Promote Energy-Efficient Buildings in China

Christian Schnettelker/Flickr

China’s urban centers have become beacons of opportunity, lifting millions of citizens out of poverty and generating enormous economic growth. Yet they also fuel climate change: More than 70 percent of China’s carbon emissions come from cities, and nearly one-third of that from energy spent to heat, cool, and power large buildings. Unfortunately a big chunk of that energy is ultimately wasted—it flies out of drafty windows and through drains from outmoded appliances.

NRDC is helping local Chinese officials slash energy waste in buildings and reduce carbon pollution while making the air safer to breathe. Our project began more than two decades ago, when NRDC experts helped create the country’s first regional building codes designed to improve energy efficiency. Those measures then served as models for efficiency codes now in place nationwide. NRDC is also part of the U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center, a joint effort launched by President Barack Obama and President Hu Jintao, and then extended by President Xi Jinping, to develop and share technologies that boost energy efficiency.

Today NRDC and our local partners are focusing on a major opportunity to achieve more energy savings in commercial and residential buildings. In the run-up to the 2015 United Nations Paris climate talks, China made a commitment that 50 percent of all new buildings in urban areas will meet green building standards by 2020, largely by focusing on efficiency. Owners of existing buildings, however, lacked incentives to invest in efficiency measures, so NRDC began helping put those incentives in place.

To identify the best policies and practices, we are drawing on NRDC’s City Energy Project, a collaborative effort to cut energy use and waste in the large buildings of 10 American cities. Together with local officials, we have created a suite of policies that make it easier to invest in efficiency. The project is expected to save residents and businesses in those cities a total of nearly $1 billion a year on energy bills and cut up to seven million tons of carbon pollution annually.

We are now working to help China’s urban areas adopt similar policies. In Shanghai, for instance, we are encouraging local officials to embrace energy benchmarking, the process of measuring a building’s energy use and comparing it with past consumption or consumption in similar buildings. This identifies energy waste as well as opportunities for better performance.

NRDC is also helping establish a partnership between Shanghai and New York City, a leader in benchmarking and other policies that encourage building owners and operators to invest in smarter lighting, more efficient heating and air-conditioning systems, and other energy-saving solutions. These world-class cities are now working together to improve efficiency and deepen carbon pollution reductions.