Policy address a great opportunity to cut waste and save energy

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is preparing his final policy address for his term in office and has invited the public to give its views.

One of my recommendations is that waste-charging legislation should be enacted as soon as possible to help reduce waste generation. The government’s proposed waste charge is nominal, but without such legislation to reduce waste we will end up paying much more by way of taxes for landfill expansion and bigger incineration plants.

The Product Eco-responsibility Ordinance currently covers plastic shopping bags, waste electrical and electronic equipment and glass bottles, but not the bulky beverage plastic bottles. Including them is essential to compel beverage producers to recover their used bottles, starting with a low start-up percentage and progressing to full recovery.

Regarding climate change, the World Meteorological Organisation predicted that 2016 will be the hottest year on record. The administration, acting as a responsible government, needs to have solid policy measures to prevent the world’s temperature from rising.

In Hong Kong, buildings account for 90 per cent of total electricity consumption and around 60 per cent of the city’s carbon emissions, so driving down power consumption in buildings will address climate impact.

Our government has been negotiating with the power companies for a new scheme of control agreement to replace the existing one, which is due to expire by the end of 2018. So there is a golden opportunity to turn this climate-unfriendly agreement into a climate-friendly one.

For a greener agreement, power firms’ profits should be pegged to the energy savings achieved annually by the city’s buildings. This should integrate with a carrot and stick mechanism where tariffs will increase for energy savings beyond a certain level, and decrease for zero energy savings.

If Leung were to take this bold step to overhaul the agreement, it would provide strong incentives for power firms to invest more in energy-efficient hardware for buildings, and educate tenants and building management to apply the right technologies and management practices to achieve significant energy savings. Hence climate-threatening greenhouse gas would be cut.

Although US president-elect Donald Trump has said he does not believe in climate change and wants the US to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, our government should set a better example by upholding the city’s treaty obligations and setting tougher carbon reduction targets as part of Hong Kong’s contribution to a sustainable planet.

Edwin Lau Che-feng is executive director of The Green Earth.

5 December 2016 SCMP