Hong Kong will be carbon neutral by 2050, Carrie Lam vows in policy address, but environmentalists aren’t convinced
- In her policy blueprint on Wednesday, the city’s leader endorses a timeline recommended by the city’s sustainability council
- But observers say the council’s other recommendations have no hope of achieving the ambitious goal, and that Lam’s address was a missed opportunity
“I now announce that the [Hong Kong Special Administrative Region] will strive to achieve carbon neutrality before 2050,” Lam said in her address on Wednesday. “To this end, the Government will update the ‘Hong Kong’s Climate Action Plan’ in the middle of next year to set out more proactive strategies and measures to reduce carbon emissions.”
The pledge follows Beijing’s own announcement in late September that it would reach carbon neutrality by 2060, while Japan and South Korea have also both recently said they would hit the same target by 2050. Hong Kong’s previous climate action plan, released in 2017, only pledged a 26 to 36 per cent cut in emissions by 2030, down from 2005 levels.
“Now that even China, which is an industrialised country, has set the ambitious 2060 goal, it is only expected that Hong Kong should follow the [UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] goals,” said Jeffrey Hung Oi-shing, the chief executive of the environmental NGO Friends of the Earth (HK).
Hung said that while Lam’s administration was adopting the timeline from the Council for Sustainable Development’s report, it should reconsider adopting recommendations from the council wholesale.
“There is no way we would be able to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 if the government followed those suggestions,” he said.
The council’s report had suggested short- and long-term goals that included further studying the safe use of nuclear energy, fostering sustainable architecture and transitioning towards low-carbon transport systems.
“The bulk of our emissions come from electricity generation, but the government still has not set any concrete targets for increasing the proportion of renewable energy in our fuel mix,” Hung said.
More broadly, Hung said there had not been enough emphasis on the environment in Lam’s address.
Edwin Lau Che-feng, executive director of the environmental NGO The Green Earth, was also underwhelmed by the address. He said many of the policies, such as increasing the proportion of electric vehicles and building more bike lanes, were “not new and already being implemented”.
In her address, Lam also pushed for a previously scrapped bill on a mandatory waste disposal charge to be passed “as early as possible”, saying the charging scheme would be a driving force behind waste reduction in Hong Kong. Tenders for a paper-pulping facility would also be invited in the first half of 2021 to provide an outlet for the city’s waste paper once China’s ban on importing such refuse comes into force next year.
“The focus is wrong. The emissions generated by transporting materials for land reclamation would be huge, not to mention the adverse impact on marine ecosystems,” he said.
Lau said environmental activists were not opposed to building more public housing, but it should be done on brownfield sites, or on abandoned agricultural or rural land used for activities such as open storage.
“If they do [the Lantau scheme], it would overshadow any achievements from the other carbon-cutting measures.”