To tackle the global warming problem in accordance with the Paris Agreement, the Council for Sustainable Development (CSD), an agency under the Hong Kong government’s Environmental Protection Department, launched a public engagement exercise in June this year on a long-term decarbonization strategy for the city.
One of the topics the public engagement focuses on is promotion of a low-carbon society.
In my opinion, in order to achieve this goal, the government should encourage low-carbon consumption among the public and spur waste reduction efforts in society in a proactive manner.
Today, Hong Kong imports over 90 percent of its food, which results in a relatively high carbon footprint.
A carbon footprint of food supply refers to the total amount of energy consumption and carbon emissions in the process of producing, transporting and storing the food products.
In order to reduce the carbon footprint in food supply, I suggest that the administration substantially raise the self-sufficiency rate of vegetables in the city and cut down on food imports.
According to the figures provided by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, the self-sufficiency rate of vegetables in Hong Kong currently stands at a minimal 1.7 percent.
However, the fact is, there is about 4,400 hectares of agricultural land across the territory, yet only 16 percent of them are active farmlands.
As such, the government should consider substantially relaxing the restrictions on the duration of agricultural land leasing and providing sufficient transport support in rural areas in order to enhance the confidence among local farmers to invest more resources in growing crops so as to boost local agricultural supply in the city.
Meanwhile, another key to reducing the carbon footprint of food supply in Hong Kong is to substantially curtail meat consumption and promote a green diet among the citizens, because, as we all know, the meat production process often releases much higher levels of carbon dioxide than that involved in growing vegetables.
It would be impossible for the government to successfully promote a low-carbon diet among the citizens without the help and partnership of the local catering industry.
Therefore, the government must engage the catering sector to facilitate a low-carbon diet among the public by providing support for restaurant owners such as tax concessions in order to encourage more of them to participate in the green initiative.
Over the years, Hong Kong has been lagging behind other major Asian cities when it comes to making progress in waste recycling and waste reduction at source, mainly due to the relatively low awareness about the importance of waste separation among the local public.
Henceforth, the government must devise effective measures to boost the awareness among the citizens about waste separation and recycling.
For example, authorities can refer to the experience of other countries and introduce “reverse plastic bottle vending machines” to locations where foot traffic is high, as well as offer more attractive buyback prices, so as to encourage more people to participate in plastic bottle recycling.
Many European countries and Australia have already adopted these measures, and have achieved remarkable efficacy. And among the reverse vending machines these countries are using, some are applicable to glass bottles and metal cans as well.
According to recent statistics released by the Environmental Protection Department, Hong Kong has begun to see a rebound in the use of plastic bags in recent years, indicating that the citizens have got used to the HK$0.5 plastic bag levy and are no longer deterred by the charge.
Given this, perhaps in the long run, the government should consider legislating an across-the-board ban on plastic shopping bags.
Last but not least, the administration should make better use of social media such as YouTube and Facebook as a public education platform to step up efforts in conveying relevant messages so as to encourage the citizens to change their lifestyle in order to reduce their carbon footprint.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept 19
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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