As world leaders meet at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 24) to decide on rules to combat climate change, a COST Action has shown how expert networks can accelerate the process. COST-supported information-sharing on carbon-reducing measures for buildings and towns has had a lasting impact on government action and boosted research.
One such network is COST Action C23, Low Carbon Urban Built Environments (LCUBE). Started in 2005, this four-year network of researchers from 19 European countries shared and published knowledge on how to reduce buildings-related carbon emissions, in consultation with governments, professional bodies and construction and maintenance industries.
Buildings can produce carbon either directly when people use them, or indirectly when they are built. They are responsible for 40% of all energy consumption and 36% of CO2 emissions in the EU. LCUBE contributed to information that EU, national and local authorities used to develop regulations and standards to reduce emissions. The network also fostered international research on sustainable towns and cities, a minor interest in the 2000s but one that now has a key role in limiting carbon emissions.
Among other outputs, the network published in 2009 the European Carbon Atlas, an overview of carbon-reduction activities and legislation for cities and towns across Europe. This has such a strong impact that leading USA technology university MIT published parts of the Austria chapter on one of its websites when it was setting up their now well-established department on sustainable built environments.
“This network developed state-of-the-art knowledge,” says a member of the Action management committee, Professor Gerald Leindecker, of Austria’s College for Building and Design in Linz (LINC) and director of the research institute Future Concept Group.
BUILDING A BASELINE
Leindecker explains that LCUBE began in response to the European Commission’s first Energy Performance Buildings Directive (EPBD), of 2003. The directive promoted regulation for greener buildings and energy performance certification. “The problem for local authorities and researchers was that there was no consensus at the time on what was achievable,” he says.
The Action gathered information on diverse approaches and standards. “We had leading people on the topic in Europe. This gave us a strong scientific base. We studied and promoted pioneering projects to show how far you could go.” Leindecker adds.
LCUBE was also a bridge between regulation stakeholders, including local and regional policymakers. Leindecker says, “We laid the groundwork to see how a network can share ideas and knowledge more quickly.”
Later, the EPBD was revised to its 2010 version to include standards and clearer guidance. “This was based partly on the results of work in Member States, including work by the Action,” Leindecker says.
He adds that the COST approach is valid for COP 24. “It takes time for research to influence widespread policy. COP 24 is an important way to bring results to politicians.”
The field of low-carbon building is now much more developed. Policies and projects promote upgrades of buildings so that they use less energy while other initiatives integrate renewable heat and power sources into urban environments.
“The Action was a good instrument to make the topic grow. It spread ideas on how to achieve a low-carbon built environment,” Leindecker says.
LCUBE also shared ideas with other researchers through publications and conferences. In the case of MIT, the university was interested in the European Carbon Atlas as a source of information about the latest research in Europe. “They were glad to have everything in one book,” he adds.
Scientists in the network found that they could more easily develop original research. “Because we already had a strong group, members who applied for EU funding for projects were very successful. About half of their proposals were accepted for funding,” he adds. “For some colleagues, the network has been the basis of their career. It gave them internationally recognised work.”
In Leindecker’s case, he has taken part in nine other COST Actions on sustainable urban environments. “I am involved in many projects and with many institutions. COST provides a guarantee that I know the state of the art in the field.”
The collaboration with MIT is a sign of a growing trend, with non-EU-based researchers encouraged to contribute to COST networks. “COST is opening its doors to the world,” says Leindecker.
He is optimistic that there is future for low-carbon towns and cities. “The technology is there. You now have to put it into practice.”