Hong Kong-based environmental NGO CarbonCare InnoLab (CCIL) released its latest report tracking the city’s progress in meeting the Paris Agreement goals. The report gave Hong Kong a dismal “C” grade and warned that the city has taken “far too little action” on climate change and that leaders must implement clear plans to reduce emissions.
What is Happening?
- The report, titled “The Hong Kong Climate Action Report,” was put together by a panel of experts, and scored Hong Kong a “C” grade for the year of 2020. This is a slight improvement from last year’s “C-” grade achieved, but the panel says that this is due to Hong Kong recently pledging to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, and not due to “any substantial climate action.”
- However, the report says that the carbon neutrality announcement was “buried deep in the Policy Address [by Chief Executive Carrie Lam], preceded by several carbon-intensive plans such as a third airport runway and new facilities for cars which failed to correspond with the decarbonisation statement.”
- The report is damning, saying that “the setting out of a more ambitious climate action plan for the city is seriously overdue, and Hong Kong has taken far too little action in the intervening period despite having identified undeniable areas for urgent action on energy and efficiency. This delay may come back to haunt us.”
- Hong Kong has done nothing substantially new since it announced in January 2016 that it would cut emissions by between 26% and 36% by 2030. To meet the 2050 goal will require “dramatic changes in the way we live and do business in Hong Kong.”
- However, the report also warns that Hong Kong may shift the burden of carbon reduction by importing nuclear or renewables from mainland China instead of maximising the development of its local renewables potential.
- Regarding the 2050 target, the report argues that a reduction plan needs to contain steep emissions reduction targets for the next few years, regular milestones, KPIs and thorough costings matched by adequate finance. Such a plan also needs to show how the government will draw in business, finance and all citizens to support this decarbonisation effort. “The sooner this process begins, the more realistic and less painful the process of hitting the 2050 target will become, and the sooner business and society can prepare for the economic, technical, educational and social opportunities that will emerge from the transition to a sustainable future,” the report says.
Chong chan-yau, co-founder and CEO of CCIL, says, “Hong Kong is an advanced economy with well-developed financial and technical resources. Hong Kong is also a Steering Group member of C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group. For both these reasons, Hong Kong should be leading climate action in the region. We have to meet targets for 2030 and 2050. We also need to focus on annual plans and immediate actions.”
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How Can Hong Kong Achieve its Climate Goals?
- Renewable Energy
The city has not altered its targets for renewable energy since those announced in the Climate Action Plan 2030+ in early 2016. The introduction of the Feed-in Tariff (FiT) by small-scale producers was welcomed, but the terms of the scheme need to increase in scale and ambition if such a measure is to make a significant contribution to decarbonisation. The Council for Sustainable Development’s (SDC) Public Engagement Report sets out recommendations to address the transition to clean electricity generation, however the entire public engagement exercise has been criticised by some as an excuse to justify emissions-free energy imports from the mainland. The new Long-term Decarbonisation Report from the SDC now provides several policy recommendations, pointing to both local and imported solar, wind and nuclear power, along with green hydrogen. These recommendations should be addressed in Hong Kong’s new Climate Action Plan which the Chief Executive expects to be ready in the middle of 2021.
- Energy Efficiency
The panel says that it has seen no progress to achieve the necessary energy efficiency for Hong Kong’s buildings, which represents the largest sector of energy use. There has been no push to raise building efficiency standards while simultaneously providing incentives, subsidies and penalties to drive up adoption of those standards. The picture is similar in transport. The government announcements on electric vehicle charging points, diesel emissions standards and pilot schemes do not amount to carbon neutrality before 2050. The SDC recommends phasing out internal combustion engines, road pricing and other measures to discourage the use of private vehicles in the city. A new Climate Action Plan must set out a joined-up plan for emissions-free transport.
- Climate Adaptation
There has been no significant announcements about climate change adaptation for Hong Kong in policy addresses, budgets or officially commissioned reports in the past four years. This is despite many official discussions saying that the Greater Bay Area is one of the world’s regions most vulnerable to climate change. Hong Kong must create clearer preparedness plans for sea level rise and extreme weather events, like typhoons. Additionally, new transmissible diseases arising from hotter average temperatures continue to be a concern. Measures are overdue for preparation, reduction, response and recovery related to periods of heat stress.
- Governance and Finance
A high-level and dynamic climate change body must be put into place by the Hong Kong government to aid in turning ideas into plans and policies. The highest-level government climate group- the Steering Committee on Climate Change- needs to take firm control of the climate action agenda. In the finance sector and among the financial regulatory bodies, there has been positive action when it comes to climate change response. The announcement of the Cross Agency Steering Group on Green and Sustainable Finance in 2020 lined up key players across the sector in the name of heightened action on green finance. The proof of the effectiveness of this steering group will have to be demonstrated in the coming months as the finance sector and its regulators explain what role they plan to play in support of the government’s goal of carbon neutrality before 2050. Hong Kong Government’s USD$2.5 billion Green Bond also signalled a desire to achieve some momentum on climate-related finance in Hong Kong. In the realm of international agreements and cooperation, Hong Kong, in the shape of Environment Secretary KS Wong, stepped up to join the Task Force of the C40 Cities Mayor’s “Agenda for a Green and Just Recovery” committing over 40 cities around the world to ensure that economic recovery is sustainable.