No turning back for Hong Kong: Bernard Chan on climate change

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China has promised to become carbon neutral before 2060. In an address to the United Nations General Assembly, President Xi Jinping said the country would dedicate huge effort green- and carbon low- development over developing countries and stop building coal-fired power plants overseas. 

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As China responds proactively to climate change, what is Hong Kong’s goals and visions in this aspect? Bernard Charnwut Chan, convenor of the non-official members of the Executive Council, stressed that there’s no turning back for Hong Kong for its environmental goals.

In an interview, Chan admitted that the environment had become a thorny issue in China after decades of rapid development. Take the smog problem, which has been stifling Beijing in recent years. He said those living in the capital whom he talked to while he attended NPC meetings were all very concerned with pollution due to vehicles and coal burning. Some officials even point out that something must be done before Beijing becomes unliveable.

In China, there have been notable changes in the Mainland’s environmental policies with green issues placed high. (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
In China, there have been notable changes in the Mainland’s environmental policies with green issues placed high. (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

Chan said the issue is receiving a lot of attention in mainland society as they realise the price for purely commercial-driven development. As a result, there have been notable changes in the Mainland’s environmental policies with green issues placed high.

According to Chan, both the people in the Mainland and Hong Kong are pressing on environmental issues – for air pollution alone, they feel the same thing. Sustainable development in Hong Kong gets a push alongside Mainland’s switching stance and an international trend to tackle climate change. He said Hong Kong had been economy-driven and lacked an incentive for a sustainable drive. However, Hong Kong enterprises are set to change with the fact that the Hong Kong Stock Exchange introduced ESG (environment, society and governance) requirements combined with the increasing concern for new generation investors and employees on how ESG is implemented in the company.

During his tenure as Chairman of Council for Sustainable Development, Chan actively promoted sustainable residential designs and provided more than 50 recommendations to improve housing projects, aiming to direct property developers in creating more spaces for sustainable living at the policy level. He conceded, however, that Hong Kong’s sustainable development is far from the “ideal level.” That said, as the topic becomes more commonplace, the new generation indeed will become more concerned and knowledgeable than the previous two, and Chan believes there’s no turning back in Hong Kong’s sustainable development.

Responding to climate change is both China’s policy focus and a global trend, and the new Policy Address naturally has such mentions. According to the Policy Address, Hong Kong will strive to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and raise its mid-term carbon reduction goal, halving carbon emissions from 2005 levels by 2035. In line with these goals, three recommendations are in place: first being net-zero power generation, cutting the power consumption of commercial buildings by 30-40% compared to 2015, and residential buildings by 20-30%. The second is green transportation, by proactively encouraging the use of new energy commercial vehicles, for instance, piloting hydrogen fuel buses in collaboration with franchise bus companies and establish a roadmap for new energy transportation by 2025. The third is the invest HK$240 billion in the next 15-20 years for various measures to address climate change.

There are clear recommendations in green transportation and power consumption, but the Policy Address only provided funding for other aspects of climate change. To learn how Bernard Chan thinks about Hong Kong’s sustainable development, tune in to Yahoo All Markets Summit from 9 am October 26, broadcast live at Yahoo Finance.