and tenants and communities to deliver homes, and other projects, that tackle climate change. It is this joint working that will make a hugely significant contribution to the changes we need to see across the country – and quickly. It brings the national, local and individual perspectives together and it is what we need. It makes the seemingly impossible possible.

We are a sector driven by social purpose – to provide affordable, safe, warm and high-quality homes to those who most need them, and we support our tenants, and their communities, to thrive. This is the beating heart of everything we do – as a sector, as organisations and as individuals – we want to make a positive and long-lasting difference to the world we live in. To do this, we must now also focus on tackling the most pressing issue of our time.

From now on, in everything we do, in all our work, our decisions, during meetings, we must all ask ourselves: ‘how will this contribute to stopping climate change?’. Ensuring that it always does will be absolutely critical. Our planet, and our lives, depend on it.

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