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As Paris climate conference nears, Hong Kong’s environment chief confident on emissions blueprint

As global conference in Paris approaches, Wong Kam-sing points to city’s blueprint for reaching peak emissions by around 2020

Hong Kong may not be directly involved with state-to-state climate negotiations but Wong Kam-sing, the environment secretary, is heading into next month’s United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris with a degree of confidence.

He said Hong Kong’s total emissions will peak around 2020, when a shake-up in how the city gets its electric power is slated for completion and a cluster of coal-fired plants are retired to make way for relatively cleaner gas-fired ones – roughly a decade earlier than the mainland’s pledge to peak emissions around 2030.

By “around 2020″, Hong Kong will be on track to reduce its carbon intensity – emissions per unit of GDP – by 50 to 60 per cent and energy intensity by up to 40 per cent. By that year, it will have already met its 2010 target of reducing total emissions by 19 to 33 per cent from 2005 levels, he said.

“The road forward is clear but we won’t see immediate reductions daily or even annually. It’s not necessary,” Wong said. “We are nearing peak emissions. It will happen when the coal-fired power plants are retired and when we are using cleaner fuel for electricity generation.”

He was quick to list a basket of measures under his energy-saving blueprint that would help achieve the intensity targets, including cutting energy use in government buildings further and tightening the buildings energy code.

“By 2025, this [tightened code] will help Hong Kong save 5 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity and 3.5 million tonnes of carbon,” he said.

But the latest government data showed that the city’s greenhouse-gas emissions have been rising since 2000, amounting to some 43 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2012. More than two-thirds of it still comes from electricity generation.

The first coal-fired plant to have been built since the 1980s will be retired only in 2017 and the rest are scheduled to be completely retired by the early 2030s.

Hanging in the balance will also be negotiations with the city’s two power companies on the electricity-supply regulatory framework after 2018.

Wong will brief the legislature’s development panel on the latest results of the public consultation on the future electricity market today and will discuss market readiness and future changes to the regulatory regime with the two suppliers before January.

Greenpeace had calculated that under a “business as usual” approach”, only 31 per cent of emissions could be cut in the next two decades.

It called on the government to stop nuclear imports when the contract with the Daya Bay nuclear plant comes to an end in 2034 and to boost renewables in the fuel mix.

Greenpeace senior campaigner Frances Yeung Hoi-shan said the government needed more aggressive schemes to cut emissions given the city’s high per capita annual generation.

Cheung Chi-wah, WWF Hong Kong’s senior head for climate, said the government urgently needed a climate plan that would go beyond 2020.

Wong said the government would keep an “open attitude” on the nuclear question post-2034, but any post-2020 climate and energy policy would need further discussion.

“Our current targets only go up to 2020. As to how we can set longer-term goals, we will have to come back to Hong Kong [from Paris] and discuss this with the community on how we can undertake this process.”

Hong Kong will arrive at the Paris climate talks empty handed; let’s make sure it leaves with bold ideas to cut the city’s rising emissions

Gavin Edwards says the UN meeting in Paris offers an ideal opportunity for our environment secretary to learn about, and adopt, other cities’ pioneering efforts

Hong Kong’s Environment Secretary Wong Kam-sing will travel to Paris at the end of this month for the UN climate negotiations, where world governments will come together to agree a bold new set of targets and actions on climate change. The key outcome will hopefully be a new international agreement on the climate, applicable to all countries, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius. In preparation for the meeting, more than 150 countries have already indicated a number of pledges they may be willing to make – their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions – that can form part of the agreement. For example, the European Union pledges to cut its emissions by 40 per cent (from 1990 levels) by 2030, Costa Rica is aiming to be carbon neutral by 2021, and China aims to lower its carbon intensity by 60 to 65 per cent by 2030 (from 2005) and ensure its emissions peak by 2030.

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As we approach the final weeks in the lead-up to the Paris agreement, a couple of challenges are emerging – one global, one local. The global challenge is that the intended contributions by all countries have been modelled by climate scientists and policy experts at Climate Action Tracker (an independent group of four leading research organisations), and they forecast that the world will see a 2.7 degree rise by late in the century if the Paris agreement succeeds and is implemented.

This falls well short of the 2 degree target governments are aiming for, and is a long way shy of the generally accepted safe temperature rise which our planet can tolerate: 1.5 degrees. And this is not just some academic numbers game. At 2.7 degrees warmer, we could experience significant food shortages globally as crops fail in sub-Saharan Africa, and our own major source of food – the Pearl River Delta – experiences increasing flooding. Even a 2 degree rise – the stated aim of the Paris agreement – spells the end of the world’s coral reefs and a whole host of other impacts driven by increasingly extreme weather patterns.

At 2.7 degrees warmer, we could experience significant food shortages globally as crops fail in sub-Saharan Africa

Second, the local challenge: Hong Kong’s contribution to averting catastrophic climate change. Wong gathered key government, corporate and NGO representatives together on November 6 to launch the Hong Kong Climate Change Report, outlining government efforts. However, instead of articulating a plan of action for the decades ahead, he summarised existing policies and efforts, and is taking a wait-and-see approach to the Paris climate negotiation so the government can then consider its next steps. This is odd, given that China (which reports and commits globally on its greenhouse gas emissions, including those of Hong Kong) has outlined its plan well beyond 2020. On a recent trip to the US, President Xi Jinping (習近平) articulated a range of measures, including greenhouse-gas emissions targets, investments in renewable energy, a national emission trading scheme to regulate large carbon dioxide emitters, and clear targets for green buildings.

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Here in Hong Kong, the current plan is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 19 to 33 per cent by 2020 (from 2005), but that’s all. With current efforts, we’ll only achieve the low end of this target, and only if the long-promised initiative to reduce the burning of coal for electricity generation is implemented. Contrast this with cities around the world which will come together at a special event during the Paris negotiations, share their ambitious plans, and learn from each other. Greater Taipei will cut its emissions by 20 per cent by 2026 (from 2006), Yokohama will cut by 80 per cent by 2050 (from 2005), London by 60 per cent by 2025 (from 1990) and New York by 40 per cent by 2030 (from 1990). However, Hong Kong’s greenhouse gas emissions have been steadily rising over the past decade, by 23 per cent from 2002 to 2012.

The development of renewable energy in the city has barely begun. And CLP Power is proposing new gas-fired power generation instead of using renewable energy. The social cost of fossil fuel has never been mentioned, even in the latest document of the electricity market regulatory regime review. If our electricity market is not going to change, there is no chance for us to stop climate change. Under the Air Pollution Control Ordinance, carbon dioxide is not even considered a pollutant, even though it is widely agreed that ever-escalating carbon dioxide emissions are one of the largest threats to our planet and our city. Our electricity market is not ready to tackle climate change.

So, if the past decade was something of a lost decade for Hong Kong in terms of making a meaningful and commensurate contribution to tackling climate change, what should we do in the next decade, to catch up?

If our electricity market is not going to change, there is no chance for us to stop climate change

First, the Environment Bureau has a huge opportunity to address the lack of renewable energy development by adopting a comprehensive feed-in tariff policy to reward anyone who installs solar panels on rooftops or wind turbines in coastal waters. As the government wraps up its review of the Scheme of Control Agreement which governs our electricity production, it must include a renewable energy support policy, even if we are one of the last cities in Asia to adopt such a policy.

Second, it’s time for our private sector to put funding into renewable energy and energy efficiency development. Globally, there are more new investments in renewable energies such as wind and solar than there are in coal, gas and nuclear combined. They are effectively winning against these dirty energy sources, because governments around the world realise the importance of supporting safe, low-carbon energy. Some US$270 billion is being invested in low carbon development.

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So instead of supporting CLP’s pitch to build another gas plant, the government should encourage future investment in renewables, and greater investment in energy efficiency. For example, a simple scheme to encourage all grocery and convenience shops to put doors on their display fridges will cut their fridge energy consumption by 50 per cent, according to recent WWF research.

Lastly, we need a plan for Hong Kong that goes beyond 2020. Our environment secretary arrives in Paris empty-handed without a longer-term plan while other cities profile theirs. However, it does not have to be a wasted journey – he will have an incredible opportunity to learn about the pioneering efforts of other cities, and to bring back ideas to adapt to Hong Kong. This can start with a plan to substantially cut our city’s emissions by 2030, and a plan to adopt a new scheme of control to encourage renewable energy development.

The difference between a world that is 2.7 degrees warmer and one that is only 1.5 degrees warmer is the difference between a liveable planet and a planet that is thrown into chaos. It’s time for Hong Kong to step up its efforts by leaving Paris with new ideas and bolder pledges to do much more. And when Hong Kong attends the next big climate conference in a few years’ time, I very much hope that these efforts will earn us international recognition as Asia’s sustainable city.

Gavin Edwards is conservation director at WWF-Hong Kong

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Green Group Takes Dim View Of Prada’s Bright Signboards

Cheung Chi-fai – SCMP | Updated on Oct 20, 2008

Consumers will be urged to boycott upmarket fashion chain Prada if it refuses to dim its illuminated signboard in Central, a green group has warned.

The warning came as Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen last week said the government would study the need for legislation to control light pollution.

Friends of the Earth said the board at Prada’s flagship store at Alexandra House was unnecessarily lit from dusk until dawn.

While many of its neighbours kept their signboard lights on until early morning, Prada’s exterior lighting was the most extravagant, a survey by the group found.

Assisted by overseas activists, the group also found Prada’s Beijing store was lit up until at least 4am, while its counterparts in Singapore and Taipei showed more restraint by switching their much less extravagant lighting off no later than 2.30am.

A letter has been sent to Prada in Hong Kong asking it to rectify the situation, said Hahn Chu Hon-keung, Friends of the Earth’s environmental affairs manager.

“The brand shops show no taste at all in this unrestrained quest for brightness. The consequences are a waste of energy and an unnecessary emission of greenhouse gases,” he said. “If Prada does not stop the light pollution, we will appeal to consumers to boycott it.

“We have also written to two Beijing-based green groups to ask them to follow up the issue there.”

A spokeswoman for Prada in Hong Kong said it was looking at the issue to see if a solution could be found. “The exterior lighting is part of our architecture design and we are reviewing options to reduce the lights,” she said, without saying why the lights could not be switched off earlier.

In a poll by the group, Prada’s exterior lighting was voted the second-most-ridiculous in the city, beaten only by the advertising boards on Windsor House, Causeway Bay.

Clear The Air Meeting with John Tsang Chun-Wah

Meeting with John Tsang Chun-Wah

Consultation on the 2008/09 Policy Address to be delivered by Donald Tsang, Chief Executive.

• Energy :

The recent agreement signed between the HK Govt and the mainland for the supply of gas to the SAR is a welcome step towards cleaning up electricity generation within Hong Kong. (Power generation by gas is 60% efficient and by coal only 38% since gas burns at approx 500degrees hotter than coal).

However Turkmenistan gas won’t be flowing into Hong Kong CLP power station before 2013 at least. Hong Kong Electric (HKE) already has its own LNG gas supply from Da Peng 93 kms pipeline but only has 335 Mwh capacity of gas generation.

China Light & Power (CLP) generated 23% of its output in 2007 by burning 2.5 billion m3 of gas. HKE generated 17% of its output in 2007 by gas.

Until such time as Hong Kong gets a guaranteed stable source of gas supply, CLP and HKE will have to burn more coal to match current production rates. In addition CLP needs to increase its sales to Southern China to help offset the burning of high polluting sulphur fuel by factories currently using their own generators due to a lack of grid supply.

We are aware steps are just now being taken by the two power companies to meet the 2010 targets and reduce emissions due to coal burning through the installation of FGD equipment and NOx burners – however recent research conducted by Clear The Air with what has been already implemented in the US revealed that NOx burners definitely increase the amount PM 2.5 released into the atmosphere since the Electrostatic precipitators in the stacks cannot catch the PM2.5.

It is precisely these PM 2.5 particles that contribute to our bad air quality, reduce the visibility and increase the burden of our healthcare to combat asthma and all kinds of respiratory diseases affecting all including the children. At the scale of the US, and based on published scientific studies alone, the American EPA estimates that the most likely benefits of meeting the revised 24-hour PM 2.5 standards will range from US$17 billion to US$35 billion.

How can we now immediately and drastically reduce PM 2.5 levels and clean our filthy air ? It is by the use of agglomerators – the technology exists it is proven largely in Australia , USA and Poland; CLP would have to install 2 agglomerators per boilers that means 16 in total (15 more to install).

Today, only one is installed. At an average cost of HKD 10M for purchase and installation this means a total bill of HKD 150M, (or 10 days of CLP’s current summer cost for its supply of coal).

Let’s keep in mind that the PM 2.5 are the ultra fine particles that refract the light and cause our “haze” and stay in the lungs for the long term – they are the most harmful ones – the NOx burners cause the soot particles to superheat, crack and break into superfine particles and escape –

What agglomerators do, they charge them with an electrostatic device which causes them to cling to larger soot particles which the precipitators then catch. The agglomerator technology can collect more than 75 % of those superfine particles currently emitted from the stacks of CLP and HKE, They are easily retrofitted to meet with the 2010 emissions caps proposed by the HK Government.

Mr Tsang, the agglomerators are THE answer to the air pollution we will be facing until LNG comes significantly into play.

Meanwhile Hong Kong needs to mandate to use of low sulphur bunker fuel in maritime use here and to consider mandating aircraft run their engines for 2 minutes at half throttle prior to take off to remove the unburnt JetA fuel blasted in the Tung Chung air.

Turning The World On To Switching Off

Mark Chipperfield – Updated on Mar 27, 2008 – SCMP

It is rare that Sydney has an opportunity to take the high moral ground.

Founded as a dumping ground for British felons, the harbour city has always had a shady reputation – historians say its first crime, a stabbing, was committed 24 hours after the First Fleet dropped anchor in Port Jackson.

No wonder, then, that Sydney’s normally jaded citizens are cock-a-hoop about Earth Hour – an event which encourages householders, government agencies and private businesses to turn off their electricity for 60 minutes.

Launched in March last year as a Sydney-only initiative, Earth Hour was designed to show how ordinary citizens could make a small but important impact on global warming by reducing their energy consumption.

Such was the success of the inaugural event – an estimated 2 million Sydneysiders and 2,200 businesses turned off their power last year – that Earth Hour has now gone global: on Saturday, people in 24 cities around the world, including Toronto, Chicago, Copenhagen, Melbourne, Dublin and Tel Aviv, will flick the power switch.

The phenomenal growth of Earth Hour over the past 12 months has taken everyone by surprise, even the organising committee. This year, the number of people participating is expected to reach 25 million. “We initially set a target of having 10 cities involved, if possible,” Earth Hour executive Andy Ridley says. “So we were more than delighted when they kept on signing up.”

Mr Ridley believes part of the appeal of Earth Hour – which nicely dovetails with growing concern about global warming, sustainable living and other environmental issues – is its simplicity. “You can participate in Earth Hour if you are in a village or a city,” he says.

Companies like McDonald’s, Lend Lease, Coca-Cola and Westfield have signed up to turn off their lights on Saturday; even the city zoo, Victoria Barracks and the Sydney Opera House will be plunged into darkness.

But Sydney’s environmental campaigners are not quite as enthusiastic about Earth Hour, pointing out that the city has a poor record on recycling and waste management and relies almost entirely on electricity generated in outdated and highly polluting coal-fired power stations. The city’s global footprint is about to become even larger with the opening of a massive desalination plant in 2010.

“Sydney has a bad record for resources management and energy renewal,” says Jane Castle of the Total Environment Centre. “There’s no mandate on recycling, so the situation is spiralling out of control. For example, waste paper from offices accounts for 10 per cent of all waste going into landfill. That’s just ridiculous.”

While praising Earth Hour as a worthwhile public awareness campaign, Ms Castle believes the people of Sydney should not be lulled into a false sense of environmental smugness.

Some people believe Sydney should get its own energy-sapping house in order before it starts preaching to the rest of the world.

“Exactly one year ago my wife and I were in Sydney on vacation and noticed that certain stores on Pitt Street Mall had their air conditioning blowing on high while the doors and windows were wide open,” writes Ted Smit from Canada.