At GREEN Hospitality, we welcome the highlight of climate actions at the Hong Kong government’s latest policy address, supplemented by the release of Hong Kong’s Climate Action Plan 2050, which outlines decarbonisation strategies, targets, and actions around net-zero electricity generation, energy-saving and green buildings, green transport, and waste reduction. While the Climate Action Plan 2050 offers a rather comprehensive overview of the decarbonisation strategies and proposed actions achieved through cross-sector partnership, education, community awareness-building, and regional cooperation, we again urge the Hong Kong government to enhance transparency and accessibility to information related to its climate actions, which can effectively increase participation from the private sector, civil society, the academia, and other stakeholders in society. Below is our response to the climate initiatives and goals outlined in the policy address and the Climate Action Plan 2050.
Diverse Representation of Strategic Committees
We commend the government’s proposal to set up the Steering Committee on Climate Change and Carbon Neutrality and the Office of Climate Change and Carbon Neutrality to strengthen coordination and promote deep decarbonisation, as well as the formation of a dedicated advisory committee to offer advice and promote active participation of major stakeholders including young people. But just as important is for these bodies to collaborate broadly with organisations and individuals already working towards climate resiliency in Hong Kong through advocacy and research. Between now and 2050, there is not an awful lot of time to contemplate and implement the right initiatives for Hong Kong, and leveraging the existing endeavours, knowledge and insight of civil society organisations, tertiary education institutions, and the private sector can expedite climate actions. Moreover, the composition of the Steering Committee and the Office of Climate Change and Carbon Neutrality, as well as the advisory committee, needs to allow for diverse representation of various stakeholders in society in order to address the intersectionality of climate change.
Life-cycle Approach to Carbon Emissions Accounting
The government has laid out the four decarbonisation strategies of net zero electricity generation, energy-saving and green building, green transport, and waste reduction, with the new medium-term target to reduce the carbon emissions of Hong Kong by half against the 2005 level before 2035. We urge the Hong Kong government to adopt a life-cycle approach to include third-party emissions in its new medium-term and long-term targets, such as those incurred in the long and complicated supply chain related to imported goods and services, or the energy consumed for the growth and transportation of imported food items.
We can no longer afford to externalise these third-party emissions if we are serious about drastic carbon reductions. One way to start for the unique context of Hong Kong could be promoting homegrown food, which can not only reduce third-party emissions, but also enhance food sufficiency and security. Land scarcity notwithstanding, there is not a dearth of innovative food or agricultural technology available that can help address the multiple challenges of climate change, diseases, and global hunger - the “Food Valley” in Wageningen, the Netherlands, offers a sample case of study.
Adopting Internationally-Aligned Sustainability Reporting Standards On setting up the Green and Sustainable Finance Cross-Agency Steering Group to accelerate the growth of sustainable finance, priority must be given to creating reporting standards, with clearly identified metrics to measure the social and environmental impact of companies. While we welcome the Green and Sustainable Finance Cross-Agency Steering Group’s recent announcement of developing a new standard for climate-related disclosures and sustainability reporting, we believe that all companies, not just the listed ones, should comply with sustainability reporting.
Just as important is aligning the reporting standards with the universal standards to contribute to more consistent reporting, ensure the reflection of global best practice for sustainability reporting, and, for the companies or organizations themselves, to be able to respond to emerging information demands from stakeholders and regulators. For Hong Kong to transition into the “green finance hub” desired by the government, it is imperative that reporting standards are internationally aligned. The standards established by the Global Reporting Initiative make for a good source of reference, as they are designed to be highly relevant to many stakeholders, including investors, policymakers, capital markets, and civil society.
Here, we also urge the Environmental Protection Department to take reference from the GRI Standards when conducting a comprehensive review of the Environmental Impact Assessment process, as mentioned in the policy address. To streamline and enhance the operational efficiency and effectiveness of the EIA mechanism, as is the intention of the government’s proposed review, conducting a public or industry-wide consultation would be valuable, not least by incorporating recommendations born out of the consultations. Moreover, case studies and relevant data derived from the EIA processes should be shared with neighbouring cities and countries to promote collective learning of best practices and failures.
More Coordinated Government Approach We are glad to hear that the Environmental Protection Department will take over the refuse collection points and collection services of domestic waste currently managed by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department. From a previous Open Think Tank we held to gauge opinions and suggestions on the Waste Blueprint for Hong Kong 2035, stakeholders in the hospitality industry have voiced their frustration regarding the uncoordinated departmental effort in waste management. We welcome the government’s call for integrating waste management processes, and we look forward to more such consolidation in other areas.
Integrating Sustainability and Climate Actions into Education and Businesses While we welcome the government’s proposal to “broaden school teachers’ knowledge about climate change”, we ask the government to provide adequate financial support, and partner with civil service organisations already providing learning experiences related to climate change to ease the integration of climate education in schools. We also believe that climate education should expand beyond universities and tertiary institutions to include primary and secondary schools, and across disciplines other than just science studies. By demonstrating to young people how their majors and future career paths intersect with climate change and sustainability, the government can mobilise this generation of climate youth to drive the demand for climate-related jobs, as well as raise awareness amongst their peers, parents, and employers to commit to individual lifestyle changes and corporate climate actions.
More Transparency, Accountability, and Broad Collaboration As we have tirelessly reiterated in our previous thought leadership pieces, more transparency in communication of information and policy changes from the government; increased accountability on the outcomes and effectiveness of sustainability-related initiatives as well as government funding; and broader collaboration with civil society organisations, innovators, the private sector, and the academia are vital to the speedy adoption of and greater participation in clearly defined climate goals and actions.
The demand for increased transparency in the government’s communication of information and policy change was a recurring theme at our recent Open Think Tank on the disposable plastic tableware regulation. Our panel discussions involving a diverse range of stakeholders concluded with a general consensus on the need to tackle the plastic pollution crisis, but that which is only possible with more transparent communication and support from the government.
Accountability, likewise, is crucial. If HK$47 billion was allocated in the past decade for the implementation of energy conservation and waste reduction measures, the fact that Hong Kong ranks so low in climate readiness internationally (Hong Kong ranks 64th of all 76 leading countries and territories in the MIT’s Green Future Index in terms of progress towards a low-carbon future) is an indication that better sustainability-related project designs and outcome measurement are needed to bring Hong Kong in line with more ambitious actions for climate readiness. While earmarking HK$240 billion for climate change mitigation and adaptation is a welcoming first step, we urge the government to release more details on how and on what the new climate budget will be spent in the next 10 to 15 years, with a public consultation process to synergise knowledge and expertise to ensure better utilisation of taxpayers’ money for climate readiness and resiliency for Hong Kong.
Climate change affects everyone on this planet, and broad sharing of information is crucial to creating a sustainable future for all. The Hong Kong government must take the lead in broadly collecting and sharing the data on the adaptiveness and resiliency of the various measures proposed in Hong Kong’s Climate Action Plan 2050, so as to facilitate collective learning and the development of solutions with neighbouring countries, while contributing to the global research endeavour on climate-related knowledge.