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Climate change

Hong Kong policy address needs to target climate change, air pollution and waste, not just politics and the economy

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 September, 2018, 5:01pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 September, 2018, 10:27pm

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor may have to spend most of her 2018 policy address next month tackling land supply and political issues, but this must not prevent her from unveiling innovative environmental policies (“‘Wide support’ in Hong Kong for developing damaged farmland, land supply report says”, September 24).

Extreme weather due to climate change has claimed many lives and caused huge economic losses in many countries. Hong Kong has not been immune to the devastation.

Relying on the mainland to “swallow” our recyclables is no longer an option. Therefore, we need to slash waste at the source and develop a circular economy.

I have some suggestions for the Lam administration.

First, on waste: the government should be innovative and adopt the waste hierarchy, whereby waste avoidance comes first. For example, ban single-use plastic items, starting with foam products, mandate that producers reduce and recycle single-use beverage containers, implement deposit-return schemes for beverage containers, install free drinking water dispensers widely in communities, support the business sector in setting up district-based food waste recycling systems and keep the promise of enacting the waste-charging legislation by 2019.

Part of the land on the restored landfills could be used to facilitate the development of a circular economy. Thinking other places will forever accept our recyclables is worse than naive.

Watch: Can Hong Kong’s consumers say ‘no’ to plastic?

Rethinking waste: what next as China bans imports and recycling fails?

Second, climate change: buildings account for at least 63 per cent of our city’s carbon emissions. Setting an aggressive green building target like Singapore did would demonstrate our government’s commitment to the Paris climate agreement.

The government could offer subsidies to encourage building owners to enhance energy efficiency by retro-commissioning or upgrading old equipment. The accumulated carbon reductions contributed by the over 40,000 private buildings would be considerable.

Using renewable energy to replace fossil fuels will make big cuts in carbon emissions. Hong Kong is moving too slowly in this regard and should speed up renewable energy development at all suitable opportunities, such as setting up floating solar photovoltaic systems on reservoirs.

Government aims to slash carbon emissions with 2030 action plan

Third, air pollution: ozone blanketed the city in the last week of August, which brought the air pollution index to the highest level (10+) in nearly all the air quality monitoring stations, threatening public health. To rid Hong Kong of its notorious air pollution image, we should control car growth, switch our fleets to low-emission or electric-powered and increase the percentage of renewable energy in our fuel mix.

The fact that the government holds a huge financial reserve may help to protect us from economic downturns. Spending some of it wisely now is needed to help protect us from environmental and climate-induced disasters.

Edwin Lau Che-feng, executive director, The Green Earth