South West College explores the impact of the built environment on climate change

South West College hosted a key note presentation and panel discussion at the recent COP26 in Glasgow examining the role the built environment plays in the fight against climate change. The event was attended by international design and construction industry delegates and policy makers.

Dr Jill Cush, Deputy Chief Executive of South West College delivered an opening address reflecting on the successful opening of the Erne Campus in September following a £30 million investment by the Department for the Economy.

Dr Cush described the campus as an ‘international exemplar’ highlighting the very latest practices in sustainable construction and discussed the role the college plays in equipping the workforce with the skills they need currently and will need for the future development of the industry.

In his keynote speech to delegates, Scott Foster, Director of Sustainable Energy at the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe emphasised the need to get the built environment right.

“Everyone seems to think we have a choice to make between dealing with climate change, or not dealing with it. It’s much more complicated than that. For the western world climate change is number one on the list of priorities but for the vast portion of humanity they are also worried about putting food on their tables and a roof over their heads and we can’t say we are going to ask them to forego their quality of life ambitions while we deal with the climate change problem that the richer part of the universe has created.

“We need to come up with integrated solutions that deal with the climate issue and that deliver quality of life that meet those aspirations at a global level.”

Chairing the panel discussion, internationally renowned sustainability champion, Professor Alan Strong questioned the experts on how attitudes and behaviours towards the built environment can be changed and what impact that could make.

Close Links

In his questioning Professor Strong reflected on the close links between Northern Ireland and Glasgow and teased out the importance of data in the construction industry for the improvement in standards and regulations.

Representing the Passive House institute on the panel, Ed Lowes commented: “The most sustainable buildings are those that are already standing and this is something that we really need to focus on in the coming decades.”

By 2050, 80% of the buildings that will be in existence are already standing and we need to retrofit those building to reduce their operational energy.

Supporting this, Dr Danielle McKelvey, Deputy Head of School, Natural and Built Environment at South West College added that further promotion on extending the life of buildings is needed and that demolition should be resisted where possible.

Reflecting upon the requirements to support both current and future generations of structural engineers and construction practitioners Dr McKelvey spoke of the increased need to put low carbon materials, technologies and processes at the heart of the curriculum.

Concluding the panel session Professor Strong stressed the importance of collaboration between academia and the construction industry and re-iterated the words of US Special Envoy to COP26, John Kerry, saying that we need to ‘co-operate together.’

A recording of the event is available to watch now on the COP26 YouTube channel at