Christine Loh (Hong Kong)

on .

INTERVIEW WITH Christine Loh
(Chief Development Strategist at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology)

“HONG KONG: REPLACING COAL WITH NATURAL GAS IN THE MIDDLE-TERM"

Hong Kong and Climate Change….What is it doing to reduce emissions? Yes, Climate Change is a global issue and each country should do its efforts on reducing carbon emissions and adapting to extreme events in the best possible way. But Hong Kong has its own peculiarities. What is the point of view of this High Density city on Climate Change? Christine Loh, Chief Development Strategist at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and Under Secretary for the Environment in the HKSAR Government (2012-17), answered to these and other questions.

http://www.envr.ust.hk/our-division/people/faculty-staff/cloh.html 

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INTERVIEW - (June 2018)
This interview was made and published in June 2018 on www.lteconomy.org  
Subject: Climate Change policies in Hong Kong
 
By Dario Ruggiero, Founder of Long Term Economy 
 
  
 

Highlights 

  • On a global basis, the greatest threat is climate change because we are already seeing extreme weather events that are devastating, including in Europe…
  • International effort, such as the UNFCC process and the Paris Agreement are vital to bring the countries of the world together… However, government policies and commitments really matter a lot when it comes to implementation.
  • Hong Kong is a medium sized city of extreme population density. In climate mitigation, the key commitment is to replace coal with natural gas… As far as renewables is concerned, Hong Kong has no available land for large solar or wind farms… efforts are being made now with feed-in-tariff arrangements to encourage private sector land/rooftops to install solar.
  • …There are of course Western and Eastern comparisons. For example, Milan has good practices for food waste reduction and recycling. Taipei is also very good with food waste but they are quite different from each other.
  • In Hong Kong, energy data belongs to the private companies that provides electricity… In my view, whether the data belongs to the government or to private companies, they ought to be made public so that they can be used by society.
  • Pollution and poor health affect the poor more than the rich, thus environmental problems can be a component of social inequality. Conflicts may arise from environmental problems too – such as those arising from extreme weather – including droughts – food insecurity.

 

“International effort, such as the UNFCC process and the Paris Agreement are vital to bring the countries of the world together… However, government policies and commitments really matter a lot when it comes to implementation.”
 
 
1. Question: Dear prof. Christine Loh, thank you for being with us. “Hong Kong” and “sustainability” are your expertise, and you can teach us a lot on this matter. Let’s start with the global scenario… Is, in your opinion, mankind doing enough to preserve the environment? What are the most important global environmental issues to face today?
 
On a global basis, the greatest threat is climate change because we are already seeing extreme weather events that are devastating, including in Europe. This means societies have to spend a lot more to deal with the aftermath of such events, adapt to the new conditions, make communities more resilient for future events, as well as mitigate greenhouse gases emissions. Other problems, such as pollution and waste are also very important. While valiant efforts are being made here and there, the global situation is still dire – and this are very serious challenges for Asia.
 
 
2. Question: What are more important in addressing Climate Change: international or national policies?
 
Both are equally important. International effort, such as the UNFCC process and the Paris Agreement are vital to bring the countries of the world together to agree on commitments where every country has to contribute. However, the efforts are carried out nationally, so government policies and commitments really matter a lot when it comes to implementation.
 
 
3. Question: Let’s go on with international agreements. Annual Agreements have been taking place since 1992 (Rio de Janeiro), but with low effectiveness. What are their major obstacles and how they can be overcome?
 
The Kyoto Protocol failed because there were still too many arguments about whether climate change was serious enough and there were too many arguments over the responsibilities of developed versus developing countries to their past and future emissions. The Paris Agreement made important advances because countries could commit to what they believe they could do although it was also recognized that their commitments were not enough to stay with 2 Deg C. The “ratchet” mechanism is wise because it allows review and upping commitments every 5 years, so that countries can do more and more.
 
Major obstacles to holding the Paris Agreement together is of course ensuring all the signatories stay in. We have already seen the United States withdrawing, which is a blow, but China’s continuing commitment is enormously helpful to holding the agreement together. Signatories of developed countries are supposed to put up money in the climate fund to help developing countries but this is not yet happening. I think this will prove enormously difficult.
 
 
“Hong Kong is a medium sized city of extreme population density. In climate mitigation, the key commitment is to replace coal with natural gas.”
 
 
4. Question: You have been Under Secretary for the Environment in the HKSAR Government (2012-17). What are the main environmental measures put in place and the main results achieved during your office?
 
Hong Kong is a medium sized city of extreme population density. I helped to put together Hong Kong climate change action plan from 2017 to 2030+. In climate mitigation, the key commitment is to replace coal with natural gas in local power generation between now and around 2030. As far as renewables is concerned, Hong Kong has no available land for large solar or wind farms, and even off-shore wind capacities are relatively small. However, efforts are being made now with feed-in-tariff arrangements to encourage private sector land/rooftops to install solar. In the public sector, two pilot schemes have been put in place for PV installations on reservoirs and other infrastructure – its seems more can be done of reasonable size. At the same time, Hong Kong is working hard on improving energy saving for buildings.
 
Other areas where we had good success include reducing air pollution, especially emissions from ships; and creating a 5-year biodiversity plan under the UN Convention of Biological Diversity.
 
 
5. Question: In which way can Western and Eastern countries cooperate to take care of the global environment? What can they learn from each other?
 
I prefer not to use “Western and Eastern countries” as my starting point. It’s better to consider who has what that we can learn from. For example, even within one country, we can find examples to learn from. Another issue is density and scale – places that are spread out with low density are less relevant for places with high density that are concentrated. Thus, Tokyo, Singapore and Hong Kong have a lot to share because we are all cities of extreme density, with Hong Kong being the most extreme. There are of course Western and Eastern comparisons. For example, Milan has good practices for food waste reduction and recycling. Taipei is also very good with food waste but they are quite different from each other. Thus, Hong Kong can learn from both but we must sort out our own conditions to develop our own system. In food waste, the Western diet and Eastern diet is very different thus it affects how we each handle food waste. In Taipei, they have an agricultural industry nearby, as does Milan, but Hong Kong does not have such an industry. This affect the technology choices we adopt for recycling and treatment of food waste.
 
 
6. Question: In 2000 you founded the non-profit think tank, Civic Exchange. What’s its mission?
 
Yes, I am the founder of Civic Exchange although I am no longer connected to it. Its mission is to do evidence-based public policy research so as to provide perspective to problems and to offer solutions. It is non-political and non-ideological. Its approach is collaborative – it works with universities, professionals and experts from around the world – and it addresses both local, national and international problems, such as climate change. Engagement is important in how it does it’s work too.
 
 
7. Question: In a recent article in the South China Morning Post, you state that big data must be shared to realize Hong Kong’s smart city vision. Why data and technological innovation are so important to improve cities’ sustainability?
 
In Hong Kong, energy data belongs to the private companies that provides electricity. Hong Kong’s energy companies have been privatized from the start. While the companies provide excellent service to Hong Kong, there is no legal requirement for them to provide all the data to the government. In my view, whether the data belongs to the government or to private companies, they ought to be made public so that they can be used by society. In the case of energy policy making, it would be better if there are regulations that require the private energy companies to provide the government with full data.
 
 
 
“Pollution and poor health affect the poor more than the rich, thus environmental problems can be a component of social inequality.”
 
 
8. Question: Economic and social inequality, peace, CO2 emissions, biodiversity loss, overpopulation, de-forestation etc… Which of these global issues require major attention?
 
They are all important of course. Those aspects that relate to Planet Earth have an impact on everyone – they impact human health too. Countries have been slow to deal with environmental problems because of the externalization of environmental costs, which is a fault of our economic thinking and systems. Pollution and poor health affect the poor more than the rich, thus environmental problems can be a component of social inequality. Conflicts may arise from environmental problems too – such as those arising from extreme weather – including droughts – food insecurity etc. The global challenge of climate change requires us to pay attention to the nexus among these various problems in order to reduce risks and to cooperation regionally as well as internationally.
 
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