For any strategies and actions to be meaningful, the government must set an overall long-term carbon reduction target coupled with interim targets for every three to five years starting from now to allow continuous monitoring of progress.
Hong Kong as a well-developed city in Asia, we should join hands with the rest of the world to combat the climate crisis with the greatest effort we can afford. Our government should also set tackling climate crisis as a top priority among other imminent government’s agendas. The reason is apparent, climate change will lead to sea-level rise which is likely to flood many of the city’s coastal areas or even the underground mass transit system. If that has happened, our economy and lives will be at risk.
While many economies have pledged carbon-neutral by 2050 or even earlier to fulfil their commitments towards the Paris Climate Agreement, Hong Kong should not hide away but should boldly demonstrate the city’s responsibility by setting a carbon-neutral target by 2050, without hesitation.
The four main action areas
1. Power generation and energy conversation
As around 65 per cent of the city’s GHG emissions came from power generation by the two local power companies, it is a no brainer to develop bold plans to decarbonize power generation. However, it might not be too realistic to install many large-scale renewable energy systems in Hong Kong due to space constraints, so why not consider developing large-scale renewable energy plants in the Greater Bay Area. Such huge investments should be mainly came from the two power companies as their long-term investment, together with investments by Hong Kong people and businesses so that the local power companies as the largest shareholders will have full control of the plants whereby to feed zero-carbon, clean and safe (compared with nuclear energy) energy to Hong Kong via a dedicated under-water power line.
This will be a great opportunity for the power companies or the government to issue a green bond to let local businesses and people to invest in a green project and to contribute to the growth of the city’s green finance.
By lowering the use of coal and by increasing the use of natural gas will reduce GHG emissions but this will not eliminate the carbon emissions entirely. So this is considered to be an interim measure and we should NOT treat this as a silver bullet and stop developing zero-carbon power generation.
Besides the traditional renewable energies, such as solar and wind, Hong Kong should also investigate and develop other viable forms of renewable energy that are not mature or even not to be considered at this very moment. Something does not work today does not mean that it won’t be feasible tomorrow.
Renewable energy such as wind and solar had an unstable nature, or they supply energy intermittently so there is a need for energy backups when operating renewable energy systems. Our government should devote resources for scientists to conduct research and development into some innovative systems that will be able to stabilize the power supply from the irregular renewable energy. It is more practical if it is a distributed system instead of a single large system for the whole of Hong Kong. As such, every building will have its own small-scale system to stabilize the power supply. An idea for consideration is to develop a device that replicates the function of a capacitor which works as an electricity reservoir, but surely it must be of a much larger scale when it comes to working for a whole building instead of a high-end sound system.
Buildings account for 90 per cent of the electricity used by the city, therefore improving building’s energy efficiency is considered another important scope that should be reviewed and improved. The mandatory building energy codes are considered too lax for today’s standards to give any strong push to the property development sector to build buildings that will achieve top standards in energy efficiency. The government should, therefore, set higher building energy codes for all types of buildings including government ones. The government should also set different energy utilization index (EUI) levels for buildings and to charge higher rates for buildings that stay at the higher EUI range, and to charge lower rates for buildings that stay at the lower EUI range to incentivize energy efficiency improvement. First of all, the government must do a comprehensive study to paint a broad picture of the EUI across all types of buildings of the city to understand how good or bad Hong Kong is doing in terms of building energy performance.
Cooling down indoor environments of a building by applying traditional air conditioning systems should NOT be the only means, we must innovate in ways and systems to cool the entire building to reduce heavy reliance on energy-hungry air conditioning systems, such as by having better shading or insulation from solar radiation. This could be developed right from the architectural design stage to make it a green feature of the buildings.
Electrical appliances are another area that we should not ignore. The government should set a minimum standard for the energy efficiency of the major electrical appliances for both domestic and commercial use. By doing so, it will eliminate those power-hungry appliances from the market and this will help reduce the energy use of the entire building.
Carbon capture and storage is a system that some scientists have proposed, but we need to be careful if considering using some forms of mechanical means to store carbon dioxide emitted from power plants. No one can give a full guarantee that the locked carbon dioxide will not leak from the man-made system back to the atmosphere. So, although it is an option, we should go for the natural way of carbon capture and storage, which is our forests, they absorb carbon dioxide and store them in trees and to keep the eco-system in balance. The government should keep enhancing the coverage of trees in both rural and urban areas as far as possible.
Conventional vehicles and ships use internal combustion engines that consume fossil fuels such as petrol or diesel should be reinvented in terms of fuel use and power generation.
We should develop engines that can use zero-carbon fuels such as hydrogen or electricity. And these fuels should be produced in a carbon-neutral way, otherwise, we can only achieve zero-carbon emissions during the journey instead of the entire life cycle.
Electrical-powered transport is considered a relatively cleaner mode of transport worthy for further innovation and development. One day ocean-going vessels could be driven by sails mainly and back up by engines that burn extremely low-carbon or even renewable fuels.
The town planning for the city needs to be overhauled to make it truly friendly for walking and cycling as this will greatly cut down the needs for private vehicles. As a result, GHG emissions arising from vehicle movement will be reduced and the public’s health will get improved due to frequent exercises.
Trees are a natural carbon sink while they will help suppress the heat island effect. So the government must explore all means to increase the coverage of trees both in urban and rural areas. When the city is largely shaded and cooled by trees and vegetations, the ambient temperature will drop hence the needs for air conditioning will be reduced.
3. Lifestyle and consumption
Extreme weather is proven to affect food production and water supply worldwide. Hong Kong imports from elsewhere over 90 per cent of food supply and over 70 per cent of water supply to sustain the ongoing needs of the city, hence if we do not play our part to alleviate climate crisis actively and immediately, the livelihood of Hong Kong people will be at risk.
According to a University of Hong Kong study, when using consumption-based accounting rather than the government’s production-based accounting to calculate Hong Kong’s GHG emissions, it reaches 109 mega tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent, which is more than double that of the government’s estimation (41.6 mega tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent). The huge difference is deemed coming from the embedded carbon of our consumption including food, water as well as many other products such as clothes, electronic and electric equipment, automobiles, etc. The study reveals that our international imports account for 62 per cent of the city’s total GHG emissions.
The current lifestyle of Hongkongers is meat-heavy. On average, we consume 664 grams of meat daily, which is 5.6 times the global average. Our per capita seafood consumption is three times higher than the global average.
Moreover, Hong Kong is the top importer of beef (24 per cent) from Brazil where it suffers from serious forest fires burning the Amazon Rainforest lately. It was reported that Brazilian farmers burn down part of the forest to raise cattle and grow crops such as soybean.
According to the same University of Hong Kong study, it says by lowering our meat consumption will lower the city’s GHG emissions by 43 per cent. So, the government should educate the public constantly in reducing meat consumption or even go vegetarian for the sake of public health and the planet’s health.
Most Hongkongers are fond of shopping where they shop frequently not because of needs, but because of trend-chasing or soul-satisfying! One of the apparent examples is the fast-fashion industry where it triggers people, especially female consumers, to keep buying new clothes even their wardrobe is over-saturated. To make room for these newly bought clothes, 370 tonnes of used clothes were disposed of at our landfills every day, which exacerbates the acute waste crisis.
So, we must reconsider our lifestyle and consumption pattern and to let go wasteful lifestyle and to persuade our peers to do so.
4. Disclosure of GHG emissions and waste generation/disposal data by individual companies and government departments
Disclosing GHG emissions and waste generation/disposal of a company, especially the larger ones, is a world trend and Hong Kong should quickly catch up the trend. The Hong Kong Clearing and Exchanges Limited (HKEX) has proposed a better disclosure of GHG emissions for listed companies in its recent consultation on the Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) reporting guide.
When companies are required by law to disclose their GHG emissions and waste generation/disposal data, it will drive them to slash their GHG emissions and waste disposal as no companies would like to see their companies stay at the top level of the GHG emissions and waste disposal chart to earn a better corporate image.
GHG emissions should always link to the reporting of climate-related risks. The government should provide benchmarks of estimated physical risks per different levels of GHG emissions per capita, eg. The projection of future flooding area, or the increased occurrences of extreme weather incidents. So companies could assess the effectiveness of mitigation measures to lower the risks, and show investors that business remains unaffected under climate change.
The government needs to do a lot more in public education for all sectors and all ages to make them understand a sustainable way of living will greatly shrink our carbon footprint for the long-term sustainability of Hong Kong and the whole world.
By conserving energy and using much higher percentage of clean renewable energy is a must-do, but if by only working on these two aspects is unable to drive the city towards a carbon-neutral goal by 2050 or even the low-level of 1 tonne/year per capita carbon emissions, all Hong Kong people should adjust our wasteful lifestyle and consumption behaviour to save us from the life-threatening climate change.
Submitted by: The Green Earth
Date: 19 September 2019