(28 October 2023 HKFP)
Although Chief Executive John Lee’s second Policy Address, delivered on Wednesday, touched on environmental issues, there is a need for the government to speed up its policy implementation and legislation progress. It also needs progressive and proactive environmental policies to address the imminent climate crisis.
Waste and resource management
In the Indicators for Specific Tasks section of the Policy Address, the government proposes to:
“[i]ntroduce a bill into LegCo within 2024 to establish a common legislative framework for producer responsibility schemes, with a view to extending the schemes gradually to cover plastic beverage containers, beverage cartons, electric vehicle batteries, vehicle tyres and lead acid batteries starting from 2025.“
With the waste charging scheme coming into effect on April 1, 2024, there is an urgent need to promote waste reduction among the public.
Although the public consultation on the producer responsibility scheme for plastic beverage containers and cartons concluded two years ago, the legislation has yet to be enacted before the waste charging scheme.
The government must disclose the details of the bill. A progressive deposit return system – with a deposit price of no lower than HK$1 per bottle or carton – could help ensure that the initial recycling rate did not fall below 70 per cent, alleviating the mounting pressure on landfills.
Regarding food waste, this year’s Policy Address repeated a previously announced programme of installing food waste smart bins in public housing estates. The programme is inadequate and should cover private housing, too, since 53.7 per cent of Hongkongers lived in private permanent housing in 2021.
The government should also consider subsidising the operation of food waste bins and food waste transport to encourage more residential estates to take part and help reduce waste charges for residents.
With regards to the looming climate crisis, Hong Kong has recently experienced extreme weather disasters, such as flooding and landslides in many areas. To address this, the Policy Address proposes:
“exploring ways to use big data, AI and other technology to improve our risk assessment capabilities on aspects of more uncertainties, such as meteorological forecast and alerts, flooding and landslide hazards, transport and traffic, etc.”
However, the suggested measures primarily focus on geotechnical solutions and meteorological monitoring, neglecting the contribution of natural environments to climate and environmental resilience. Such an approach seems only able to address the symptoms of climate change, rather than the root causes.
To address the climate crisis at its source, the government should take the lead in conserving natural environments such as green belts and wetlands, and enhancing the carbon sequestration capacity of country parks. Additionally, the government should establish a statutory timetable and require high-carbon-emitting sectors to reduce emissions in accordance with the law.
In addition, the government has also proposed “mandating the disclosure of information in energy audit reports and shortening the interval of energy audit” for buildings. This measure is welcomed.
The audit requirements right now are too lenient because the audit cycle can last up to 10 years. Given the pace of technological advancement, the energy audit cycle should be shortened to three-to-five years to effectively monitor buildings’ energy efficiency.
Besides energy auditing, the Environment and Ecology Bureau’s summary poster on environmental policies says “carbon auditing” will cover government infrastructures. With the target of reaching carbon neutrality by 2050, upcoming infrastructure projects, such as the Northern Metropolis, must undergo such audits to ensure they are in line with the government’s net-zero ambition.
The Policy Address follows the policy direction from last year, stating that the government will:
“formulate the Strategy of Hydrogen Development in Hong Kong in the first half of next year, and commence the preparatory work for the necessary legislative amendments pertaining to the production, storage, transportation and application of hydrogen fuel.”
Suggestions were presented to the government by The Green Earth during the consultation period for the Policy Address, and we are pleased to see them accepted. It is hoped that the government will present a comprehensive roadmap for green hydrogen development and speed up Hong Kong’s transition to green energy.
According to the Policy Address, “[t]he Government strives to expand the network of charging facilities, and aims to increase the number of public and private parking spaces with charging infrastructure to about 200 000 by mid-2027”.
This is welcomed. From implementing the “One-for-One Replacement” Scheme in 2018 to the end of 2022, the number of registered electric vehicles (EV) in Hong Kong surged to 46,565, but there were only 7,085 public chargers around the city by the end of September.
In addition to installing chargers in new housing estates, the government should also assist existing housing estates to install charging facilities. Simplifying the application process while balancing the needs for safety and environmental protection would be beneficial.
As electric vehicles are becoming much more popular, Hong Kong will soon experience a wave of battery replacement, as the average lifespan of EV batteries ranges from eight to 10 years. In the Policy Address, the government proposed gradually including EV batteries in the producer responsibility scheme starting from 2025.
However, the government should expedite the legislative process to ensure proper recycling and disposal of used EV batteries. Effective systems for collecting, recycling, and environmentally sound management of these batteries must be established to minimise their environmental impact.
Ultimately, the government’s environmental policies in the 2023 Policy Address should have done more to address the climate crisis. Urgent action is needed to implement waste and resource management initiatives, expand coverage of food waste programs, conserve natural environments, establish carbon emission reduction targets, and ensure proper recycling of EV batteries.
While the focus on hydrogen development and expansion of charging infrastructure is welcomed, more comprehensive and progressive policies are necessary. We urge the government to prioritize environmental sustainability and take decisive steps towards a greener future for Hong Kong.
Steven Chan works for the environmental affairs team at The Green Earth, a local environmental group. He is interested in waste management, plastic pollution and the climate crisis, hoping to shape better environmental policies in Hong Kong.
(28 October 2023 HKFP)