Orange News: At the 20th National Congress, President Xi pledged to protect the environment, promoted green lifestyles, maintained harmony between humanity and nature when planning development, support low-carbon industries, ensured the conservation of its diverse ecosystems and pursued an “energy revolution.”
President Xi’s speech has established a clear direction for the whole nation. As a special administrative region of China, Hong Kong must follow the Central Government’s priority of building an “Ecological Civilisation” with ecologically responsible economic growth in creating a more sustainable and liveable territory.
In the latest policy address, our Chief Executive has proposed to enhance Hong Kong’s governance systems by adopting 110 ‘Indicators for Specific Tasks’ judging against each performance.
It would be excellent if this initiative allows the government to provide a public tracking website that gives the ‘baseline’ for each indicator and a progress record adjusted annually when preparing each year’s policy address. These approaches will both accelerate the implementation of policy initiatives and highlight policies needed for additional actions. Such governance is particularly useful for policy initiatives which take many years to implement. For example, decarbonisation and housing issues improvements.
Enhancing the Government’s research, policy development and advocacy capabilities by setting up a Chief Executive’s Policy Unit on long-term, strategic issues and formulation of forward-looking policies. The new Chief Executive’s Policy Unit will replace Policy Innovation and Co-ordination Office (PICO) and see it as an important unit which will need an outstanding head and staffing. Further the renaming of the Council for Sustainable Development as the Council for Carbon Neutrality and Sustainable Development and tasking it with offering advice on decarbonisation strategies. This role may be key to the Government meeting its Climate Action Plan 2050 commitments as decarbonisation affects almost every aspect of the economy and the work of most government departments.
Supporting the expansion of Hong Kong’s financing platform by establishing the Hong Kong New Investments Corporation Limited (HKIC), growing the government green bond market and helping the development of Hong Kong as an international carbon market.
Government leadership on actions to decarbonise and adapt to climate change. The size and importance of this task are indicated by the Chief Executive, noting the government will need to allocate about $240 billion in the next 15 to 20 years to support decarbonisation and adapting to climate change. This public investment will need to be complemented by substantial investment from the private sector; particularly in making buildings more energy efficient.
The Policy Address proposed decarbonising building operations. The improvement of building energy efficiency is beneficial to decarbonisation collectively, however, it has not been made clear how they fit into the Government’s Climate Action Plan 2050, in particular with the Climate Action Plan’s 2035 target to reduce total electricity consumption in buildings. It would be helpful if the Environment Bureau and Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD) arranged a ‘progress report’ on the Climate Action Plan which includes the new initiatives and clarifies how many initiatives in this area can combine to meet the 2035 target.
Hong Kong is undergoing transformation involving a substantial urban renewal programme and building couples mage infrastructure. Constructing buildings lead to substantial carbon emission. Besides decarbonising building operations, the government also recognised the importance of decarbonising building construction, in particular, making materials such as steel and cement on site. The Chief Executive reinforced his support for the further development of Modular Integrated Construction (MiC) methodology which reduces these emissions as well as expedites housing supply. We recommend more should be done. In particular, the government can require a building developer to file a calculation of its embodied carbon with the Buildings Department within, say, six months of the Occupation Permit. To enhance transparency and create peer pressure, the Buildings Department should make embodied carbon information available on its public website. This will make the best practice visible to the public and form the basis for the government in setting limits on the maximum carbon intensity of building constructions. The government might start this initiative for its own buildings, making it a requirement to grant a Gross Floor Area concession.
The government proposed a series of profound initiatives to decarbonise transport. For example, it promotes electric and hydrogen vehicles, actions which align with a research report from a public think tank, “Decarbonising Hong Kong’s Roads: Pathway Towards a Net-Zero Road Transport System”. The clear short-term goals and timeline for promoting electric and new energy public transport and commercial vehicles are especially valued. There are, however, two important areas that the Chief Executive needs to further consider.
Firstly, the Chief Executive needs to consider developing a policy objective for the share of journeys on public transport rather than cars. Over the past 20 years, the number of private cars has increased by over 70% while there have been only modest increases in other vehicles. These cars take up road spaces, leading to traffic congestion which makes buses and freight move slower and burn more fuel per kilometre.
Secondly, the Chief Executive needs to consider explicitly recognising the carbon emissions from the production and distribution of both hydrogen and electricity. Sourcing affordable hydrogen created with little carbon emission is key to the extent to which hydrogen-powered vehicles help decarbonisation.
Reducing carbon emissions and other pollution from waste. The government’s commitments to implementing municipal solid waste charging, increasing recycling and building materials recovery, as well as waste-to-energy plants. An important benefit of these implementations is to reduce the need to convert Country Parks into Waste Landfills. The government may consider further improving resource circularity by introducing new recycling technology and regulation to boost the recycling rate of lithium-ion batteries and solar panels.
Despite the devastating consequences of the COVID-19 crisis, we must remain forward-looking and anticipate the time of recovery. This should be taken as an opportunity to fundamentally rethink and reshape our society and to develop a new economic model built around green principles.
As Hong Kong faces many challenges, it is more important than ever to focus on core environmental issues so as to raise our city’s attractiveness and competitiveness… to show our citizens as well as the world that Hong Kong is resilient!
Originally published on Orange News on 28 Oct 2022. Written by Lawrence Iu.