SCMP: The Hong Kong government indicated determination to fulfil its 2050 carbon neutrality target by providing fiscal commitment in the 2021 budget. The immediate next step is to alter its siloed approach towards tackling our climate emergency, which is a complex issue requiring a fundamentally interdisciplinary approach.
Take, for example, Hong Kong’s transport sector, which at 18 per cent of the city’s total carbon emissions in 2018 is just behind the power sector as a second major emitter. The sector requires a cross-bureau task force, including the Environment, Development, and Transport and Housing bureaus. This will require significant coordination, but neither the Development nor Transport and Housing bureaus currently have decarbonisation in their policy agendas.
Moreover, the Environment Bureau is limited in its ability to regulate public transport, without the remit to allocate resources, coordinate across bureaus and departments, and set decarbonisation targets in the public transport sector. This renders it unable to spark quick and far-reaching changes beyond its departmental responsibilities.
Decarbonisation measures for Hong Kong require cross-bureau and cross-departmental targets or, ideally, a dedicated climate change authority. The government has plenty of good international references for effective and efficient climate policy and governance, where intra-government collaboration is recognised as key to developing successful decarbonisation policies.
The central government has taken a bottom-up approach by encouraging cities to formulate long and short-term climate strategies and action plans. All units under city-level government are bound to achieve their key performance targets. This encourages individual departments to take responsibility for decarbonising in their respective areas of focus.
Further afield, the United Kingdom’s 2008 Climate Change Act was the world’s first long-term, legally binding framework law to address the crisis. The law provided a five-year carbon budget to motivate the government to develop cost-effective, long-term solutions. There are independent committees monitoring progress and serving as policy signals to markets for low-carbon transition.
A decade ago, the Hong Kong government was highly effective in facilitating collaboration in enhancing the accessibility of its premises and facilities. By establishing an access coordinator and access officer scheme, a barrier-free Hong Kong gradually became a reality. We believe this is a precedent the government could draw on in developing an integrated policy and mindset towards achieving decarbonisation for the city.
The Hong Kong government needs to be firm in requiring each bureau or department to establish specific decarbonisation targets for the sectors they oversee, while closely monitoring and regularly reviewing progress. There also needs to be coordination among departments, so as to collectively move Hong Kong towards decarbonisation.
Originally published on SCMP on March 9th. Written by Lawrence Iu.