Climate Change

Short-sighted bureaucrats choose any colour but green

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 December, 2007, 12:00am

'Banner news. Greenpeace activists hang a banner that reads 'Climate change starts here' from a silo at CLP Power's Castle Peak Plant in Tuen Mun yesterday, urging the government to regulate its carbon dioxide emissions.'

SCMP photo caption, December 7

That caption tells you pretty much all you need to know about the accompanying photo - transmissions pylons in the background, dimly visible through the haze and industrial installations in the foreground, one of them wrapped in a yellow protest banner. A typical Greenpeace caper.

All I will further say about the caption is that if our sub-editors think Castle Peak is 'in' Tuen Mun, then I caution them to keep a sharp eye out on their own surroundings in case one of them inadvertently places Mount Butler directly on top of their heads 'in' Quarry Bay.

I take a shot at our sub-editors here because I have one other bone to pick with them. They insist every day on this wretched thing called a 'deadline'. If they didn't bother me with it I might give myself a week to do some proper research on power usage in Hong Kong but, no, they want it now, the wretches.

So if I have my reservations about Greenpeace's inference that in Hong Kong CLP Power is the chief culprit responsible for climate change, I don't pretend that this is a full and complete analysis of the accusation. I had only a few hours for the spreadsheet work and I just want to highlight what I think are some points of interest.

What I have done in the first chart is compare electricity use and gross domestic product. In 1976 we consumed an average of 2,182 terajoules of electricity every month. I have made the figure 100.

Also in 1976 we had a GDP of HK$269.31 billion at constant (i.e. inflation-adjusted) 2005 prices. I have also made that figure 100.

We can now compare the two on the same index basis and what this comparison shows is that for a time, electricity consumption grew faster than GDP, but we are once again using about the same amount of electricity per constant dollar of GDP that we did 30 years ago. Thus, why blame the electricity suppliers for the fact that we wanted to be richer and have managed to become so?

Power use and economic growth are very closely tied and the utilities serve economic demand. We, in fact, require that they do so. If we want to blame someone for the fact that we don't like some of the by-products of power generation, then each of us individually can start by looking in a mirror.

But we also have some reason to be easy on ourselves when we do. Look at the second chart. The growth rate of power consumption has steadily declined over the last 30 years and over the last four years, in particular, has been significantly less than GDP growth.

Over those four years, real GDP has risen 31 per cent but power use only 7 per cent, and this cannot be just a statistical anomaly.

So have Greenpeace and other conservation groups managed to get the message through that we shouldn't waste power?

Yes, it appears they have and I don't think it was just big yellow banners that did the trick.

But now we come to another question introduced by that caption above. Should our government push CLP Power (and let's not leave Hongkong Electric out of this) to install more emissions-reduction equipment to clean up the air?

Yes, it should. I think we all agree on that. All, that is, except for the relevant government bureaucrats who actually propose disincentives to cleaning up emissions.

I quote from the official Stage 2 Consultation Paper on Future Development of the Electricity Market in Hong Kong: 'To avoid the cost of emissions-reduction facilities being passed on to consumers as far as possible, we propose to subject this type of assets to the lowest rate of return.'

Is that what the greenies call 'urging the government to regulate carbon dioxide emissions'?

It is? Oh, I see.