All About Green

COP26 ends; has Hong Kong kept in step?

Original Chinese article published in Sing Tao Daily “Green Forum” (26 Nov, 2021)
Author: Green Power
Global warming melts glaciers
Photo from Pixabay

The UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26) closed on 13 November, with a climate pact to phase down the use of coal, stop deforestation, and inject funding for forest restoration - despite some criticism of the agreement wordings as “evasive” or “compromised”. How is COP26 related to Hong Kong? Looking back at “Hong Kong’s Climate Action Plan 2050” (HKCAP2050), released earlier by the government, is Hong Kong on track with the international agreement on carbon reduction?

Hong Kong’s responsibility in cutting methane emissions

During COP26, over 100 countries reached agreement to cut 30% of methane emissions by 2030 (compared to 2020 levels). Methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases, is 25 times stronger than carbon dioxide in trapping heat. The agreement, if enforced, can reduce global warming by 0.2°C—the figure may seem minor, but it is more than 10% than the global aim of limiting temperature rise to below 1.5°C by cutting methane emissions alone.

Methane originates mainly from the livestock industry and extraction of natural gas. According to Net Zero by 2050, mapped out by the International Energy Agency, improving production flows and equipment through deployment of existing technologies can reduce methane emissions by 75%, equivalent to 2.5 billion tonnes of carbon emissions.

There is no large-scale livestock industry or natural gas refinery in Hong Kong. However, Hong Kong is a major user of natural gas. At present, 48% of energy fuel comes from natural gas. In 2020, natural gas imports totalled 3.87 million tonnes. The figure is expected to rise further as the government phases out coal burning for generating electricity. Methane emitted from natural gas refineries occurs outside Hong Kong. But as a major user, we have the responsibility to ensure our natural gas is clean and with low carbon emissions. In addition, our landfills receive some 3,000 tonnes of food waste, which will release large amounts of methane during decomposition. The government should speed up the construction of organic waste treatment facilities and properly treat the methane produced in landfills to reduce methane emissions.

Stop deforestation by 2030

Consensus was also reached in C0P26 by more than 100 countries, including China, to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030. The participating countries cover 85% of global forest areas, effectively strengthening the carbon sink capacity and protecting biodiversity around the world. The agreement may seem irrelevant to Hong Kong, where there is no logging industry. Nonetheless, according to Global Forest Watch, Hong Kong has already lost 670 hectares of forest cover—about 35 times the area of Victoria Park—in the past 20 years.

“Development” is the core culprit of the vanishing of our natural forest. Every single tree becomes more precious than ever under the target of carbon neutrality by 2050. How many more trees will we cut down in grand development plans ahead? The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Ordinance, albeit in place, does not take into account carbon emissions generated in development—such as carbon emitted during decomposition of the logged trees. Mitigation measures such as tree planting are loose in requirements, without giving careful consideration to size and species of the new trees planted. Developers can easily fulfil the EIA requirements by superficial greening of the landscape. Can the newly planted trees replace the carbon sink function of the natural forest cut down for development? There are a lot of reviews required, including carbon audits of development projects, if the government is serious about the decarbonisation target.

Hong Kong needs earlier review of carbon targets

A big miss of COP26 is the ultimate phase out of coal and the realisation of the previous pledge of US$100 billion funding for developed countries. Members will meet next year to assess whether the Climate Pact can effectively keep global temperature rise to below 1.5°C. On the other hand, Hong Kong will only review its decarbonisation strategy and objectives after five years, as stated in HKCAP2050. We will indeed fall way behind in ever-changing technological and international developments.

Carbon neutrality is an urgent issue facing the world right now. It is not a matter we can leave to the next generation. Hong Kong should not lag behind. We must put in extra effort in every aspect to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.