The COVID-19 pandemic is not a surprise in its impact but only in its timing. We have been long-warned by health experts that such a pandemic would one day disrupt our “normal life”.
Similarly, we have long been warned of the inevitable damage from climate change and of the need to develop a lower carbon economy. Now, as we look forward to the end of the pandemic, let us fundamentally rethink our economic model so it becomes fit for the low carbon-emissions world to avoid a truly dangerous climate crisis.
The development of our decarbonisation now is similar to a person walking up the wrong side of an escalator. In particular, the progress in reducing the average energy use in commercial buildings (measured in kWhr/sqm/year) is very slow. Also, the number of private cars in Hong Kong increased by 64% between 2005 and 2017. We acknowledge that there are some unexpected force offsetting the effects of the decarbonisation measures that have been introduced. However, we must be aware that delayed action now will lead to larger measures at much greater cost has to be taken later.
Action on decarbonisation today will provide fresh employment and business activities that can offset the damage to the economy from COVID-19 and reassert Hong Kong’s place as a city committed to building better prospects for its own people and for the world.
Recently, Civic Exchange has submitted recommendations for the HKSAR Chief Executive’s 2020 Policy Address. There are 9 areas of action that are immediately relevant. Further details are given in Civic Exchange’s website:
1. Grow low-carbon jobs and businesses across Hong Kong’s economy
2. Identify climate risks and invest in climate resilience
3. Grow Hong Kong’s clean energy sector and source more low carbon electricity from the Greater Bay Area
4. Ramp up Hong Kong’s building energy efficiency
5. Devise and implement a plan for Hong Kong’s adoption of low carbon mobility
6. Make Hong Kong’s material use more circular
7. Further improve Hong Kong’s air quality
8. Make Hong Kong a more walkable city
9. Improve urban spaces and metropolitan growth
10. A clear 2050 vision supported by a comprehensive road map for short- and long-term action
NB: We mention the ”clear 2050 vision” last as many of the other actions are more immediately relevant. This 2050 vision should, however, become the guiding light for future policy development in all areas.
As a special administrative region of China, this year, Hong Kong needs to provide its mid-century target for China to submit to the UNFCCC Secretariat in accordance with the Paris Agreement. The advice from the IPCC is that humanity needs to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 to stand a reasonable chance of keeping global warming below 2C. We believe that Hong Kong, as an advanced territory with little exposure to hard-to-decarbonise sectors of industry, agriculture and long-distance travel, should explicitly plan to achieve net-zero by 2050.
We strongly encourage the government to develop a clear 2050 vision supported by a comprehensive road map for short- and long-term action. It should become the guiding light for future policy development in all areas.
Transitioning to a climate-neutral economy and enhancing the protection of our biodiversity can deliver jobs, growth and improve the quality of life for Hong Kong’s citizens. A climate-neutral economy means a resilient society. This is critical to the economic prospects and liveability of the city. The present pandemic crisis is an opportunity to restate the importance of decarbonisation to Hong Kong’s recovery and future development.