As the planet warms, booming cities scramble to cut energy use
The fifth in a series of stories on China.
SHANGHAI -- A fifth of the world's construction cranes were at work here in the mid-1990s, pushing this city's skyline up from the banks of the Huangpu River.
High-rises went up fast but were generally not made to last. Steel was comparatively cheap, and electricity consumption was an afterthought.
"There was more concrete poured in Shanghai than all of Western Europe combined," said Rob Moult, Johnson Controls Inc.'s vice president for building efficiency in Asia. "When you're in that kind of market, who the hell cares about retrofitting a building?"
Shanghai and other big Chinese cities are still rising by the block, but construction practices are shifting in the country's emerging market economy. Developers are starting to embrace "green" design standards to meet tougher building codes as well as give their projects an edge in the crowded marketplace.
The confluence of forces has also created a $600 billion Chinese market for reducing energy consumption in existing buildings, estimated Ruiying Zhang, a Beijing-based analyst with the Energy Foundation, a grant-making organization. Fewer than 7 percent of China's buildings meet regional and local codes, which have been ramped up significantly in the past few years, she said.
Climate change could be the next catalyst. Seeing an opportunity to shrink China's massive carbon footprint, a coalition of global energy service companies, banks and nongovernmental organizations coordinated by former President Bill Clinton is preparing to expand a first-of-its-kind building energy retrofit program to China.
The Clinton Climate Initiative's $6 billion program -- aimed at replacing everything from inefficient windows and insulation to heating and cooling equipment -- more than doubles the size of the global retrofit market.
The cash could not come a moment sooner, program participants say.
"Scientific knowledge tells us that the next 10 years are crucial in terms of mitigating climate change, but can China do it fast enough?" asked Peggy Liu, chairwoman of the Joint U.S.-China Cooperation on Clean Energy (JUCCCE), a Shanghai-based nonprofit that is using a Clinton Foundation grant to distribute 10 million compact fluorescent lamps in Chinese buildings.
"The answer is no," Liu said, "unless there's international cooperation now to multiply the impact of financial resources and expertise."
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