Environmental crisis should not be ignored amid protests over extradition bill

The controversial extradition bill amendment proposed by the government has woken Hongkongers up to appreciate the due procedures for legislation development, but at a huge social cost.
Though the government has suspended further deliberations of the bill, the 2 million-strong march and the recent leaderless protests which occurred in government buildings could happen again. If they do, social recovery will become even more difficult.
I believe the government is aware of the Chinese saying “even little fires can burn down a large plot of land”. There are indeed many hidden “little fires” that need to be put out before they “burn down” our city.
For the sake of Hong Kong and its citizens, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and her top officials must have constructive dialogues immediately with people of different opinions to reach an understanding. To ease the high political tension, she needs to consider withdrawing the bill as she did with the proposal for adjusting the three tunnels’ tolls.
And although the political crisis is not yet over, the government also needs to make progress on several important environmental policy areas. The municipal solid waste charging policy is one of several that cannot afford any further delay.
People (many of them voters) who are suffering from poor air quality, adverse effects of climate change and poor waste management, have long aspired to have healthier living conditions for themselves and their children.
There can be no doubt that both the pro-government and the pro-democracy camps support improving the city’s environment by having better environmental policies and facilities to fulfil voters’ aspirations. Therefore, supporting the policies that will bring benefits to public health and the environment will earn more votes for legislators in the coming election.
The public expects the Legislative Council to return to normal business, to keep monitoring the environmental, social and economic state of the city, and to hold the respective ministers accountable.
The long-term decarbonisation strategy consultation was launched by the Council for Sustainable Development amid vigorous protests in mid-June, which makes me wonder how such an important topic relating to the future survival of the population could grasp public attention.
In early June, Finland boldly announced it would aim to be carbon-neutral by 2035 while some other nations including the European Union have aimed for carbon-neutral by 2050.
Unfortunately, our decarbonisation strategy consultation document did not clearly suggest that Hong Kong should also aim for carbon-neutral. The three key directions it proposes are:
● Move towards a low-carbon (rather than carbon-neutral) society;
● Reducing energy use and further decarbonising electricity generation (an option is to import low-carbon electricity from the mainland); and
● Low-carbon transport.
The council is aware of the Special Report on Global Warming issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which states that limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius could reduce climate risks far more than limiting it to 2 degrees. Apart from saving a million flora and fauna species, cutting global carbon emissions aggressively could help prevent 300,000 to 700,000 premature deaths annually by 2030, according to the consultation document.
Hong Kong is a vulnerable city in many respects. For instance, sea level rises could disrupt our surface-road and underground transport, inflicting harm on our economy.
However, there is nothing to show Hong Kong people explicitly that 1.5 degrees is our government’s proposed goal. Such a goal-vague consultation will not help the public focus on the political, technical and social transformations need to deal with this life-threatening issue.
Edwin Lau
Executive Director of The Green Earth
30 June 2019 SCMP