Cleaner fuels a start, but greener lifestyle is the key in climate fight

Edwin Lau says CLP’s proposed offshore LNG terminal reflects the technical approach to cutting greenhouse gases in Hong Kong, but education on sustainable living is imperative for our survival.

The Environmental Protection Department has recently given the green light for CLP Power to conduct an environmental impact assessment study for its proposed offshore liquefied natural gas terminal to be built to the east of the Soko Islands.

In fact, 10 years ago, CLP had already proposed building a landbased LNG terminal at Tai A Chau, to receive natural gas from other sources. It was claimed that its existing Yacheng gas field, off Hainan Island, would be depleted by the early 2010s, and building an LNG terminal was a viable option to maintain energy security for the city. The related environmental impact assessment was endorsed by the government in 2007.

However, in 2008, the Hong Kong government signed an agreement with the mainland authorities to secure a supply of natural gas for 20 years. This removed the immediate worries about energy security and, as a result, CLP abandoned the LNG project soon after.

So the mainland seems willing to share its gas supply to keep our economy growing. It is similar to the continuous supply of water from the Dongjiang. But that has lowered our awareness of longterm water security. CLP would be left with a single source of gas supply if the Yacheng field really becomes depleted. Last December, a landslide in Shenzhen damaged part of the West-East Gas Pipeline and led to the suspension of the gas supply to CLP for two months. This highlighted the energy security issue again.

In its 2015 climate change report, the Hong Kong government pledged to raise the ratio of natural gas for electricity generation from 21 per cent to 50 per cent by 2020, as a way to tackle climate change.

Faced with such a requirement, CLP came up with the offshore LNG terminal that will give it flexibility to buy natural gas from the world market (reportedly much cheaper than that bought via the gas pipeline). If the terminal is built, LNG will be bought from the world market to supply both CLP and HK Electric, and possibly Towngas.

On its own, the potential environmental impact of the offshore terminal might not be huge, but the government must not underestimate the cumulative effect of other projects, such as the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge and the third runway project, especially on the marine environment. According to a government study, the number of Chinese white dolphins found in northwest Lantau waters has dropped from 84 in 2003 to 10 in 2015, which is alarming and sad.

Using more natural gas to replace coal for electricity generation is a technical approach to curb the emission of climate threatening greenhouse gases. However, relying solely on cleaner fuel (gas is still a fossil fuel) can in no way meet our obligation to alleviate climate change. Climate scientists have predicted that 2016 will be the hottest year on record, following the last two record hottest years in 2014 and 2015.

Business as usual cannot continue. Both in Hong Kong and worldwide, there is great need for cleaner fuels, renewable energy and energy efficiency. Traditional economic development, driven by more and faster consumption, needs revolutionary change. While technologies will partially address our environmental challenges, they cannot be the total solution.

Governments should dedicate resources to education on sustainability for all age groups to motivate us to change our unsustainable lifestyles. Unless Hong Kong and the world commits in this manner, the outlook for our survival is grim.

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

25 August 2016 SCMP