Feeling the heat
Hong Kong's corporate titans seldom meet to talk about the weather. But that, like the climate, is changing with the launch today of a new business forum. Established by the Business Environment Council, the Climate Change Business Forum aims to be 'a research and communication platform' for climate change issues specific to Hong Kong.
'Climate change is a result of excessive emission of greenhouse gases and some of these also cause the air pollution that we face every day in Hong Kong,' said Executive Council convenor Leung Chun-ying, the forum's patron chairman.
Firms in the forum include those in sectors near the eye of the global warming storm - power, transport, property and manufacturing.
Last week, the Observatory projected that the city's annual mean temperature would rise by 4.8 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, higher than earlier forecasts. CLP Power's emissions of carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, rose 8.5 per cent last year to a 15-year high, which it attributed to depletion of natural gas reserves and greater reliance on coal.
'We only need to have an increase of one or two degrees before the end of the century to make life very different in Hong Kong, and that carries social and economic costs,' said Mr Leung, who is Asia-Pacific chairman of DTZ Debenham Tie Leung, a real estate consultancy and founding member of the forum.
He said under the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, the mainland and Hong Kong did not have a target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 'I would definitely like to see Hong Kong, led by the Hong Kong government, setting itself a target in reducing the amount of emissions,' said Mr Leung.
'We should consider the choice of fuel at the generation end and consumption at the consumer end, namely how we can save energy in terms of the design and the maintenance of our buildings and the plant machinery that we use - air conditioners, for example.
'The side benefit of doing this is not just slowing down the pace of climate change or mitigating the damage it can cause, but also helping to improve the quality of our air,' said Mr Leung. He said energy efficiency in buildings was 'low-hanging fruit' for climate change action in Hong Kong and that achievable targets should be set.
Mr Leung also said Hong Kong should look longer term at mitigation measures, 'particularly outside Hong Kong, where we have our economic footprint'. Some scientists have warned of flooding in the Pearl River Delta, with problems for drainage and sewage. 'We have a huge manufacturing base in the delta area and that would mean disruption to our production, and business losses.'
The new forum aims to involve business, government and the public 'working together to either pre-empt or solve some of these problems', and also promote best practices. 'Climate change is a long-term issue and we need a long-term attitude and solutions,' Mr Leung said.
According to Environmental Protection Department deputy director Carlson Chan Ka-sun, Hong Kong's per capita emission of carbon dioxide, at about 6.5 tonnes, is among the lowest for well-developed economies.
'It's partly because we are a service economy and a pretty compact city and we have a very good public transport system. The car ownership rate is among the lowest,' said Mr Chan, who chairs the government's interdepartmental working group on climate change.
Even without reduction targets, he said the government was implementing strategies to control greenhouse gas emissions. 'In Hong Kong, we believe the most effective way for us to tackle climate change is to enhance our energy efficiency.'
The government, he said, had been doing 'quite a lot' to deal with the power and transport sectors. It was also promoting energy efficiency and lower energy consumption. Legislation on mandatory energy efficiency labelling and a proposal to make building energy codes mandatory were among recent initiatives. Hong Kong had also adopted a target set by the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation grouping to reduce energy intensity, said Mr Chan.
Energy is Hong Kong's largest source of greenhouse gas emissions (62.5 per cent) followed by transport (16.1 per cent) and waste (12.1 per cent) from methane-generating landfills and other sources. Up to 55 per cent of Hong Kong's electricity is generated from burning coal - about the same percentage as the US and nearly twice that of Japan. Hong Kong's other energy sources are natural gas, at 20-23 per cent, and nuclear power.
'The only major way we can cut down our greenhouse gas emissions, although they're already very low, is to do something about our fuel mix for generating electricity, to reduce coal burning in favour of either nuclear, natural gas or some other renewable energy source,' said Mr Chan.
'If we're going to change our fuel mix, the next question is to what sort of fuel mix and what will the implications be in terms of our security of energy supply, implications for tariffs? We need a proper discussion, proper debate in society about how much we are willing to pay for our electricity.'
Whether Hong Kong should change its way of producing energy was part of a major consultancy study of the city's air quality objectives currently being carried out, he said.
The founder and chief executive of the Global Institute for Tomorrow, Chandran Nair, said that reducing emissions was a global responsibility and Hong Kong should do its bit.
'That doesn't seem to have sunk in to Hong Kong. If you're still unable to fix the most basic problem of air quality - which is yesterday's problem in that it's been with us 15 or 20 years - how can you deal with the more complex problem of climate, which is the problem of the next 20 years? How do you take action when it's not a single catastrophic incident but is creeping up? You really need visionaries.'
Mr Nair, who formerly headed an environmental consultancy, said emissions reduction in wealthy societies required a dramatic lifestyle change, but there was reluctance to face the need for draconian measures. It would take a combination of political will and leadership from the business community to start the shift.
'There's been poor business leadership in this town on these issues. We need business leaders to speak up because they are the ones who can be the role models, influence policy and bring everyone along,' said Mr Nair. The business forum could play a positive role but it should also accept and support mandatory measures, he said. 'We need an equivalent of [property billionaire] Lee Shau-kee, 'the god of stocks', for the climate change debate. And we still need someone like that for the air quality problem.'
Mr Nair said it was vital for Hong Kong to understand and discuss the mitigation of climate change impacts. 'How much will it cost? How will we pay for it? In many ways Hong Kong can be a leader and a laboratory for learning how to protect high-value coastal cities from sea-level rise,' he said.
Hong Kong is the newest member of the C40 Large Cities Climate Leadership Group, which promotes collaboration to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from urban areas. The group's senior policy adviser is Christine Loh Kung-wai, chief executive of think-tank Civic Exchange, which researches climate-change impacts and policy.
'Cities have offered to bring expertise together to share with C40 and other cities. From what I can gather, the officials who go get many ideas on how others are solving specific problems,' she said. 'Leaders like London already have climate-change plans. Hong Kong has given out a consultancy to look at Hong Kong's climate impacts and to consider mitigation and adaptation measures.' She said it would be useful for Hong Kong to attend upcoming best-practice workshops organised by the C40 group, and consider hosting a C40 event.