Time to set targets on green buildings

“Ninety per cent of the electricity consumed in Hong Kong is used in buildings, and this consumption accounts for 60 per cent of Hong Kong’s greenhouse gas emissions.” How many times have we heard this statement in the past few years? It’s no secret that Hong Kong’s buildings are the primary source for energy and greenhouse-gas emissions, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that green buildings are the key to radical transformation of that statistic. So will somebody please tell me why there was merely an obligatory nod of acknowledgement in the recent policy address?

As a “world class” city, Hong Kong should be setting green building standards for other global cities. As an example, Singapore is enacting regulation this year requiring all buildings to get a minimum green certification when a new or replacement cooling system is installed.

At the very least, Hong Kong could take a more aggressive approach to reducing energy and greenhouse-gas emissions in existing buildings. A few years ago, there was great support for retrofitting existing buildings, both from the government and the building industry. What happened to that momentum?

Currently, Hong Kong is engaged in a debate on the energy fuel mix as we seek to reduce our greenhouse emissions by 19-33 per cent from 2005 levels, to be in line with China’s reduction in carbon intensity targets for 2020. In addition to looking at the supply side of the equation, the demand side – namely, buildings – cannot be ignored.

The enhanced Building Energy Code and the Buildings Energy Efficiency Ordinance are a start, yet these efforts are focused on new buildings or major renovations. What about Hong Kong’s 40,000 existing buildings? The key to unlocking the opportunity for reductions lies in creating regulations and incentives to encourage the retrofitting of existing buildings.

Green buildings can also be part of our efforts to reduce waste and improve air quality, as they encourage the use of non-vehicular methods of transport and provide safe and healthy indoor environments. Green buildings are not merely a “nice idea” or a plaque to hang on a wall. They are an imperative component of the government’s broader environmental vision for Hong Kong.

Yes, the city has a great many environmental challenges, not least air quality and waste. The government has taken a definitive stance on these two pressing issues, allocated resources and developed plans in the policy address to be executed. The same should be done for green buildings.

It’s not enough to acknowledge that our buildings use 90 per cent of the city’s energy and say that green buildings are the solution. What exactly are we going to do about it? What reduction targets are we aiming for? And by when?

We can’t manage what we can’t measure. Regulations, incentives, transparency, benchmarks, goals and planning are all required for the scale of the transformation needed. Still, there is hope, given that Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing is leading an interdepartmental steering committee to provide the guidance and leadership needed.

Source: South China Morning Post (written by Amber Marie Beard, Senior Project Manager at Civic Exchange)

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