China’s new green building regulations are here: what you need to know


  • New regulations on low-carbon buildings set to take effect in April 2022
  • New and existing projects will be required to submit full energy audits
  • New buildings are required to utilize solar and improve renewable energy mix
  • Continual improvement targets are expected
  • Ambitious Residential and industrial targets for energy savings are set

In 2020, China made the pledge to reach carbon neutrality by 2060, as well as peak carbon emissions by 2030. These promises were reaffirmed with the 14th Five-Year Plan release in 2021. Since then, there have been several policies that have come into effect, starting with a national carbon trading scheme.

Last October, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development issued a new regulation, the General Code for Building Energy Conservation and Renewable Energy Utilization, which goes into effect on April 1, 2022. This is the first mandatory regulation for carbon emissions from buildings and construction, and its scope is wide—including existing buildings, new buildings, construction commissioning and approval, renewable energy systems, as well as buildings operations.

Why now?

The construction industry in China accounts for more than half of the total carbon emissions nationwide. In order to meet the country’s ambitious carbon reduction targets, this policy is one in a line of many that will come into effect over the coming years. The new General Code will require stringent energy savings in residential, industrial, and in new building construction.

Shoring up and improving existing standards

This regulation is intended to solve multiple issues in the existing green regulatory framework, introducing mandatory policies around green buildings, including for the first time a clear mandatory standard for carbon emission intensity, which solves the problem of no clear quantitative index requirements for building carbon emissions in the past.

Residential area buildings will be required to have average energy savings of 75% in cold and extremely cold areas, and other climate zones will be expected to have an average energy savings of 65%. These numbers are pegged to energy consumption levels in 1980-1981.

Industrial targets will be increased by 20% as well.

Energy audits to set a baseline for emissions reduction

First and foremost it means a new layer of planning and forecasting energy consumption in line with international standards. In order to meet reduction goals and hit the national “3060” goal of peak carbon by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060, a baseline must be established in order for reductions to be made verifiably.

In addition to a full energy audit, renewable energy usage and carbon emissions reports will have to be submitted as well. Lifecycle emissions will have to be calculated based on projected energy use and energy type for both new and existing buildings. At every level of the building’s lifecycle, from surveying and design to live management to demolition, energy usage reports will have to be calculated and submitted. These will have to be approved according to the specifications within the law.

Energy calculations for new buildings will have to be calculated across 3 distinct levels:

Direct emissions

This will include the direct hydrocarbon fuel usage of the building’s operation. Cooking, steam, and any other direct usage of hydrocarbon fuel in regular operations are all included.

Indirect emissions

This includes consumption of grid electricity for heating and general operation. This is the primary source of emissions for a building during operations. Direct and indirect emissions combined represent the total emissions of a building’s operations.

Embodied emissions

These are the emissions involved in the design, construction and materials of the building—estimated to represent about 20% of a building’s lifetime emissions cost. New construction is encouraged to use low carbon construction methods and materials where possible in order to continually produce more energy savings.

Improving the energy mix

In addition to focusing on the reduction of energy use through design, construction, and operation, businesses and building owners will need to improve efforts to source power through clean energy sources.

Currently most energy in operations is generated using fossil fuels, such as coal or natural gas. On average, the proportion of renewable energy used is only about 6%. Audits will require the determination of carbon emissions based on the carbon emission factor of different energy types including coal, natural gas, etc. in order to encourage use of renewables.

New buildings will also be required to implement solar energy via photovoltaic panels and submit the total energy generation. This drive towards renewable energy will be met in design goals including an increase in the use of natural lighting, insulation, air thermal energy, biomass fuel sources, and geothermal power where appropriate.

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Reductions in emissions through retrofits and smarter management

The scope of this policy applies to more than just new buildings and standing ones. It’s regulations will also extend to retrofits, renovations, and feasibility studies. Each of these processes will need to at the least match baselines, but reducing carbon will be heavily encouraged. Any increase from current levels of emissions will be forbidden.

There are many ways to reduce a building’s overall emissions profile in operations. Reducing direct electricity or fuel consumption, retrofitting utility assets like HVAC and compressed air to improve energy efficiency, using building or operational materials that are recycled or recyclable.

For buildings where retrofits prove to be too difficult or costly to implement, building standards for any future renovations will have to meet their current energy savings standards.

Building managers will have to think proactively and deeply about meeting emissions reductions targets and make changes wherever possible. To make serious carbon reductions will require partnership with energy and environmental management firms and technical asset management vendors. Building management will need to become smarter and more digitalized using software like digital twin building platforms. Daily facility operations can also benefit by sourcing facility management providers who are experienced in reducing carbon impact through sustainability best practices.

Stronger standards, greener buildings

Since the outlay of China’s 14th Five-Year Plan, it is clear that green buildings will be a major focus going forward. Policies will grow increasingly broad and granular, reaching across sectors and industries, and even into consumer goods and the promotion of new energy efficient standards for items such as lights, doors and windows.

In the past decade, there have been many successful green buildings seen in China, but there are also many projects embarked on with little regard for the new standards of green buildings—for various reasons such as shortcomings in the planning stage, lack of expertise, or lack of know-how during the construction process. Although compliance with green building standards and regulations represent a higher initial cost, over time the social benefits and total cost reductions in operations from green buildings will be worth it.