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SCMP: Loh defends Hong Kong over downgrade in UN ranking

The World Energy Council, the UN-accredited global energy body, published the 2013 edition of its Energy Sustainability Index, for which Hong Kong fared poorly. Cheung Chi-fai of the SCMP reports the response from Christine Loh, undersecretary for the environment in Hong Kong:

The environment undersecretary has defended Hong Kong following its downgrading in an energy index compiled by a United Nations-accredited body, saying the score does not fully take into account the city’s unique situation.

The annual World Energy Council index ranked Hong Kong 40th among 129 nations and regions, two places lower than last year, based on its ability to balance the “energy trilemma” of security, equity and environmental sustainability.

Hong Kong’s ranking was dragged down by concerns over the security of its energy supply – given its heavy reliance on fossil fuels – and its economic stability.

But Christine Loh Kung-wai said the compilers had failed to note that Hong Kong obtained nuclear power and gas from the nation it was part of, making its supply “very secure”. She also disputed the assessment of the local economy.

She said: “Our energy supply is not as insecure as claimed. Perhaps when they look at Hong Kong they overlook its relationship with China,” she said.

She added: “Our macro[economic] environment might have actually improved – and compared to the top five in the index, ours might seem much better.”

The “trilemma” goals account for 75 per cent of the ranking and the economy, political and social context 25 per cent.

Hong Kong scored A for equity, B for the environment and D – the lowest – for security. Its economic ranking plunged from first last year to 15th.

The top five – Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, Austria and Britain – scored A for all three goals. Asian regions with a higher ranking than Hong Kong are Japan (16), Taiwan (27) and Malaysia (37).

Loh attended the World Energy Congress in Daegu, South Korea, where the index was announced this week. She said it was an “interesting exercise” and a useful “assessment by an independent body”, but wanted to learn more about the assumptions behind it.

The index, she added, was not a race against other jurisdictions but a challenge for the city itself. It would spur the government to promote joint dialogue among different departments with influence on energy issues, such as transport and development.

Joan MacNaughton, executive chairwoman of the council’s World Energy Trilemma division, said the city’s ranking simply reflected what areas policymakers had to pay attention to and Hong Kong still performed well.

“The ranking itself is not the most important message; the most important is what do you do that works well and not so well and what does the government need to focus on in the future to make good progress towards the three goals,” she said.

On Hong Kong’s energy imports from the mainland, she said the more diversified the energy supply the better as far as ranking was concerned.

Energy resources were not a defining factor, she said, as some places with rich resources did not perform well, in contrast to some with no resources.

“So, at the end, it is all policy, policy and policy,” she said.

Asked if the political system had any bearing on the ability to come up with a sound policy, MacNaughton said there was no apparent link between the type of political system and energy policy. But all the top-ranking countries had a “strong tradition of consultation and transparency in policymaking”, she added.

18 Oct 2013

This is what the World Energy Council says in its assessment:

While Hong Kong does not have much indigenous energy resources, active steps have been taken to ensure safe and stable energy supply. To secure clean and reliable electricity supply, Hong Kong signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on energy cooperation with mainland China in August 2008, which provided assurance to the continual supply of nuclear energy and enhanced supply of natural gas from China to Hong Kong. The recent completion and commissioning of the Hong Kong Branch Line of the Second West-East Natural Gas Pipeline has helped ensure a stable and secure supply of natural gas from the Mainland for power generation. The Government has put in place a contingency plan for oil supply that co-ordinates both the public and private sectors in the allocation and consumption of essential oil products in the event of an oil supply disruption. A code of practice has also been put in place that requires major oil companies to maintain a minimum of 30 days’ supply of gas oil and naphtha.

The assessment, then, has already taken into account the supply of nuclear energy and natural gas from China, and has nothing to do with whether the energy source type is diversified. This is demonstrated by a comparison with the assessment of Singapore, which has a 2.7% electricity generation from renewables and 97.3% from conventional thermal, compared to Hong Kong’s 100% from conventional thermal; yet Singapore ranks lower both on energy security and the overall index. (Another interesting comparison can be made with South Korea: 30.1% nuclear and 68.5% conventional thermal, and it also comes in behind Hong Kong on energy security and overall index.)

What the ranking finds wanting in Hong Kong is its own consistent production of energy that does not rely on imports of either raw energy production materials or energy supply itself. This seems ludicrous to ask of a small, land-scarce semi-autonomous city-state, but the fact is that the city has the potential to develop renewable energy production which it has so far failed to do so: it has barely developed facilities for solar power; it has not come up with feasible plans for wind power; it has stifled the development of biofuels; it has repeated rejected plasma gasification of waste to energy.

Hong Kong's largest solar power plant on Lamma Island, with an output capacity of 1MW. (Photo: Hong Kong Engineer) Strong inertia on an 'exploration' mindset, without serious commitment to supporting the production of renewable fuels, means Hong Kong is reliant on imports for its consumption of some 9,000MW of electricity (2012 figures), accounting for its low rankings on energy security.

The fall in the assessment of Hong Kong’s energy security is thus not as simple a matter of ‘overlooking’ the importing of nuclear power from China as Ms. Loh suggests. As the World Energy Council representative Joan MacNaughton puts it, “the most important is what do you do that works well and not so well and what does the government need to focus on in the future to make good progress towards the three goals.” Hong Kong has definitely not done so well with developing its own renewable energy production, and the government not only need to focus on this; it would do well to take heed of Ms. MacNaughton’s unintentional dig, “all the top-ranking countries had a ‘strong tradition of consultation and transparency in policymaking'”.

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