Cutting carbon in Hong Kong

As the richest and most advanced city in China, Hong Kong has proposed adopting a carbon intensity reduction target of 50% to 60% by 2020 as compared with 2005 levels. Greenhouse-gas emissions are expected to drop by one third off 2005 levels.

On December 8, chief of the Hong Kong Environment Bureau, Qiu Tenghua, was interviewed by chinadialogue staff in Cancún, Mexico, where he attended the UN climate change conference as a member of the Chinese delegation. During the interview, he expressed his firm belief that Hong Kong’s low-carbon development will undoubtedly bring new business opportunities to the city.

“As a leading financial centre, as well as a role model in the protection of intellectual property rights, Hong Kong has shown its potential to face up to the climate-change challenge and provide a platform for technology exchange among domestic and foreign companies,” said Qiu Tenghua. Besides, he added, Hong Kong, Macao and Guangdong will enhance their cooperation within the environmental and natural resources fields.  

A new report from the World Bank released last Friday highlights the fact that, among 50 selected cities, Hong Kong’s greenhouse-gas emissions are amongst the lowest, despite economic growth. In the past five years, Hong Kong’s GDP has grown by around 15%, while the city’s electricity consumption has maintained a growth rate of about 3% to 4%. According to Qiu Tenghua, “It is thus clear that improvements in energy efficiency can reduce a city’s demand for energy, which is driven primarily by economic forces.”   As an economic and trade centre, Hong Kong is taking emissions-cutting measures mainly in the energy, transport and waste-treatment sectors. “67% of Hong Kong’s carbon dioxide emissions are produced by the energy sector and the city’s buildings account for 90% of electricity consumption,” said Qiu Tenghua. “Transport is the second principal source, accounting for 18% of greenhouse-gas emissions.”  

Over the next decade, the Hong Kong government aims to enhance the energy efficiency performance of the city’s buildings and thus save up to 20% to 25% of its energy consumption. However, it is not easy to reduce carbon emissions in existing buildings. “Split incentives between building owners and tenants discourage the former from undertaking efficiency projects,” explained Qiu Tenghua. “However, the existing 40,000 buildings in Hong Kong, with the addition of around 500 to 600 new buildings each year, can definitely play an important part in improving the city environmental and energy situation.”

Hong Kong’s government is therefore promoting green-building renovation through financial incentives. “We have recently launched funding schemes to offer building owners partial subsides for about 2,000 energy efficiency projects,” announced Qiu Tenghua.     In order to mitigate greenhouse-gas emissions, key measures have also been taken to revamp the fuel mix for electricity generation. According to Qiu Tenghua, coal still accounts for more than half of the fuel mix for electricity generation in Hong Kong, natural gas and nuclear energy for about 23% and renewable energy for less than 1%. By 2020, the government aims to cut coal-fired power to about 5% of the fuel mix and, thanks to China’s west-east gas pipeline project, to increase the share of natural gas to around 40%. Moreover, nuclear energy is expected to account for 50% of the fuel mix and renewable energy, including wind power and solar energy, for about 3% to 4%.

Nevertheless, Hong Kong’s commitment to expand the nuclear power sector in order to meet its carbon-reduction goals has encountered fierce opposition from Greenpeace and WWF, among many other environmental NGOs. As stated by Greenpeace, the government’s consultation paper, Hong Kong’s Climate Change and Action Agenda, does not address issues concerning the construction costs of nuclear power plants or the treatment of nuclear waste, nor does it make public research reports on nuclear energy adoption. Hong Kong residents are thus prevented from assessing the risks of nuclear power.

Renewable energy could contribute up to 20% of Hong Kong’s total annual energy needs. Consequently, according to Greenpeace, as long as the city undertakes to furtherreduce its energy consumption and cooperates with Guangdong on developing renewable-energy projects within the Pearl River Delta region, it does not need to rely heavily on nuclear energy.