John Lee is pulling out all the stops to improve housing in Hong Kong. Can he do the same for the environment?
- With our city facing mounting environmental threats, there are plenty of tried-and-tested policies that could easily be implemented
- But to allow for the development of green technologies, the mindset of officials first needs to evolve
There is no shortage of road maps focusing on climate change, air pollution, waste management and biodiversity. Lee just has to ensure the support of all relevant government departments. Listening to public opinion would help.
Some are so devastating that they can take lives in a single incident, while others, like air pollution, are silent killers that harm our health over longer periods.
Traditional internal combustion engines used for road and sea transport have contributed significantly to Hong Kong’s air pollution, for instance. In 2020, they accounted for 19.7 per cent of our total carbon dioxide emissions. Transitioning to clean and zero-carbon fuels for transport is a sound policy being adopted worldwide to lower the health risks.
When Hong Kong’s road map for popularising electric vehicles was launched last March, it stressed that commercial vehicles as well as private cars should move to zero-carbon energy sources.
Had the previous administration not worked in silos, it would have amended the ordinance to facilitate the use of hydrogen, an emerging clean energy in which China and other nations have already made serious investments.
On the mainland, almost 7,000 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are in use, mainly by commercial operators. Beijing aims to increase that number to 50,000 by 2025, as part of a long-term hydrogen plan unveiled in March.
In fact, despite being labelled as hazardous, we have been using hydrogen in Hong Kong for years. It is a major component (ranging from 46.3 to 51.8 per cent) of the town gas used in commercial and domestic applications.
But to allow for the development of new and green technologies in the city, the mindset of our officials first needs to evolve.
Take the world’s ever-growing plastic pollution problem: 175 countries endorsed a resolution at the United Nations Environmental Assembly in March to develop a legally binding treaty within two years aimed at ending plastic pollution.
This is wrong. Degradable plastics require specific treatment to be broken down. No such treatment system exists in the city, yet potential buyers are sold the mistaken idea that these plastics will degrade in nature or landfills.
The government must swiftly issue guidelines for all types of degradable plastics and make suppliers legally responsible for their claims.
The window for action is narrowing with each passing day. Lee should set targets for the business sector to ensure they are committed to reaching this important goal.
With the housing issue being pushed by all sides, Lee is rightly committed to putting more resources into solving it. But the multitude of voices urging better environmental protection must not go unheard.
Edwin Lau Che-feng is executive director of The Green Earth