SEA cities tackle how to decarbonize buildings in the region

Buildings represent about 37% of global energy use and energy-related CO2 emissions. In ASEAN, the building sector accounts for 23% of the region’s energy consumption and energy-related CO2 emissions (equivalent to 0.4 gigatonnes of CO2). The ASEAN Center for Energy reported that this sector’s energy use is still expected to grow by around 60% by 2030 and by 120% by 2040.

Addressing the energy consumption of the building sector is therefore a vital part of meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement.

175 local government stakeholders in Southeast Asia recently participated in a three-part webinar series on how to decarbonize buildings at the local level.

Organized by ICLEI Southeast Asia through the Zero Carbon Building Accelerator (ZCBA) project under the Building Efficiency Accelerator (BEA) network and initiative by the World Resources Institute (WRI), the webinar series tackled the key concepts in decarbonization, urban energy resilience, and bankability of sustainable energy projects on 6 October, 25 October, and 17 November 2022.

The webinar topics were based on the results of a training needs assessment survey for SEA cities administered from July to August 2022.

Victorino Aquitania, Regional Director of the ICLEI Southeast Asia Secretariat, said that ICLEI will continue working with local governments to deliver future learning opportunities covering their most pertinent sustainability issues and topics of interest.

He added, “We hope that the best practices, projects, policies, principles, and methods discussed through these webinars will contribute to the design of your future zero-carbon buildings, projects, and programs.”

Starting a city’s journey to net-zero buildings by 2050

Ron Jon Piter Silitonga, Research Analyst of the ASEAN Center for Energy, shared that a key principle of the ASEAN energy policy is “to ensure secure, sustainable, competitive, and affordable energy supply in the region.”

To achieve the policy, ASEAN member-states (AMS) are targeting to reach a 32% energy intensity reduction by 2025 based on 2005 levels.

Silitonga emphasized that energy efficiency measures in buildings are crucial to meet this target and many of the AMS are already implementing building codes either on a mandatory or voluntary basis. He also said that this can also be observed at the subnational level, citing Indonesia’s Jakarta and Bandung as frontrunners in implementing mandatory building codes for commercial buildings.

However, despite these achievements, more must be done as building consumption in the region is expected to grow by around 60% by 2030 and by 120% by 2040.

This call to action was echoed by Dr. Ksenia Petrichenko, Energy Efficiency Policy Analyst of the International Energy Agency. She encouraged national and subnational governments to orient their goals towards net-zero buildings by 2050.

A net-zero carbon building is defined as “a building that is efficient and relies on renewable energy sources that meet the energy demand over the course of a period.”

Dr. Petrichenko acknowledged that a clear and progressive transition pathway is needed to achieve this ambitious goal.

The Roadmap for Energy-Efficient Buildings and Construction in ASEAN is one such pathway. Jointly developed by the International Energy Agency (IEA), ASEAN Center for Energy, ASEAN Secretariat, and the Energy Efficiency and Energy Conservation Sub-Sector Network, the roadmap provides guidance towards energy efficiency, low-carbon, and eventually net-zero carbon buildings and space cooling in the region.

Urban planning is among the key action areas of this roadmap. This action area laid down various strategies which included (1) improving coordination and policy alignment at the national and local levels for low carbon development; (2) boosting low carbon urban infrastructure and construction; and (3) expanding capacity to deliver low-carbon urban development. The roadmap also offers policy packages in terms of regulation, information, and incentives.

The first strategy of the roadmap’s urban planning action area aligns with WRI’s ZCBA project.

Dhilon Subramanian, Manager of the Energy Program of WRI India, shared that the ZCBA project “supports the national and subnational governments in aligning their decarbonization efforts through coordinated roadmap and action plans.”

ZCBA builds the capacities of selected cities to meet its goal for “all new buildings [to be] net-zero by 2030 and all buildings are net-zero by 2050.”

Subramanian also hopes that the resulting tools, best practices, and financial solutions generated by the project can be shared and leveraged by SEA cities as they start their building decarbonization journey.

Kamisah Mohd Ghazali, Head of Key Result Area – Resilient Environment of the Iskandar Regional Development Authority (IRDA), said that while the goal of attaining net-zero buildings by 2050 appears to be overwhelming, it is necessary to push the low-emission development agenda.

She also encouraged other local governments to also put similar attention to the social dimension benefits of energy efficient buildings beyond energy savings, cost savings, and GHG emissions reduction such as job creation, improvement of health and well-being, poverty alleviation, air quality improvement, and resource efficiency.

Urban energy resilience through renewable energy solutions

SEA cities have taken the brunt of the negative impacts and threats of climate change as worsening extreme weather events become a regular occurrence. Building urban resilience is thus a core part of the climate strategies of national and subnational governments in the region.

Dr. Casper Agaton, Associate Professor of the University of the Philippines – Los Baños, emphasized that energy resilience is one of the strands of urban resilience and defined it as “the ability to avoid, prepare for, minimize, adapt to, and recover from unanticipated energy disruptions to ensure energy availability, reliability, and sufficiency.”

Dr. Agaton pointed out that because grid systems are vulnerable to natural calamities, local renewable energy systems are ideal solutions to mitigate the energy supply’s vulnerability to disruptions that also affect economic and social activities and productivity.

At the city level, renewable energy solutions can be integrated in buildings via decentralized (e.g. solar PV panels) or centralized (district heating and cooling systems) systems; in transport via urban railway systems and on-road mobility; and in demand side management via the creation of smart integrated urban energy systems.

Dr. Agaton also shared other examples of good practices of renewable energy and energy efficiency solutions in some SEA countries, such as a biogas project in Vietnam in which 250,000 biogas digesters not only managed human waste and animal dung, but also addressed hygiene and odor issues, waterway pollution, and GHG emissions.

This shows that sustainable energy solutions can bring about co-benefits that respond to the other mandates and responsibilities of local governments for their constituents.

Making energy efficiency projects effective and attractive

Engr. Mark Cabilo, Instructor at the University of San Carlos, highlighted the need to consider the buildings’ purpose including the building fabric, technical systems, and building operations in integrating energy efficiency solutions.

Although there is a plethora of energy efficiency policies and projects that local governments can select from and adopt, they are compelled to prioritize solutions that are within their means and scarce resources while ensuring energy security and fulfilling climate commitments.

As such, Engr. Cabilo explained that local governments can utilize energy use index (EUI), mitigated carbon emissions, and cost-weighted energy use as metrics in prioritizing interventions.

Additionally, proposals for energy efficiency solutions should also be able to demonstrate economic and financial viability to convince local leaders and potential investors to allocate the necessary capital costs.

ICLEI’s Transformative Actions Program (TAP), a project preparation facility that seeks to funnel available climate action funds to local governments, assists local governments and/or their partners to prepare bankable proposals that can be linked to potential and interested financiers.

Dr. Lloyd Bautista, a Public Administration and Management Expert at the Ateneo School of Government, discussed the different concepts associated with economic and financial analysis—a necessary step in developing project proposals and understanding the viability of a project.

He said that national and subnational governments are increasingly looking at other social and environmental dimensions such as costs to culture and social well-being, as well GHG emissions reduction contributions.

In comparison to the conduct of economic and financial analysis, these other dimensions are more complex but necessary as more local governments acknowledge the benefit of frontloading financial resources at the present rather than compromising the well-being of their population in the long-run.

ICLEI SEAS and WRI will review the lessons learned from the discussions and consider the feedback of the participants to shape potential technical assistance for local governments.

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