Green Finance Advisor of Friends of the Earth (HK)

All other things equal people prefer to live in an environment with stable climate. In particularly, the younger generation wants to preserve the planet where their future depends on. The management of climate change and environment has become a key factor for companies, cities and countries to attract and retain talents. Despite making the 2050 carbon neutrality commitment, the Hong Kong SAR government is missing a detailed roadmap, policies, and financial support to achieve the goal.

Photo source: Environmental Protection Department

Based on the latest government report, 80% of Hong Kong emissions in 2020 came from two areas – power & energy industries and transportation. [1]  Before COVID, the share of emission coming these areas was even higher at 84%. How Hong Kong sources its energy and manages its transportation system are key considerations of its decarbonization. Sadly, only a little progress has been made in both areas. As pointed out in the Friends of the Earth (HK) Response to the 2022 Policy, there is a lack of strong climate policies from the government to help Hong Kong adapt and mitigate climate risks.

The total emission coming from transport has not been rising much since 2015. In fact, ones may argue that transport emissions already peaked in the late 90s. I believe a major contribution to this emission stability is our reliance on railways, which deliver 41% of all trips on public transport of the city but contributed only 3% of its transport emissions. Comparatively, private cars and motorcycles, the major passenger transport emitters, generated 24% of our transport emission. Buses and taxi contributed another 21% and 16% respectively.[2]

Following the commencement of the MTR Sha Tin to Central Link earlier this year, we could expect more passengers to switch to railways for daily transport. This in turn will help reduce the overall emissions. There remains room for MTR to expand its network. However, since our railway network has already covered majority of our population. The marginal impact for future MTR railway projects to emission reduction is likely to taper off.

The burden for emission cuts clearly goes to the rest of the transportation system. We are glad to see more people driving electric cars or hybrid vehicles but the running of diesel-fuelled buses and LPG-powered taxis is a primary builder of climate risks of Hong Kong. To decarbonize buses, the government needs to drive the transition to buses powered by electricity and green hydrogen. In addition, the bus route rationalization, which has been discussed for many years between the government and bus operators, should speed up. Transport emissions can be materially reduced when road traffic is optimized.

Taxi plays a critical role in emission cuts in densely populated areas. In Singapore, taxi companies have taken lead to commit to 100% cleaner energy vehicles by 2040.[3]  To the minimum the Hong Kong government should consider setting time-bounded targets for conversion of all taxi to electric vehicles or hybrid vehicles. Low emissions should also be included as a criteria in the new license application and license renewal of taxi and other vehicles.

Freight transport is another area we need to slash emissions. The Business Environment Council earlier this year published a report about decarbonization of this segment.[4] I recommend the Hong Kong government to seriously consider and implement suggestions given in the report.

In the interest of space, I will discuss about the carbon footprint of our power & energy industries in another time.

[1] Hong Kong Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Sector report

[2] Hong Kong Environmental Bureau: Hong Kong’s Climate Action Plan 2030+

[3] The Land Transport Authority of Singapore: the 2040 Land Transport Master Plan

[4] Business Environment Council: Decarbonising Commercial Freight Transport: A Greenhouse Gas Emissions Blind Spot of Companies in Hong Kong