#Climate Urgency, #Energy, #Waste

SCMP: Hong Kong’s leader must get tough on climate change in his coming policy address after the city’s recent struggles with bouts of extreme weather, 17 locally based environmental groups have said in an open letter.

The rare collective statement issued by the city’s green groups on Monday aimed to encourage city officials to be more environmentally conscious while forming policies, pointing to weather events, such as the “once-in-500-years” rainfall and major storm warnings, over the past two months.

Kitty Tam Tsz-ching of think tank Civic Exchange, one of the three organisations behind the letter, said the government’s current action plan lacked any short-term strategies and goals for combating climate change.

“Hong Kong authorities’ Climate Action Plan only has targets for 2035 and 2050 and is not detailed enough,” she said.

The action plan was published in 2021 by then-environment minister Wong Kam-sing and calls for the city to reduce its carbon emission to 50 per cent of 2005 levels by 2035, before achieving net-zero emissions ahead of 2050.

Under the plan, authorities in the long run must minimise waste and develop net-zero electricity generation facilities, energy-saving buildings and green transport.

The other two groups behind the statement are Greenpeace Hong Kong and the Nature Conservancy’s local branch, while 14 others co-signed the document. The signatories include the WWF-Hong Kong, the Ocean Park Conservation Foundation and Greeners Action.

The open letter to Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu, who will give a policy address on October 25, covered areas such as green and sustainable finance, climate change mitigation, increasing the city’s resilience to natural disasters and instilling an environmentally conscious mindset among officials.

The policies put forward at last year’s address included stopping the registration of new fuel and hybrid private cars by no later than 2035, ramping up construction of waste incinerators and introducing a charge for municipal solid waste disposal.

Only the latter initiative is expected to launch in the near future, with the municipal waste charging scheme set to start in April.

But environmentalists said policies needed to be more aggressive this time around to help safeguard future generations.

“As climate change is coming faster and stronger than expected, we must all be united and act now,” Tam said.

She also called for the government to refresh its carbon emission targets every five years to provide a clear road map on its progress, giving businesses and investors more certainty when it came to their own decarbonisation goals.

“The [government’s] action plan needs immediate action for businesses to act on,” Tam said. “We need a pathway, and then to ensure the whole government and all sectors are working towards that.”

The signatories also slammed the current action plan for lacking any clear road map for achieving policy goals and argued that the proposals were not integrated into the decision-making processes of government departments.

Last month, the World Meteorological Organization said 85 per cent of the sustainable development goals set by authorities worldwide were “woefully off-track” and climate change had undermined global efforts to tackle hunger, poverty and ill-health.

Hong Kong is covered by international climate change treaty the Paris Agreement after China signed the deal in 2015. All co-signatory countries must provide a breakdown of their carbon reduction efforts at the UN Climate Change Conference in Dubai next month.

Environmental groups in Hong Kong on Monday also called on local authorities to encourage the city’s two electricity providers to switch to renewable energy sources.

The government is expected to conduct an interim review within this year of CLP Power and HK Electric’s “scheme of control” agreements, which took effect in 2018 and expire at the end of 2033. The review would define the firms’ roles going forward and their guaranteed financial returns.

Tom Ng Hon-lam, a campaigner at Greenpeace, said authorities should peg the two firms’ revenues to their carbon reduction performances to encourage the pair to be more energy efficient.

“The government should be more aggressive in the deals with the two power utilities and use these contracts to push them to adopt more renewable sources,” he said. “This can also make sure they will encourage residents to save more energy.”

Ng also urged city officials to create a legal framework for reducing carbon emissions by clearly outlining the government’s responsibilities, setting quantifiable targets, as well as subjecting government bodies to regular reviews.

The Environment and Ecology Bureau said it welcomed opinions from all sectors on the subjects of tackling climate change and taking joint action to drive decarbonisation.

“The interdepartmental Steering Committee on Climate Change and Carbon Neutrality, chaired by the chief executive, has been formulating the overall strategy and overseeing the coordination of various actions at the highest level,” a spokeswoman said.

“In the process of formulating the policy address, the chief executive has listened to the opinions of the public and stakeholders through different channels.”

Originally published on SCMP on 16 Oct 2023.