EXPERTS drawing up £8 billion plans to transform Edinburgh into a carbon neutral city in ten years’ time are investigating harnessing hot air trapped under the capital’s parks in a bid to end gas central heating.

The Edinburgh Climate Commission has been set up to help co-ordinate a pledge for the city to become carbon net zero by 2030 – 15 years ahead of the Scottish Government’s ambition.

Analysis of Edinburgh’s emissions shows that despite reducing carbon by 40 per cent since 2001, the city still produces around 2.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide – amid a warning that “without significantly scaling-up climate action”, that will only be reduced to 2.23 million tonnes by 2030.

Leaders are now embracing the recovery form Covid-19 as an opportunity to propel forward a green revolution in Edinburgh.

The commission has drawn up a list of principles for Edinburgh to prioritise in its mission to eradicate carbon emissions – with the city’s heating system and transport network as key catalysts.

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The independent commission is calling on city leaders and the Scottish Government to commit to a green recovery from Covid-19 to eliminate carbon emissions and to create jobs as the economy is rebuilt.

Sam Gardner, chairman of the commission, has warned that “the climate emergency hasn’t gone away”.

He added: “We need leadership in the face of this climate crisis, just as we’ve seen in response to the Covid emergency. Most importantly, we need to see an accelerated response to the climate crisis.

“A business as usual pathway will only reduce our emissions by 11 per cent.

“It’s not a question of can we afford a green economic recovery – but a green economic recovery is the recovery for Edinburgh and for Scotland.”

Dr Gardner admits that transforming Edinburgh’s heating network, mostly made up by gas central heating, “is perhaps the most significant challenge we face in tackling climate change”.

The commission has pointed to the potential of district or ground source heating networks, which can replace gas central heating but are expensive and invasive for existing buildings – creating a potential barrier to change for Edinburgh’s old tenement buildings.

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He added: “It's the largest chunk of our energy use and it’s something we have collectively put to one side whilst tackling the power generation challenge.

“We have now decarbonised the power sector which provides us with the means to electrify our heat.

“What we have is a piecemeal approach of different district heating networks being established at various points around the city in the absence of understanding what a longer-term strategic deployment would look like.”

Dr Gardner stressed that the District Heating Bill, currently being considered by the Scottish Parliament, could allow authorities to “zone particular parts of Edinburgh” for a joined-up approach to the technology.

The commission is also exploring using heat trapped under the capital’s parks and green spaces to fuel an acceleration of a ground source heating strategy.

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Dr Gardner said: “We also need to be looking at ways in which we improve those efficiencies and that in part will be through ground source heat and alike that can utilise the heat that is to be found under green spaces.

“This isn’t about ripping up green spaces, this is about having heat captured below them and connecting those to buildings in order to be able to capture that latent heart.

“It’s a big, big infrastructure opportunity or challenge. But it’s a massive job creation opportunity and going forward, it will be the means by which we help to tackle fuel poverty and decarbonise our building stock.”

Research carried out jointly by Edinburgh University and Leeds University shows that in order for Edinburgh to eradicate 66 per cent of its carbon by 2030, with the rest of the strategy done by offsetting such as mass tree planting, it will cost around £8 billion. The experts believe the “payback” from a reduction in heating bills and other benefits will be seen within 16 years.

But the commission acknowledges that the upfront costs will be needed from central government.

Dr Gardner said: “We need the grant support from the Scottish Government backed up by the UK Government – but also, we need to address the skills deficit that exists.

“If we have an imperative to decarbonise our buildings and we know that in order to do that, we have to upskill people, we have to do more training, we have to provide qualifications - there’s an alignment in terms of job creation and decarbonisation that we have to be alive to.”

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Edinburgh’s council leader, Adam McVey, has stressed that the city wants to “rebuild better” as it emerges from the economic shock of the Covid-19 pandemic.

He added: “We all think it’s the best thing for Edinburgh to stay the course and try and use the enormous challenge that we all face of having to rebuild our economy as an accelerator to where we want to get to, not as a block. We still have the same environmental obligations as citizens and as a capital city.

“We’re trying to drive the opportunities to meet those obligations as quickly as we can in that 2030 timescale that we’ve set ourselves to become a net zero carbon capital city.”

Commissioner and finance expert, Kaisie Rayner, has called for the Scottish Government to “step in and provide that market support” to transform how people heat their homes.

She added: “There is a key role here for governments and for markets to enable this solution to be delivered – it is critical to realising our net zero ambitions.

“If we don’t embed our principles in our decision-making as we move forward, that scary word of an inevitable return to where we were before may manifest.”