John Lee’s ‘new chapter for Hong Kong’ is missing a page on climate change (Issue date: 6 May, 2022)

John Lee Ka-chiu unveiled his 44-page manifesto last Friday. The lone candidate in the city’s chief executive election pledged to "start a new chapter for Hong Kong together”, focusing on immediate livelihood issues.

But the almost myopic focus of the plan and the lack of green policies give rise to concerns as to whether earlier climate commitments will be undermined. After all, the government promised just last year that Hong Kong would halve carbon emissions by 2035 and become carbon neutral before 2050.

The urgency of addressing climate change cannot be understated. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made it clear in April that to avoid the worst of climate catastrophes and limit warming to around 1.5 degrees Celsius, global emissions must peak before 2025 and be nearly halved by 2030.

Hong Kong is exposed to many climate vulnerabilities. Longer periods of sweltering heat and more frequent and intense storm surges are just two of the more obvious ones. Other less direct consequences, such as rising food prices from climate-driven crop failures and competition with other cities for dwindling freshwater resources, will also affect the city’s stability.

If Lee means to prove that Hong Kong still deserves to be considered a leading international city, he must show that the incoming administration will play an active role in tackling climate change.

Certain priorities include: one, decarbonising the energy and transport sectors by moving away from fossil fuels – including natural gas – and greatly increasing the share of renewables backed by energy storage technologies.

Two, progressing towards net zero carbon buildings by embracing low-carbon building materials and energy-efficient building designs.

Three, driving the adoption of low-carbon solutions by setting a price on carbon which reflects the true cost of carbon-emitting activities on society.

Four, enhancing carbon sinks like forests and wetlands by preserving these natural environments and restoring degraded ecosystems.

Five, securing Hong Kong’s competitiveness as a global green financial centre by developing the city’s green finance talent pool.

Beyond climate mitigation, the new administration under Lee will also need to address the city’s ability to adapt to climate change and other still-unresolved environmental issues like waste.

A healthy and climate-resilient Hong Kong is one that will attract talent and investment. If Lee’s manifesto is a reflection of his vision for the city, it is not currently depicting a Hong Kong that is green or sustainable.

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