Hong Kong must do its part to address challenge of global warming

Edwin Lau says the risks are real enough to warrant a change in mindset

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 January, 2014, 4:47am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 October, 2016, 5:45pm

If you think Hong Kong is a well-developed city that will avoid the worst of typhoons and other severe weather, you are being too short-sighted. It's becoming almost impossible to predict the destructive power of the weather as the climate keeps changing due to natural and man-made influences.

The deadly destruction in the Philippines wreaked by Typhoon Haiyan in November serves as a wake-up call for the world. In his upcoming policy address, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying cannot be complacent about the potential climate threats to Hong Kong, given that we rely almost entirely on supplies from elsewhere for our basic necessities of food, water and fuel.

If Hong Kong were hit hard by a typhoon of similar intensity to Haiyan, it is likely that many of our services, including communications systems, would be damaged, and freight movement halted. We might even need to be rescued by other countries.

Experts from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have advised world leaders repeatedly that every economy, especially the large emitters of carbon dioxide, should lower their emissions by consuming less fossil fuel.

They should try and adopt the wider use of clean, renewable energies and enhance energy efficiency.

Our government should play a part in addressing this global challenge by formulating an energy policy to lead the power and transport sectors - both businesses and individuals - towards a carbon-neutral goal, even if we are aware this cannot be achieved with today's technology.

Above all, we need to change our mindset. Instead of exploring cost-effective means to extract more fossil fuels from the ground, we should focus on the development of clean renewables.

Technology to harness renewable energy is getting more powerful. One example is turbines that can now be set in the sea to simultaneously capture the wind energy above water and the wave energy from the water itself.

It may be difficult for us to build huge wind or solar farms due to space constraints but Hong Kong has many obvious cases of energy wastage waiting to be tackled, from malls and offices that keep their environments far too cold by failing to adjust their air conditioning, to businesses that keep their neon signs lit all night.

The government is due to negotiate soon with the power companies for the post-2018 scheme of control agreement. Leung should introduce climate-friendly criteria that require power companies to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and air pollutants in exchange for higher returns. This would be an improvement on current rules that focus on guaranteed returns on capital investments.

Officials should also require all large commercial properties as well as government premises to disclose their annual average energy consumption and carbon emissions data as a way to put pressure on property managers to reduce energy wastage.

The administration could reward the top performers with public recognition.

Similarly, the government should also require all companies on the Hang Seng Index to disclose their annual greenhouse gas emissions. This would drive companies to be more aware of their carbon footprint and find ways to reduce it.

Cutting energy wastage is a low-hanging fruit that the government seems to have neglected.

Instead of lobbying for public support to import more nuclear energy from the mainland to increase supplies, why doesn't Leung go for safer and greener solutions to decrease demand, which could also offset the risings tariffs, too?

Edwin Lau Che-feng is director of general affairs at Friends of the Earth (HK). www.foe.org.hk