Reaching Carbon Neutrality in Hong Kong: A model for high-rise, high-density sub-tropical built environments

Commentary / 4th Quarter 2021

Reaching Carbon Neutrality in Hong Kong: A model for high-rise, high-density sub-tropical built environments

by Ir Dr Cary Chan, JP

December 14, 2021

Being one of the world’s most iconic cities, Hong Kong is famous for its distinctive subtropical built environment of high-rise, high-density urban areas juxtaposed with a large expanse of hilly and mountainous terrain. In this dynamic and vibrant city, human activities in the built environment account for about 90 per cent of the total electricity consumption. This translates to some 60 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions, which is well above the global average of approximately 40 per cent for the building sector.

Faced with the increasing pressures of climate change, it is vital for all communities worldwide to find Greener and more sustainable ways to live. For Hong Kong and other high-density sub-tropical cities, this requires the formulation of innovative solutions that address the specific requirements of their climate and urban needs.

Meeting the challenges of decarbonisation

There are over 42,000 existing buildings in the private sector in Hong Kong. Decarbonising these existing buildings is essential if Hong Kong is to achieve its long-term goal of carbon neutrality. Yet, transforming existing buildings presents a number of critical challenges. These can best be summed up as technical difficulties, management difficulties and behavioural difficulties. In technical terms, for instance, how can an existing building be kept fully operational while equipment and systems are being replaced? Moreover, if a building’s structure cannot be changed, what steps can be taken to cope with the additional structural loads of new installations?

Questions such as these make it clear that the research sector must urgently innovate and produce new plug-in products that are friendly to old buildings and can streamline the upgrade process at later stages of a building’s life cycle.

Spotlight on BEAM Plus

To achieve lasting change, every city must formulate Green building policies and initiatives that are tailored to its specific circumstances and needs. To keep pace with our changing world and the community’s evolving expectations, Hong Kong’s Green building rating tool BEAM Plus is used to define a wide range of affordable best practices that seeks to reduce the environmental impacts of buildings while improving building quality and user satisfaction. To date, it has achieved important milestones that confirm its position as a key player in Hong Kong’s Green transition: since 2014, the annual percentage of private sector projects applying for BEAM Plus certification has reached nearly 50 per cent; at the end of 2020, the number of buildings certified by BEAM Plus reached 2,991. In real terms, these numbers are equivalent to an estimated reduction of carbon dioxide emissions of more than 780,000 tonnes annually.

Hong Kong’s Green building developments

BEAM Plus is actively promoting a holistic and integrative approach to the design process in which sustainability goals are decided at the outset. By getting everyone involved in a project, including designers from various disciplines, the construction team, future maintainers and the property management department, this holistic approach creates new synergies that minimise waste, improve efficiency, and enable decision-makers to better understand the life cycle consequences of each decision made, including future costs, buildability and maintainability.

By engaging in life cycle assessments (LCAs), it is possible to assess the environmental impacts of construction materials from cradle to grave. In Hong Kong, LCAs are complemented by advanced software such as the CIC Carbon Assessment Tool, enabling property developers to evaluate embodied carbon in their projects. Insights such as these are invaluable in identifying new opportunities to progress towards carbon neutrality. In tandem with LCAs, BEAM Plus encourages the use of certified eco-products such as those certified under the CIC Green Product Certification scheme, and the use of more durable materials, especially those with product certification for construction materials under the Hong Kong Council for Testing and Certification.

Key highlights and initiatives from the HKGBC

Advancing Net Zero (ANZ) is a WorldGBC global project that aims to promote and support the acceleration of net zero carbon buildings to 100 per cent by 2050. Under this project, the WorldGBC is calling for all businesses, organisations, cities, states and regions to reach net zero operating emissions in their portfolios by 2030, and for all buildings to be net zero in operation by 2050.

In support of both this project and the HKSAR Government’s recent announcement of striving to achieve carbon neutrality in Hong Kong before 2050, the HKGBC organised its first-ever Advancing Net Zero Ideas Competition in 2021. This competition aims to generate ideas and solutions, enhance learning and knowledge sharing, and push the boundaries to design future-ready buildings and retrofit existing building stock to advance a net zero emissions economy by 20501.

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Ir Dr Cary Chan, JP is a professional engineer and is currently Executive Director of Hong Kong Green Building Council with the vision of driving the Green building agenda for Hong Kong. He has been appointed as the Chair of World Green Building Council’s Asia Pacific Regional Network on 1 July 2021. Dr Chan is regarded as an expert on building energy efficiency by the industry. He has carried out numerous researches relating to the enhancement of building energy efficiency. To date, a number of his works have won international awards. Dr Chan was key in establishing Hong Kong’s Green building assessment tool back in 1995. Since then, he has taken a leadership role in sustainable buildings in Hong Kong and abroad.





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