U.S. and Chinese Cities Can Lead on Building Efficiency and Climate Change

The role of cities in combating climate change was front and center at last week's inaugural U.S. - China Climate Leaders Summit in Los Angeles. This two-day summit focused on climate action at the local level across Chinese and American cities. The summit kicked off with two dozen mayors signing the U.S. -China Climate Leaders' Declaration, a concrete statement of intent by city, state, and provincial leaders to implement ambitious, verifiable actions to address climate change and to support cooperation across cities in the U.S. and China.


The Summit was a continuation of the conversation between the U.S. and China after the November 2014 agreement in which the U.S. pledged to cut emissions by up to 28 percent by 2025 (mostly through the Clean Power Plan), and China pledged that its emissions would peak by 2030. Many Chinese cities at the Summit, including Beijing and Guangzhou, pledged to peak carbon emissions by 2020. This is a notable signal of climate leadership as Chinese President Xi Jinping makes his first visit to the U.S. this week to discuss with President Obama, among other things, climate change. All of these U.S.-China efforts hold promise in the lead up to the COP 21 climate talks in Paris this December.

I was honored to speak at the second day of the Summit during a breakout session on Climate-Smart Buildings and Green Infrastructure. Buildings in the U.S. use more energy than any country in the world besides China and the United States. China's buildings also use a significant amount of energy - more so than the entire country of Japan. To meaningfully address climate change, we need to reduce energy use in buildings across the world, and particularly in the U.S. and China.

US and China's Building Sector Energy Use
Analysis by NRDC

My presentation focused on benchmarking and transparency policies at the city level in the United States, and the benefits of data transparency. In the U.S., fifteen cities and counties have passed benchmarking and transparency ordinances at the local level. This means over 6.6 billion square feet of real estate is now subject to local benchmarking and transparency laws. A recent Department of Energy report noted that New York City, upon the passage of a benchmarking and transparency ordinance, "saw a cumulative energy savings of 5.7% during the first four years of the policy from 2010 through 2013. This resulted in total dollar savings of $267,492,147." While it is too soon to tell if there is a cause-and-effect relationship between these policies and energy reductions, early indications are promising.

U.S. City Building Benchmarking, Transparency, and Audit Policies
Credit: Courtesy of Institute for Market Transformation

At the Summit I urged Chinese cities to pilot benchmarking and transparency programs in their cities. Over 54 percent of the Chinese population lives in cities, compared to just 26 percent in 1990. This trend will continue into the future and will result in more energy used in the building stock. Benchmarking building performance and data transparency are best practices that offer great opportunity to China's building owners. With data transparency, resources such as utility support and the energy efficiency consulting community can hone in on poorer performing buildings to help building owners reduce their building's energy use. Decreasing energy used in buildings will lead to less consumption of fossil fuels like coal, and will help China, and the world, get to their climate goals.


Photo Courtesy of Institute for Market Transformation

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