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Climate change and energy efficiency of buildings

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that has drawn worldwide attention was held in Paris over the past two weeks. More than one hundred countries participated in rounds of negotiations on the new agreement for specific targets for emission reduction, in a bid to hold the increase in the global temperature to below two degrees Celsius. In fact, countries have been engaged in endless debates on reducing emissions over the years, as the crisis of climate change is just around the corner.

One of the noteworthy developments during this year’s UNFCCC is that Buildings Day was held for the first time, so as to arouse public concern on the energy consumption of buildings. According to the information provided by the UNFCCC, more than 30 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions are buildings-related, and emissions could double by 2050.  In view of this, 18 countries and more than 60 relevant organisations announced the formation of an alliance on Buildings Day, with a view to promoting the enhancement of energy efficiency of buildings around the world.  The goals are to attain “zero emissions” from all new buildings by 2050, and to renovate old buildings to improve their energy efficiency.

Many may be doubtful as to whether these ambitious goals set by the alliance can be met.  As a member of the global village, I sincerely hope that they can.  With the advancement of construction techniques and other innovative technologies, I hope that every country will show its determination to enhance energy efficiency of buildings, so that “zero emissions” from a majority of new buildings will no longer be a dream one day.

In Hong Kong, buildings account for some 90 per cent of electricity consumption and 60 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.  To reduce the greenhouse gas emissions, the HKSAR Government has been actively promoting the enhancement of energy efficiency of buildings in recent years, including the introduction of “green building” concept in 8 000 government buildings.  For example, the newly commissioned Trade and Industry Tower in Kai Tak won the Grand Award of the Green Building Award 2014, and has attained Platinum rating and Platinum certification, the highest ratings respectively, in the Building Environmental Assessment Method (BEAM) Plus Assessment of the Hong Kong Green Building Council and under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certificate programme of the US Green Building Council.  It has become a positive role model for the industry and encourages the private sector to adopt more energy-saving devices and renewable energy technologies in their projects.  From 2009-10 to 2013-14, electricity consumption of government buildings has been reduced by five per cent, and we plan to reduce it by another five per cent in the next five years based on the electricity consumption in 2013-14.  In regard of energy efficiency of private buildings, with the enactment of the Buildings Energy Efficiency Ordinance (BEEO) in 2012, building services installations of new buildings and existing buildings undergoing major retrofitting works are required to comply with the minimum energy efficiency standards.  In addition, commercial buildings are required to carry out energy audits every 10 years and make public their energy utilisation indexes.

In light of the social development and advancement in technology, the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department gazetted last Friday the updated 2015 editions of the codes of practice for buildings’ energy efficiency in pursuance of the BEEO, which has further enhanced the energy efficiency standards of building services installations.  The new editions, which will be fully implemented in September next year, mainly tighten the energy efficiency standards and expand the coverage of four key types of building services installations, namely electrical, air-conditioning, lighting, and lift and escalator installations.  They also cover the upgrading of the performance of various devices, and the installation of automated control systems and equipment that facilitates the monitoring of energy consumption.  The new codes of practice, which are more stringent than the 2012 versions currently in use, can enhance energy efficiency by 10 per cent.  We expect that by 2025, energy savings from all new buildings in Hong Kong due to the BEEO will be about five billion kilowatt hours, equivalent to the total annual electricity consumption of about one million households or a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of about 3.5 million tonnes.  We also believe that the improvement in energy efficiency of building services installations will not only benefit occupants or tenants of the buildings by lowering their electricity bills, but also the environment as a whole.

Looking ahead, Hong Kong will host the World Sustainable Built Environment Conference in 2017.  Experts around the world will gather in Hong Kong to look into the latest development and challenges ahead.  We should seize this rare opportunity to show the world our achievements in promoting “green buildings”, especially in terms of energy conservation.  The HKSAR Government will also keep pace with the times and update the regulation on the energy efficiency of buildings according to the social circumstances and latest technological development.  However, it is equally important for all of us to be aware of the need to protect the environment and save energy in our daily lives, like always turning off the electrical appliances after use.  Climate change is a major issue for mankind.  Let’s work together to reduce energy consumption and emissions, so as to leave our next generation with a world that will still be suitable for living.

13 December, 2015