In her annual policy speech earlier this month, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor mentioned some policy initiatives aimed at improving the air quality, promoting waste reduction and recycling, and encouraging more use of renewable energy.
The new initiatives include examining the possibility of halting all new registrations of diesel private cars, studying the feasibility, scope and mechanism of controlling or banning disposable plastic tableware, and looking into the possibility of developing solar energy in reservoirs and landfills.
However, apart from laying out these few new initiatives, the Policy Address devoted most of its pages to explaining existing environmental policies, and has failed to propose any new short-term measure to cope with some of the pressing and imminent environmental issues in the city.
The pressing issues include the worsening pollution from microplastics, and problems that the local paper and plastics recycling industry is facing as a result of the tightened regulation of waste imports by the mainland authorities, as well as the acute shortage of charging stations for electric cars in the city.
According to a report published by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change earlier this year, in order to keep the average global temperature rise under 1.5°C, all coal plants across the world must be shut down by 2050.
While governments around the globe have been eagerly jumping on the bandwagon of banning fossil fuels and developing renewable energy sources, Hong Kong, however, appears to be lagging far behind international standards on emission reduction.
The “Hong Kong’s Climate Action Plan 2030+” report published by the Environment Bureau in January 2017 mentions that coal-fired energy accounted for some 50 percent of the city’s electricity generation in 2015, whereas renewable energy sources only made up not more than 0.1 percent of our overall electricity production.
In the action plan the government had pledged to gradually reduce, by 2030, the reliance on coal for power generation.
In my opinion, the government’s goal of limiting coal-fired power to 25 percent of the city’s total electricity production by around 2020 is anything but progressive, and is lagging substantially behind international vision on emission reductions.
That said, we should still give the latest Policy Address some credit for vowing to study the feasibility of extending the current pilot scheme of installing large-scale photovoltaic (PV) systems in the Shek Pik Reservoir and Plover Cove Reservoir to other reservoirs, as well as introducing PV systems to the landfills in order to facilitate the use of renewable energy.
I believe the administration has definitely taken steps in the right direction by introducing the new initiatives. Given the scarcity of land in Hong Kong, using the space available in the reservoirs and landfills to develop renewable energy sources is undoubtedly a good and viable option.
Besides, by installing solar PV panels in the reservoirs, it can help slow down the vaporization of water, curb the growth of algae and thereby improve the overall water quality.
That being said, I suggest the government also promptly study the feasibility of extending the solar energy projects to other public structures such as overpass roofs and noise barriers along the city’s highways.
As far as the policy on plastic waste reduction is concerned, I welcome the government’s decision to introduce reverse vending machines (RVMs) in Hong Kong to enhance the economic incentives for plastic waste recycling in the community.
Nonetheless, in order to allow RVMs to play a more significant role in plastic waste recycling, the government can make better use of the existing recycling networks on community levels by transporting all the plastic waste such as bottles collected through RVMs across the city to “Community Green Stations” or other waste collection terminals, and then arranging for recyclers to collect them in a concentrated manner.
As to reducing the consumption of disposable plastic cutlery, I agree that the government should promptly regulate the distribution of plastic cutlery to customers and diners among the local catering industry.
Meanwhile, authorities should also encourage local restaurants and big food enterprises to bear more social responsibility by offering reusable or more eco-friendly flatware instead of disposable cutlery.
Last but not least, quite a number of studies in the past have indicated that minute plastic beads (microbeads), which can often be found in pre-packed food, bottled water and even table salt, are harmful to the human body.
Unfortunately, I have found it very disappointing that there isn’t any mention of how to deal with microplastic pollution in this year’s Policy Address.
In November last year at a Question and Answer session in the Legislative Council, government officials promised me that the government was commissioning a private consultancy to study the issue of microplastic pollution.
It is my sincere hope that the administration can publish the findings of the study as soon as possible, and formulate a timetable on banning the sale of products that contain microplastics.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct 29
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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