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33pc cut in carbon emissions proposed- Government aims high in climate-change fight

South China Morning Post — 11 Sept. 2010

Hong Kong has been given a target of slashing its carbon emissions by up to 33 per cent in a decade.

The target forms part of long-awaited government proposals, released yesterday, that drew swift criticism for being too timid and taking the wrong tack.

Up for public consultation are plans to generate half the city’s electricity from nuclear power, and phase out coal-fired power stations, by 2030.

The target, more stringent than the mainland’s but less aggressive than that required of developed economies by the United Nations, would mean cuts in carbon emissions of between 19 per cent and 33 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020. That translates to a drop from the 42 million tonnes emitted in 2008 to between 28 million tonnes and 34 million tonnes.

The latest lofty initiative from the Environment Bureau comes as action is still awaited on proposals for updating the city’s air quality objectives after nearly two years of study, and four months of public consultation that ended 10 months ago.

Introducing the latest plans, Environment Secretary Edward Yau Tang-wah (pictured) said it would not have been easy to attain even the national carbon reduction target since Hong Kong’s economy is growing more slowly than the mainland’s.

“But we decided to choose an even more aggressive target as Hong Kong is a developed city and an international financial centre. We should be more forward-looking,” Yau said.

Green groups said the government should have opted for the still more stringent UN standards, and heavily criticised the plan’s reliance on nuclear power.

Greenpeace called it “the most irresponsible and dangerous path” to tackling climate change.

Friends of the Earth environmental affairs manager Hahn Chu Hon-keung said Hong Kong, as an international city with a mature economy, had a duty to meet the stricter UN target, which would require a 25 per cent reduction in 1990 levels of carbon emissions, to 26.5 million tonnes a year, by 2020.

But Yau said the target was already ahead of those set by the United States, the European Union and Japan.

The plan released yesterday for a three-month public consultation after a much-delayed climate change study commissioned by the government over two years ago does not detail the costs of implementing it or the possible difficulties involved.

Yau said it was difficult to predict the costs at this stage as investments and related measures had not been not confirmed. “We may not need to pay a high cost. We will benefit from the savings on electricity bill and the business opportunities of low-carbon industries that arise from it,” he said.

The measures, which cover power generation, buildings, transport and waste, include requiring 15 per cent of buses to run on hybrid engines and halving energy use in commercial buildings.

But the change in power generation is the most drastic.

Apart from increasing the proportion generated from natural gas from 23 per cent to 40 per cent, nuclear power would take over from coal as the major energy source.

The bureau said nuclear power was chosen because it emits no greenhouse gas, is more reliable and cheaper.

Nuclear power now imported from the mainland costs about 50 cents per kilowatt, compared to 40 to 60 cents for coal and 70 to 90 cents for natural gas.

Its use could not be increased quickly, however, since new cross-border transmission lines could take eight years to build.

The government could also face difficult negotiations with the city’s two power companies.

Energy Advisory Committee chairman Edmund Leung Kwong-ho said the public should not worry about the safety of nuclear power after seeing the Daya Bay nuclear power station in Guangdong operate safely for 20  years.

Larry Chow Chuen-ho, director of Baptist University’s Hong Kong Energy Studies Centre, said power companies would be very likely to raise electricity prices as they would have to invest in new gas-burning plants.

If no change is made, the Hong Kong Observatory said the average number of very hot days per year – with temperatures of 33 degrees Celsius or above – could triple to 24 by 2090.

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