Civic Exchange’s recommendations on Policy Address 2021-2022
The recently released IPCC report indicates that climate change is now a serious threat to humanity and that the climate impact is no longer limited to our next generation. It states, “Global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C will be exceeded during the 21st century unless deep reductions in carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades… With further global warming, every region is projected to increasingly experience concurrent and multiple changes in climatic impact drivers. Changes in several climatic impact-drivers would be more widespread at 2°C compared to 1.5°C global warming”. We’re already seeing the enormous human and economic costs with the floods in Henan and London, the fires in Australia, the USA, Greece, and Turkey.
Hong Kong itself is vulnerable to typhoons and storm surges, Additionally, Hong Kong will suffer more frequent heat extremes and heavy precipitation. Flooding will increase with frequent storm surges and heavy rainfall with potentially devastating socio-economic consequences.
This year, the Hong Kong Observatory recorded the city’s hottest May, with 12 ‘very hot’ days and 14 ‘hot’ nights. Sub-divided residents in low-income areas of the city suffer the most1 Energy poverty (relative spending on energy) is also prominent among low-income groups.
In October 2020, the HKSAR Chief Executive stated that Hong Kong should be carbon neutral by 2050. We hope the Climate Action Plan under development will set out a comprehensive roadmap to achieve carbon neutrality before 2050. We appreciate the Government’s commitment to decarbonising Hong Kong’s economy while at the same time tackling many other social challenges such as adequate housing, which will also build resilience in our city.
We note that progress in reducing the average energy consumption of commercial buildings is slow and this will hinder reaching targets. Also, the number of private cars in Hong Kong increased by a staggering 40% between 2010 and 2019, which also is unfavourable in terms of the city moving toward carbon neutrality.
We do, however, believe that Hong Kong, as a developed city with little exposure to hard-to-decarbonise sectors such as industry and agriculture should lead in achieving net-zero by 2050.
Yet, to achieve decarbonisation, Hong Kong needs specific and comprehensive policies coupled with regular progress reviews.
This submission sets out our suggestions for an all-rounded and feasible long-term Climate Action Plan to achieve the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Specifically, we recommend the following principles to the Chief Executive for her 2021/22 Policy Address as fundamental components of a holistic climate policy:
1. Show strong leadership and determination in limiting global temperatures to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels through setting legally-binding, science-based climate targets by 2022.
The Chief Executive must lead all government departments, public bodies, and agencies to develop measurable, actionable, and time-bound objectives to limit global temperatures to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels with a science-based approach. Targets should be reviewed and, where needed, revalidated every 5 years from the original target approval.
2. Establish at least 10% renewable energy (RE) target for Hong Kong climate action plan.
Diversify renewable energy portfolio and promote solar photovoltaic (PV) technology by placing solar PV systems reservoir, government and community buildings, footbridges, in open spaces, and on-highway infrastructure with large surface areas, such as noise barriers.
3. Realise 30% energy saving improvement by 2030 and net-zero carbon buildings by 2050. Adding an ‘Operating Energy Ratings’3 tool to assess the actual performance of buildings and to provide the corresponding data for energy efficiency measures. The tools will also enable building owners to leverage green and sustainable finance to address pain points for existing buildings, for example through retro-commissioning and incentivising green designs in new buildings; targets should apply to both existing and new buildings. Tighten the grading and expand the product categories of the Mandatory Energy Efficiency Labelling Scheme (MEELS). All compulsory electricity appliances in new buildings or retrofitting must comply with the MEELS grade 1 label. Other than expanding product categories, the introduction of enforcement measures should also be considered.4 The least efficient products should be phased out annually.
4. Source more low-carbon electricity from the Greater Bay Area (GBA).
The Government and local electricity companies should explore opportunities for energy collaboration in Mainland China, particularly by introducing low carbon energy projects. Hong Kong could thus become a more significant investor in utility projects in Southern China. To further encourage the local renewable energy development, the Government should summarize published and ongoing research on Hong Kong’s renewable energy potential annually. For example, while little talked about Hong Kong is on a former volcanic area where geothermal energy may become viable.
5. Enhance measures for balancing electricity supply and demand .
It seems inevitable that Hong Kong becomes more reliant on electricity supply from Mainland China and from sources such as renewables and nuclear where supply cannot be efficiently adjusted. Storing energy and demand management will therefore become much more important. Actions needed includes:
1.Energy storage through a combination of:
- Pumped storage in Hong Kong.
- Thermal energy storage systems in large buildings.
2. Demand management arrangements for utility companies to be able to control when their customers use electricity for air-conditioning and charging EVs. These should include tariff systems which provide electricity at a lower price to customers who accept demand management systems.
6. Introduce a decarbonisation financing scheme and introduce a carbon tax.
Replicate energy efficiency and renewable energy projects within government properties, open spaces and privately-owned buildings by setting up a decarbonisation financing scheme. Implement a progressive carbon charging system by 2025. The system should be tested within the context of high carbon products, electricity bills, and aviation emissions. Charges received will be allocated to the funding pool of the decarbonisation financing scheme. Progressive pricing should be designed to reduce the burden of underprivileged during the transition. Showcase the economic cost and benefit for decarbonisation practice to incentivise the business sector and individuals to further decarbonise.5
A mandatory cap and trade system with no international offsets should be developed. A Cap and trade system has already been in place in the European Union for over a decade. Hong Kong should catch up with our Asian neighbours China, South Korea and Toyko, which already have relatively comprehensive systems.
7. Rethink urban planning and transform Hong Kong into a people-centric city.
Better town planning should be adopted to improve walkability, to provide pedestrians with more comfortable, enjoyable places to walk and to access public transport networks. A quota for private car licenses6, electronic road pricing and a “Zero Emission Zone” should be introduced to help our city ‘shift’ to less carbon emission-intensive transport modes; Chief Executive leadership from the Government administration is required to lead the
Transition and a timeline should be set for decarbonising all vehicles including commercial vehicles.
8. Apply nature-based solutions for climate change mitigation and resilience building.
Climate change and biodiversity collapse are the two greatest threats we face. These dual crises are intertwined and must be addressed jointly. Mangroves, for example, store more carbon than terrestrial forests so their restoration is desirable and would strengthen resilience amid climate change and extreme weather events.