Green buildings: Ending the demolish and rebuild cycle in China

(China Dialogue, 31 May 2023) What is being done to lower the emissions footprint of new buildings, and retrofit old ones with insulation and low carbon-heating?

“We can’t be doing ‘large-scale demolition and construction’ in the name of urban regeneration,” Ni Hong, China’s housing minister, told reporters at this year’s Two Sessions meetings. An era is coming to an end.

Since the 1980s, excavators, cranes and scaffolding have been Chinese cities’ most conspicuous sights. And, particularly in the first two decades of this century, with the property economy booming, almost every city in China experienced the land requisition, demolitions, compensation and reconstruction that accompanied development. In 2009, a contributor to Guangzhou Daily even nominated the Chinese for demolition (拆, chāi) – so widely visible on building exteriors – as the character of the year.

In China, the property industry has relied heavily on a debt-driven approach. During times of economic prosperity, property companies have often borrowed from banks to fuel their expansion. They use the loans to acquire land from local governments, which make it available by demolishing old buildings and changing the land use in and around cities. Then, the companies pre-sell the flats before they have finished building them. The funds obtained from these pre-sales are then reinvested in acquiring more land.

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China Dialogue, 31 May 2023: Green buildings: Ending the demolish and rebuild cycle in China