Hong Kong’s zero-carbon strategy must be powered by green hydrogen and mandatory measures

To achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, Hong Kong must deploy stricter, mandatory targets instead of relying on voluntary schemes and consider developing renewable energy sources beyond our usual conservative mindset
China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, pledged in September to reach carbon neutrality before 2060. Last month, the Council for Sustainable Development recommended a 2050 carbon neutrality goal for Hong Kong.
In the wake of these two important announcements, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced in her 2020 policy address that Hong Kong would strive to reach carbon neutrality before 2050.
Power generation and transport together account for 83 per cent of the city’s carbon emissions. Consideration should be given to mandating carbon emission reduction targets with a timeline working backwards from 2050 for major businesses, including power generation, property development and transport.
The administration needs to deploy mandatory measures instead of the usual mild approach via voluntary schemes. Take the Building Energy Efficiency Ordinance as an example. It requires new buildings to meet the statutory standards while more than 42,000 existing buildings are exempted if they avoid undertaking major retrofitting works.
Revising the ordinance to regulate all buildings is essential. As buildings account for 90 per cent of the city’s total electricity consumption, promoting energy conservation among all tenants is arguably as important as setting stringent standards and upgrading them regularly.
In renewable energy development, Hong Kong lags far behind mainland China and many other economies. Besides solar and wind technologies, investment in emerging green technology using hydrogen to decarbonise transport, power generation and manufacturing is expected to be embraced by businesses worldwide.
According to the World Energy Council, 96 per cent of hydrogen is currently produced using fossil fuels via carbon-intensive processes and is classified as grey hydrogen. To achieve carbon neutrality, renewables are used to produce “green hydrogen” by electrolysing water at a higher financial cost but a much lower environmental one.
To achieve carbon neutrality, we must consider developing renewables beyond our usual conservative mindset.
The floating dock for receiving liquefied natural gas from overseas to increase the percentage of LNG in our fuel mix will soon be completed. A similar system for importing green hydrogen for power generation and transport should become part of our strategy. Though using LNG for power generation emits 50 per cent less carbon dioxide than coal, it remains an interim solution while green hydrogen is the ultimate solution.
Hydrogen is used in various industrial applications such as transport and the production of fertiliser. The European Union, Australia and China have pledged to make huge investments in green hydrogen development for the next decade.
The Lam administration should recognise the potential of this new form of green energy and facilitate its adoption as a vital component of Hong Kong’s strategy to achieve carbon neutrality.
Edwin Lau
Executive Director, The Green Earth
13 Dec 2020 SCMP