SCMP: On July 6, the world recorded its hottest day, in a week that saw records broken three times, raising concerns about climate change.
Scientists say these extreme temperatures should not be seen as isolated incidents but as part of a larger pattern of human-induced global heating that has been unfolding over the past 150 years. Heatwaves are affecting regions from the United States to Europe and China. In Hong Kong, the frequency of “very hot” days – when temperatures reach 33 degrees Celsius or higher – is on the rise.
While Hong Kong’s greenhouse gas emissions fell drastically over the pandemic years to their lowest in two decades, they have started to rise again. This underscores the need for more urgent efforts from the government to address climate change.
With electricity generation accounting for nearly 70 per cent of Hong Kong’s carbon emissions, the government can take drastic action to cut emissions simply by reviewing its agreements with the power companies. It should also turn its attention to the next biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions: the transport sector, with road transport being the primary contributor.
The government should consider setting more ambitious goals in electrifying commercial vehicles. In 2021, it made progressive efforts towards carbon neutrality by announcing a road map to popularise electric vehicles. But as of April, the latest month for which data is available, Hong Kong still had just 39 electric public buses and five electric taxis in operation.
The business sector is keen to play a key role in developing local green transport. To support this, the government needs to establish ambitious yet feasible targets to ban diesel buses by 2030 and create an environment conducive for the commercial sector to accelerate the deployment of zero-emission double-decker buses, including electric and hydrogen-fuelled vehicles.
Moreover, as the government prepares for the separate five-year reviews of its Climate Action Plan 2050 and the road map on the popularisation of electric vehicles, it should examine Hong Kong’s electrification policy for all vehicles, not just private cars. This is especially since the transport sector’s percentage contribution of emissions will increase, if not enough is done, with the decarbonisation of the power grid.
For example, the overwhelming majority of trucks, which make up over 14 per cent of vehicles in Hong Kong, are powered by fossil fuels and their contribution to emissions cannot be overlooked. The government should extend its EV road map to encompass all vehicles.
Also, despite the government’s ambitions outlined in the Climate Action Plan, the laws are struggling to keep pace with technological advancements, leading to a lack of clear guidance and adequate support for the private sector in deploying eco-innovative technologies.
Hong Kong needs to start preparing for the deployment of electric trucks, which may involve previously unthought-of technologies, and that may lead to hydrogen fuel cell EVs, autonomous vehicles and bus rapid transit systems.
The high-speed rail development on the mainland, orchestrated by the National Development and Reform Commission, and the Sandbox for Electric Vehicle Charging Systems, set up by Singapore’s Land Transport Authority, are examples of how policy and regulation are key to creating an environment for rapid trials and the large-scale deployment of proven technology. The Hong Kong government’s Hydrogen Taskforce can be a reference for establishing bodies for other decarbonisation initiatives.
Hong Kong’s Climate Action Plan and EV road map are good initiatives. But without clear statements of the statutory obligations of the government and its departments, execution may be slower than the optimum.
Codifying the Climate Action Plan in law and delineating the responsibilities of stakeholders will show the government’s determination to actualise carbon neutrality goals in Hong Kong and motivate agencies and private companies to reduce carbon emissions in a concerted effort.
Record-breaking global temperatures, heatwaves all around the world and Hong Kong’s growing number of very hot days all add up to a warning that cannot be neglected – global warming is intensifying, creating an imminent danger to human beings and others.
It is high time for the Hong Kong government to review its policies and so as to start reducing carbon emissions more effectively, and immediately, for the sake of the planet and our future.
Originally published on SCMP on 27 Jul 2023. Written by Lawrence Iu, Kitty Tam and Marco Chan.