Global Work Party 10/10/10: Building a Green China

As part of the 10/10/10 Global Work Party designed to celebrate climate solutions, NRDC is getting back to work on building a green China after a week at the Tianjin climate negotiations.   I am excited to announce that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has just awarded NRDC and a consortium of partners, led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, $12.5 million to work on green buildings in China over the next five years.  Our consortium will match DOE’s contribution, bringing the total U.S. investment to at least $25 million.  Chinese counterparts will contribute an additional $25 million (see DOE’s announcement here).

This consortium will develop technologies for low-energy residential and commercial buildings, as well as work on commercialization of these technologies, development of associated policies and research on how human behavior affects building energy use.  The consortium is part of the new U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center that was announced by President Obama and President Hu Jintao during President Obama’s trip to China last November.

 Assistant Secretary of Energy for Policy and International Affairs David Sandalow said that this new partnership will “help to save energy and cut costs in buildings in both the United States and China.”  It will also “create new export opportunities for American companies, ensure that the United States remains at the forefront of technology innovation and help to reduce carbon pollution.”

 Energy efficiency is the cheapest, fastest, cleanest, and most reliable way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in any country, and DOE’s commitment to buildings is a substantial new investment in an area where NRDC has worked for many years.  Our work on China’s first internationally certified green building, for example – the Agenda 21 building in Beijing – won China’s first Green Building Innovation award.  We also helped develop China’s first national building energy code and, more recently, a national green building labeling system. Thus, I am particularly excited by our newly expanded opportunity to help China and the U.S. work together to promote sustainable urban development through building energy efficiency.

 China’s Building Sector Has Enormous Energy and Climate Savings Potential

 In recent years, China has made significant progress on building energy efficiency, yet buildings still consume one-quarter of the country’s total energy, and this fraction continues to grow with China’s urban population.  Already, China’s buildings consume more energy than the country’s three largest heavy industries—iron, steel, and cement—combined.  When you consider that these materials feed China’s urbanization, the energy footprint of the buildings sector is enormous. 

 During the Tianjin climate conference, I participated on a panel about strategies to reduce China’s emissions from coal, and spoke about the enormous potential energy savings and carbon emission reductions from greening China’s buildings. (See my presentation here). More details can be found in the report we coauthored with the Boston Consulting Group, From Gray to Green:  How Energy Efficient Buildings Can Make China’s Rapid Urbanization Sustainable.

 Our analysis found that even a modest increase in building energy efficiency could save China 170 billion kWh and reduce its CO2 emissions by 170 million metric tons a year by 2015.  These savings—achievable by reducing energy use by 50 percent in five percent of existing buildings and 60 percent of new ones—are equivalent to stopping construction of 50 large (500-megawatt) coal-fired power plants, installing 30,000 new wind turbines, or filling 4,000 Tian’anmen Squares with rainforest.

 New Funding Will Help NRDC Expand Its Current Efforts and Achieve More Results

 Over the next five years, with support from DOE and the Energy Foundation,  NRDC and our consortium partners will expand our efforts to help China accelerate its green buildings effort.  This investment could not come at a better time.  In the next two decades, half of the world’s new buildings will be built in China.  By focusing on building efficiency, we have the opportunity to ensure that this new development enhances rather than detracts from the global effort to tackle climate change, and moves the ball forward in the international negotiations taking place now and in the future.

 This post was coauthored with Bruce Ho.