In Hong Kong, the pursuit of economic growth and better quality of living means energy conservation is given low priority. Despite various campaigns over the years for more responsible use of energy and resources, our record leaves much to be desired. Air-conditioned mega shopping malls, glass-panelled skyscrapers, giant billboards and hi-tech office equipment all contribute to an ever-rising energy bill.
The problem was put into perspective by a WWF Hong Kong study that tracked the use of electricity, gas and oil over a period of two decades. After discounting factors such as changes in the weather, population and economic growth, our city was found to be wasting 26 per cent more energy now than in 1989. The figure for the commercial sector was even higher, with wastage reaching up to 40 per cent of the energy used, equivalent to HK$7 billion.
The accuracy of the statistics may be open to debate, but the study is a good reminder that more needs to be done. Numerous energy conservation programmes have been launched over the years, such as carbon emission audits for buildings and labelling electronic appliances according to their energy efficiency. Recently, the lights-out and no-air-conditioning campaigns launched by different green groups have also attracted a positive response at the corporate and individual level. They show that the community cares and is willing to do more for a better environment.
Greater energy usage is perhaps inevitable in a growing economy like Hong Kong. But a more sensitive approach is needed if sustainable development is to be achieved. The efforts in various conservation programmes will prove futile if reckless consumption on a broader scale continues.
In the absence of a law to mandate changes and compliance, conservation efforts will remain piecemeal, voluntary and unsustainable. Encouraging sensible use of energy is just one of the many steps that need to be taken. The need for statutory standards should also be explored to help take conservation to the next level.