Use Hong Kong’s huge budget surplus to tackle waste, air pollution and climate change
Edwin Lau says Hong Kong’s financial secretary has an opportunity to do some real good for the community by using the power of money to drive change
Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po predicts there will be a substantial budget surplus in the current financial year. Using some of this money to tackle pressing long-term environmental issues would return huge benefits for the community.
To address the waste crisis, the government should set aside land at nominal rent for the recycling industry. Priority should be given to recyclers who handle low-value recyclables such as plastic, timber and food waste.
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Germany and South Korea have laws requiring producers to recover their waste, including packaging. In Hong Kong, producer responsibility legislation for plastic beverage bottles and personal care products is being studied, but at present there is no effective driver to reduce disposal of these items into landfills.
Relatively low crude oil prices in the past few years and China’s waste imports ban have caused the price of plastic scraps to drop drastically. The PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottle recycling rate in Hong Kong dropped by over 23 per cent in one year. The government should pay recyclers a collection fee, similar to the one it pays NGOs and contractors for waste collection. With the current low plastic recycling rates, the government needs to pay its landfill contractors more to handle the increased volume of waste. But this yields zero benefit to the environment. Yet, the government is reluctant to pay for recycling that provides a much better return.
Meanwhile, between 2012 and November 2017, the annual growth in private cars was over 4 per cent – an additional 97,101 vehicles. The concentration of nitrogen dioxide recorded at roadside monitoring stations in 2017 rose by 4.8 per cent from 2016. To tackle congestion and air pollution, the government must suppress vehicle growth.
If a car owner surrenders an old car to the government to buy an electric vehicle, the government should consider lowering the first registration tax as this will reduce pollution without increasing the number of private cars. Congestion charges should also be considered for districts with heavy traffic. Higher annual vehicle licence fees for private vehicles with higher fuel consumption and emissions would discourage the ownership of such vehicles. Fees collected could subsidise public transport usage.
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The government should also offer subsidies to households for purchasing energy-efficient appliances. For the business sector, matching grants could be given to encourage energy conservation.
Money can be highly effective in driving change. I hope our financial secretary will spend the budget surplus wisely to improve the living environment for every Hong Kong citizen.
Edwin Lau Che-feng is executive director of The Green Earth. [email protected]