Tackling climate change is one of the most important issues of our time. Hong Kong needs to play its part, not only by reducing carbon emissions, but also in improving the city’s resilience in dealing with the potential impact. So the Chamber welcomes the public engagement process on the long-term decarbonisation of Hong Kong recently launched by the Council for Sustainable Development.
The public engagement document identifies the major sources of terrestrial greenhouse gas emissions from Hong Kong. Electricity generation accounts for around 65% of emissions, the transport sector about 18%, other fossil fuels and industrial processes about 10% and waste 7%. An important part of the public engagement document is the contribution that can be made by lifestyle changes. The goods we import generate emissions elsewhere and lower-carbon lifestyles can help to lower these.
Decarbonising our electricity supply is a key factor in long term decarbonisation, and the Chamber supports the Government’s policy of gradually phasing down the use of coal and increasing the use of gas and non-fossil fuels such as nuclear and renewable energy (RE).
Our power companies currently provide world-class supply reliability and any changes must ensure that this is not put in jeopardy. Energy costs are also important for business competitiveness, so changes should be made on a planned basis so the impact on electricity tariffs can be better managed. The Government may need to help smaller businesses with the economic costs of transition.
We therefore suggest to carefully plan for the longer-term importation of much more zero-carbon energy, including through regional cooperation, which may include working with other cities in the Greater Bay Area (GBA). We support the encouragement of local RE projects, but given today’s technologies, constraints on land use and the intensity of natural resources, these may not be able to provide enough supply.
RE is intermittent in the way it generates power so to ensure reliability, nuclear power will also be needed. Hong Kong has successfully imported carbon-free nuclear power to meet a quarter of our needs for almost 25 years and it has proved a stable and cost-effective energy source. We therefore suggest that additional supplies of nuclear together with imported RE should provide the bulk of the additional zero-carbon energy Hong Kong will need.
Implementation of this strategy will mean new challenges, as new infrastructure will probably take more than 10 years to design and build. It will need strong support from governments on both sides of the boundary, which could be supported under the GBA initiative.
Energy Efficiency in Buildings
Almost 90% of electricity use in Hong Kong is in buildings, as is a very high proportion of gas use. The government’s “Energy Saving Plan for Hong Kong’s Built Environment” details energy-saving measures that apply through to 2025. This provides a very good baseline, but new initiatives and a strengthening of existing ones are required to carry us through to the 2040s.
The Administration should put in place a mechanism to review the existing Building Codes and support the adoption of new materials and building techniques. Performance rating schemes for buildings should be tightened progressively, and for existing buildings financial incentives made available to allow the retrofitting of more energy-efficient applications such as air-conditioning, lighting and elevators.
Government incentives should be provided to implement a comprehensive programme along these lines before any tighter regulation is applied, so that a significant contribution to energy saving can contribute to any 2050 decarbonisation target.
The Chamber supports the Government’s “rail first” approach for mass public transport. Steps should be taken quickly to design and build the additional lines already identified, which will spur economic growth. More should also be done to move to low-emission buses, together with the provision of more comprehensive charging networks.
Electric vehicle technology is already well established and offers both lower carbon emissions and zero roadside air emissions. The Government should consider policy measures to significantly increase take-up, which has slowed since the 2017 reduction of incentives. The Government should also consider introducing an end-date for the registration of new internal combustion engine cars, perhaps by the mid-2030s.
Although marine transportation and aviation are not included in the public engagement exercise, we suggest that support is provided to logistics facilities and operators to electrify operations whenever possible. Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) bunkering would also help to reduce emissions.
Waste Reduction and Greener Lifestyles
While utility companies are working to capture and use the emissions from existing landfills, Hong Kong needs to change course and recognise the economic value of waste through both better recycling programmes and extension of the initial Government projects to support waste-to-energy generation.
Encouraging businesses and individuals to adopt lower carbon operations and lifestyles is important. We believe that a long-term programme of widespread public education is needed. Businesses will then be able to develop and market new low-carbon products and services for the public.
Setting a Carbon Reduction Target
The existing 2020 and 2030 carbon reduction targets for Hong Kong are based on a “carbon intensity” approach, which could allow emissions to increase as GDP grows. In line with the targets now being adopted by almost all developed economies, the Chamber believes that in setting a longer term 2050 decarbonisation target, an “absolute reduction in carbon emissions” target is needed.
A minimum target should be set in line with the commitment to the Paris Agreement, based on limiting temperature rises to 2˚C, which would mean a reduction of at least 60% against a 2005 base. We recommend setting an aspirational objective for Hong Kong to reach at least the 80% level.
The Council for Sustainable Development notes that achieving a net zero target by 2050 would need mandatory changes to lifestyles and business operations, rigorous (but as yet unknown) technological breakthroughs and 100% zero-carbon energy – which could mean almost all electricity being imported under very close regional cooperation.
The Chamber believes that getting backing from society for all these changes would be extremely difficult and we have therefore taken a more moderate position initially.
The Chamber supports the public engagement exercise and agrees with the setting of a longer-term target for Hong Kong that includes moving away from coal, improving the energy efficiency of buildings, and more electric vehicles.
We believe that in changing the long-term fuel mix for Hong Kong, supply reliability and then the security and availability of supply are the most important factors, followed by affordability and environmental performance equally. The most important single measure to enable deep decarbonisation would be to increase the proportion of zero-carbon energy in Hong Kong’s fuel mix, mostly through regional cooperation. We must do this in a way that ensures supply reliability is maintained and costs are controlled, so as to maintain the support of the community as a whole.
The need for reductions in carbon emissions will affect everyone in Hong Kong – in how choices are made at home and in business, how and where we travel, the energy we all use and the waste we create. Making these choices will often be less than straightforward and many of us may be reluctant to make them. Sustained public education campaigns will therefore be vital.
Businesses will need a framework of stable and clear long-term policy directions to plan adjustments, and may need financial help with the transition. All sectors of our economy and our society must do their part, and the Government should take the lead in setting the overall direction.
Taking Steps to Cut Emissions
Seminar discusses the changes we need to make in energy, transport and lifestyle
Hong Kong urgently needs to reduce its carbon emissions if it is to stand any chance of meeting its global climate change commitments. At a seminar on 26 August – co-hosted with the American, Australian, British and Canadian chambers – three experts discussed some of the possible routes towards decarbonising Hong Kong, looking at energy, transport and consumption.
Joseph Law, Senior Director of Planning and Development at CLP Power Hong Kong, explained that in Hong Kong, 65% of carbon emissions come from electricity generation, and 90% of these are from buildings.
Hong Kong needs to find new ways of providing energy, with at least 80% – and ideally 100% – coming from carbon neutral sources. “The message is we need access to large quantities of zero-carbon energy,” he said.
Key policies already in place include phasing down of coal use, replacing with natural gas and increasing the use of non-fossil fuel energy.
In Hong Kong, the electricity supply is particularly important as it powers 55% of the economy’s energy needs. This compares with 20% in Australia, for example.
“Demand changes second by second,” Law added. “The peak of electricity use is between 7:30 and 8:30 at night. That’s when some people haven’t yet finished work, while others are getting home and making dinner.”
For the city to function, it is crucial that the supply is extremely reliable. “There are 66,000 elevators working at any moment in Hong Kong,” he said. “We do not have 66,000 firemen to get you out if the electricity supply is disrupted.”
Zero-carbon energy sources include solar, wind, hydro, waste and nuclear – although the first three are intermittent. Law suggested that we should develop local renewable energy as far as possible, adding that regional cooperation – including importing carbon energy from the Mainland – will be crucial. Emerging technologies have an important role to play, but they currently come with considerable cost and feasibility challenges.
When it comes to our transportation system, Hong Kong does pretty well, as Simon Ng, Director of Policy and Research at the Business Environment Council, explained.
“It is one of the best in the world in terms of reliability, choice, and being affordable to most people. Hong Kong has very high use of public transport, among the highest in the world.”
But 18% of our emissions come from transport – a figure that has remained the same for many years. Hong Kong’s vehicle fleet has continued to grow, and the distances travelled are also on the rise, leading to roadside pollution and congestion.
On the plus side, we can capitalize on the fact that we are a compact city. “In Hong Kong, there is often no need to drive; you can walk or use public transport. Hong Kong should make the best use of these advantages.”
At this point, Ng said, it might be expected that he would discuss electrification. But we should first look at cutting down unnecessary car travel.
“For some journeys, especially the first or last mile, can you not take a bus or walk?” he said. “I think we can make some headway in this area.”
This will involve a “paradigm shift” in planning, he added, given that Hong Kong’s weather conditions are not ideal for being exposed to the elements. He also said that Hong Kong could do better in coordinating its different modes of transport, and in providing real-time travel information for passengers.
Edwin Lau, Founder and Executive Director of The Green Earth, explained that while Hong Kong’s levels of carbon emissions do not look too bad, the picture is quite different if you use consumption-based accounting.
“When you think about what we eat, what we wear, what we consume – were they produced in Hong Kong?” In fact, more than 95% of our food comes from overseas and we import everything from clothes to cars.
Hong Kong residents could certainly buy fewer items of clothing, as the city dumps 370 tonnes of textiles every day. Another simple lifestyle change is to go vegetarian, or at least eat less meat. Hong Kong people consume 664 grams of meat per person per day – the highest in the world. The global average is 113 grams.
“Meat lovers have the highest carbon emissions. Vegetarians have less than half the level of emissions.”
Consumers can also pay more attention to where their food comes from, and consider more environmentally friendly methods of cooking. “Cherish your food,” he added. “Don’t waste food.”
Lau showed his own electricity bill to demonstrate that it is relatively easy to cut your energy consumption – and bills – by being more thoughtful about using air-con, buying energy-efficient appliances, and having decent insulation.
All of these changes can easily be made, but Hong Kong people need to consider what is driving their consumption-based lifestyle.
“It is not need, it is greed,” Lau said. “Our greed is the problem. We need to rethink our value judgement. Do you want health or wealth?”