Given the global pursuit of green economy, the HKSAR Government should reaffirm that environmental protection, while offering enormous social benefits, is itself an industry that can boost Hong Kong’s economic diversification, thereby more resources should be allocated in this area.
The transition to a green economy is irresistible
With increasingly obvious signs of climate change, such as melting glaciers and rising temperatures, the world is ever more aware that everyone has the responsibility to adopt a sustainable economic and social development model in order to achieve economic growth while protecting the environment and alleviating climate change. In other words, “green economy” or “new climate economy”, as commonly referred, should be pursued. What is Hong Kong’s progress in this area as an advanced international metropolis?
In the chapter of “Sustainable Development” in this year’s Budget, the Financial Secretary John Tsang pointed out that “a liveable environment is vital to improving people’s livelihood, pooling talents and sustaining economic development”, and pledged that improving the environment is a priority of the HKSAR Government. I quite agree that the Government should make this commitment, but surprisingly, the Budget seems to divide environment improvement and economic development into two disparate parts. In the “Diversified Development” section under the chapter of “Economic Development”, there is no mention of the environmental protection industry, nor green economy.
Though I put forward written questions specifically on the Budget to ask the Government about its expenditures and relevant expenditure items on advocating and promoting green economy over the past three years, the reply from the authorities did not mention any specific policy measures, other than citing two promotional events organised by the Council for Sustainable Development. Does the reply mean that the authorities had neither taken any policy measures to advocate and promote green economy nor implemented relevant expenditures and expenditure items over the past three years? I hope that it is a negative answer.
Environmental protection and industries should not be divided
It is not that the HKSAR Government have not allocated any resources to develop the green economy in recent years. In last year’s Budget, the Government announced that it would invest about HK$30 billion in waste recycling and disposal infrastructure, including the soon to be set up HK$1 billion Recycling Fund, and it would also promote green consumerism. Regrettably, this year’s Budget includes no similar large-scale support schemes. As a matter of fact, the last time the Budget regarded “environmental protection” as an “industry” was three years ago in 2012-2013.
There was a time when the environmental protection industry was regarded as one of the six industries where Hong Kong enjoyed clear advantages. Back in 2009, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) launched the “Global Green New Deal” to call for countries across the world to increase investment in the construction and study of green environment to promote green-collar jobs, and the HKSAR Government had responded positively. In the Budget speech of the same year, Mr Tsang spoke at length about developing the green economy and stressed that there were unlimited business opportunities arising from environmental protection, which could create jobs and promote economic diversification. He also listed promoting the use of electric vehicles (EV) as one key promotion project.
An industry where Hong Kong had an edge, but developed inadequately
At that time, the Financial Secretary’s idea was that the adoption of EV could stimulate the automobile retailing industry and promote the development of supporting services for EV, including business opportunities of re-charging facilities. He personally led a steering committee to promote the wider use of EV. Unfortunately, the environmental protection industry in Hong Kong had failed to make any breakthroughs, remaining steadily at about 0.3% of the GDP over the past five years. In addition, due to Government’s ineffective promotion over the years, together with factors such as pricing, car types, insufficient re-charging facilities and long charging time, the adoption of EV in Hong Kong is still far from satisfactory. Figures show that at present there are only about 2,000 EV on the road, accounting for less than 0.3% of the approximate 700,000 licensed vehicles. Also, there are only 226 EV, accounting for merely 3.5% of the government vehicles.
In fact, the authorities still regard EV as one of the key measures for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and solving roadside air quality problems. Hence, Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing stressed the need to encourage citizens to switch to EV. Unfortunately, the authorities merely reuse last year’s old trick of extending the exemption for EV from First Registration Tax (FRT) till 2017, and add several new piecemeal measures, including allowing only low-emission buses on the roads in downtown Central and Causeway Bay and funding the purchase of a few dozen electric buses for testing. The lack of both holistic support measures and bold investments provoke the concerns that little help to promote the use of EV is provided.
As a matter of fact, “MyCar”, Hong Kong’s first locally self-developed EV, was launched several years ago, and had already obtained EU certification to enter the European market. With a local business so actively capturing the business opportunities arising from the development of EV, it should logically fit in with what Mr Tsang had originally envisaged. The problem was insufficient government support, resulting in the affected business having to sell its brand and technology to a US company due to shortage of funds. At a recent media interview, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University professor who led the R&D of “My Car” at that time admitted that this incident is lamentable. He also stressed that Hong Kong had what it takes to succeed in developing EV businesses, but the amount of R&D funding they received was ten times less than what was required and was inadequate for in-depth R&D.
Although the HKSAR Government has indeed strengthened measures to promote EV, they are still inadequate. For example, the authorities have decided to install 100 quick chargers in government car parks to encourage the use of EV, but are they enough to facilitate a wider adoption of EV? The answer is obvious. The quick charging station, developed by a company in partnership with the Hong Kong Productivity Council recently, takes just 20 minutes to power an EV to travel 150km. It is also currently the only locally developed EV charging system in the Mainland and Hong Kong that has obtained the world’s most widely accepted international standard certification. However, do the authorities have any support plans to help overcome the bottleneck caused by insufficient re-charging facilities on popularizing EV, and to promote green economy?
Green can be a new economic engine
In conclusion, the better the green industry develops, the more it will enhance environmental protection. The two well complement each other. I believe the HKSAR Government must not keep narrowing its vision. On the contrary, given the global pursuit of green economy, it should reaffirm that environmental protection, while offering enormous social benefits, is itself an industry that can boost Hong Kong’s economic diversification, thereby more resources should be allocated. The Government should especially encourage the environmental protection industry to apply innovative technology to develop its tremendous potential in order to build up the green economy to be one of Hong Kong’s new economic engines.
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