Green economy transformation needs talent support

November 19, 2021 11:37
To promote green transport, Hong Kong will cease new registration of fuel-propelled and hybrid private cars in 2035. Photo: RTHK

Climate change has long been a topic of global concern. Hong Kong strives to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, a common goal shared with other places to reduce carbon emissions. In the next 15 to 20 years, the Government will devote about HK$240 billion to implement various measures on climate change mitigation and adaptation. Private enterprises must also allocate substantial resources to achieve low carbon transformation. However, is the talent pool in Hong Kong ready to support these changes?

The Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department will soon announce the "Hong Kong Climate Action Plan 2050", aiming to halve Hong Kong's carbon emissions by 2035 as compared to the 2005 level. In the Policy Address released last month, Chief Executive Carrie Lam pointed out that the Environment Bureau (ENB) will set up a new Office of Climate Change and Carbon Neutrality to strengthen the coordination of all the actions and promote deep decarbonisation. A dedicated advisory committee will also be set up to offer advice on the plan. The actions taken by the Chief Executive reflect the strong commitment of the Government to implement measures towards carbon emission reduction.

2035: a milestone for carbon emission reduction

About two-thirds of Hong Kong's greenhouse gas emissions come from electricity generation, followed by the transportation sector (18%) and waste (7%). To reduce carbon emissions, the government's goal is to achieve carbon neutrality with "net-zero power generation", zero carbon emissions in the transportation sector, and waste treatment.

To achieve “net zero carbon emissions for electricity generation”, power companies must gradually phase out coal fired generation units and replace coal with other alternatives such as natural gas and renewable energy. The Government also pledges to drive the development of renewable energy and to increase its share in the fuel mix for electricity generation through facilitating local projects, regional collaboration and joint ventures. The demand for power consumption can be reduced through the promotion of green buildings, energy efficiency of buildings and a low carbon lifestyle. By 2050, the electricity consumption of both commercial buildings and residential buildings has to be reduced by some 30% from the 2015 level. The Government aims to achieve half of this target by 2035.

As for green transport, the government will cease new registration of fuel-propelled and hybrid private cars in 2035 and conduct trials of hydrogen fuel cell buses. Regarding carbon emissions from waste, the Government will mobilise the entire community to practise waste reduction, develop waste to energy facilities and support the circular economy.

Diverse talents in environmental protection are in demand

It can be seen from the above that the transition to a green economy involves many aspects such as electricity generation, environmental protection, transportation, construction, waste treatment, and renewable energy. A survey released by the Federation of Hong Kong Industries in the middle of this year shows that when manufacturers upgrade and transform, the shortage of industrial talents is the biggest challenge. Among them, businesses of recycling and environmental protection are particularly difficult, often struggling to move ahead. It is hoped that the Government will pay attention to talent development for such advanced manufacturing industries and provide diverse choices of applied study programmes and degrees. Besides, green buildings, green transportation, green product design, etc. all need talents who understand environmental protection standards to meet the goal of carbon reduction.

The transition to a green economy requires the participation of the financial industry as well. Investment in power generation projects, hydrogen energy industry, and renewable energy R&D all count on the assessment of environmental protection experts. Many large companies see ample opportunity in the development towards a green economy and plan to open additional ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) positions. At the same time, listed companies must submit annual ESG reports in a rigorous manner. With the current trend towards responsible investment, investors expect companies to contribute to sustainable development, thus focusing more on the business models and non-financial performance, including carbon emissions from their operations. The Hong Kong Financial Services Development Council issued a report on financial talents in August, stating that ESG is a major trend in the development of financial services in the future, yet the ESG knowledge of Hong Kong's financial talents is not good enough. ESG has not yet been given sufficient emphasis in school education. Therefore, Hong Kong must speed up the development in this respect to cultivate relevant talents.

Talents must be in sync with green economy transformation

The transformation towards a green economy requires the support of relevant talents. The Government supports the development of green industry, and green finance is set to be a global trend. Different sectors are eager to tap into the new opportunities, but talent support fails to keep pace. If Hong Kong continues to neglect education and the lack of training in this area, the Government’s plan of reducing carbon emissions is bound to face significant challenges, the opportunities presented by the green economy will, regrettably, be missed.

Our Hong Kong Foundation issued a report entitled “Preparing for the 21st Century Globally Competitive Workforce—Industry-led Standards of Applied Education and Lifelong Learning” in September. It points out that the mismatch between the training of local university graduates and industry needs has resulted in a shortage of relevant talents in some industries. The Foundation advocates the cultivation of application-oriented talents in response to the development of Hong Kong. The curriculum design should involve the active participation of the relevant industry partners, so that the curriculum can meet the needs of the industry's development and prepare the students to practise what they have learnt upon graduation. The Foundation stresses that Hong Kong should also promote and facilitate lifelong learning among the workforce, so that Hong Kong's economic development can sustain its competitiveness.

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Managing Editor at Our Hong Kong Foundation.

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