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.”