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Environment

Pollution, poor cycling and scrapped electric car incentives cause Hong Kong to lose out to Singapore in sustainable city index

  • Hong Kong scored top marks for economic performance
  • But scored low on environmental front, in part due to resilience risks associated with exposure to natural disasters such as typhoons
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 October, 2018, 10:08pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 October, 2018, 10:31am

Hong Kong has scored top marks for economic performance in a study that ranked it the second most sustainable city in Asia after Singapore, but trailed its peers in social and environmental parameters.

Regional air pollution, the lack of an urban bicycle infrastructure and the government scrapping electric vehicle incentives put the city below its Southeast Asian rival, according to Arcadis, a Dutch consultancy.

An income gap at its highest point in 45 years, coupled with unaffordable property and living costs also put a dampener on its performance, placing Hong Kong fifth in Asia and a middling 21st in the world on social-related indicators on its Sustainable Cities Index.

“Low affordability, that’s where Hong Kong really suffers on the ranking – it’s expensive to find a place to live,” said John Batten, global cities director at Arcadis.

To boost land availability and housing supply, the firm suggested unlocking more land such as brownfields – abandoned, degraded private farmland – and offering tax incentives for developers to build more low-income housing.

Land reclamation – the government’s favoured option – could be considered, but in terms of cost-benefit and speed-to-market, there were better alternatives, Batten added.

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Hong Kong scored low on the environmental front, ranking third in Asia but 50th in the world, in part due to resilience risks associated with its exposure to natural disasters such as typhoons – and extreme weather associated with it – as well as struggles with transboundary air pollution.

“It has a lot to do with neighbours,” Batten said. “The air [over] the Greater Bay Area doesn’t know the difference between Shenzhen and Hong Kong.”

He noted Typhoons Hato and Mangkhut had already pushed the public sector to address the threat of high waves on the coastal protection system and consider the effects of rising sea levels and climate change.

Batten said it was a mistake for the government to scrap tax waivers on electric vehicles last year and suggested more investment in developing a bicycle infrastructure in urban areas.

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“The internal combustion engine is predicted to become obsolete in five to seven years. Cities will have to provide electric infrastructure.”

Overall, Hong Kong ranked ninth in the study of 100 metropoles in the study, which assesses cities according to three pillars – people, planet and profit – aligned with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.

It ranked high for profit-related indices such as ease of doing business and accessible public transport.

“To sustain its position as an international financial hub … it should also seize the opportunities to further collaborate with nearby Greater Bay Area cities, especially in the tech sector,” said Francis Au, Arcadis’ head of Hong Kong and Macau.

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Singapore ranked fourth, Seoul 13th, Taipei 24th, Tokyo 33rd, Macau 41st, Shenzhen 66th and Guangzhou clocked in at 74. The most sustainable city was London and the least on the index was Kolkata.

The researchers compiled publicly available data for about a dozen indicators under each pillar, assigning different weights to them before calculating an average score.