Clear The Air Energy Blog Rotating Header Image

Green Investment Makes Business Sense

Lau Nai-keung, SCMP – Nov 14, 2008

In an interview immediately after his US presidential election victory, Barack Obama listed four priorities for his administration. The first one is, of course, the economy, then energy, health care and the environment. To him, directing more resources away from oil dependency and saving the environment are good for the economy, too. He is right on the button.

Our government, and for that matter, authorities in Guangdong, have to understand that money spent on improving the environment is not a budget extravagance that should be cut during hard times.

Instead, it is a growth area that can, first of all, employ people, including the less educated and unskilled. Moreover, it can be hi-tech. Reduce, reuse and recycle is a dirty phrase here, but there are a lot of technologies involved, including physics, chemistry, biochemistry, engineering and logistics. Doing it on a regional scale requires highly sophisticated management skills, too.

In fact, China is now the world’s leading producer and user of solar water heaters. DuPont’s new venture in Hong Kong and Shenzhen will put us at the forefront of solar energy technology. Electricity-generating wind turbines are sprouting like mushrooms in certain parts of Guangdong. Nuclear energy, which is back in vogue and considered clean energy worldwide, is now gaining a bigger presence in the province, with at least two new plants in the pipeline.

Hong Kong, on the other hand, is too obsessed with hi-tech. If our recycling business does not join its counterparts in the Pearl River Delta, it will not survive. And, without government subsidies from both Hong Kong and Guangdong, the whole recycling industry may die as commodity prices fall.

Some 2.81 million tonnes of Hong Kong’s solid waste was separated for recycling last year, slightly less than in 2006. However, only 1 per cent, or 30,000 tonnes, was recycled in Hong Kong, compared with more than 11 million tonnes a year earlier. The remainder of the recoverables was exported for recycling. This is one area where we need co-operation between Guangdong and Hong Kong. Collaboration on used tyres or construction materials is an ideal way to start. There has been talk about recycling used tyres since 2003.

Investing in the environment is money well spent, because it can cut social costs, such as health care, and reduce hardship and suffering. These costs are estimated to total more than 3 per cent of gross domestic product, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Carbon trading is another area of regional co-operation where Hong Kong will play a prominent role. Our power plants generate more than 60 per cent of carbon emissions in Hong Kong. Figures from last year show that the two plants generated about 28 million tonnes of greenhouse gases, and are therefore good candidates to start the ball rolling. Guangdong also has its mandatory emissions targets to fulfil.

China, on the whole, is the largest carbon trading market in the world and is the biggest beneficiary of the United Nations Clean Development Mechanism. It is estimated that, by 2012, China, which is by far the largest carbon-emitting developing nation, will occupy about 50 per cent of the multibillion-euro carbon trading market.

There is much discussion on the mainland about setting up a carbon exchange. Hong Kong is the most suitable place for this institution. It should take the initiative and approach the central government about the subject.

If Guangdong wants to be the number one province, regional co-operation in environmental protection is perhaps the only viable option. If Hong Kong wants to seek opportunities in a depression, this is also the most feasible direction. We only have to “liberate our thoughts”, as Guangdong party secretary Wang Yang has urged.

Lau Nai-keung is a member of the Basic Law Committee of the NPC Standing Committee, and also a member of the Commission on Strategic Development

Comments are closed.