LCQ3: Climate change consultation and fuel mix

     Following is a question by the Hon Frederick Fung Kin-kee and a reply by the Secretary for the Environment, Mr Edward Yau, in the Legislative Council today (November 2):


     The authorities launched a public consultation on Hong Kong's climate change strategy and action agenda on September 10, 2010, putting forth a series of proposals including maximising energy efficiency, greening road transport, promoting the use of clean fuels for motor vehicles, turning waste to energy and revamping the fuel mix for electricity generation, etc., and the consultation period ended on December 31 of the same year. Since the incident of radiation leak at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan in March this year, there have been concerns in the community about the authorities' proposal of increasing the share of nuclear power in the fuel mix for electricity generation. An environmental protection organisation earlier commissioned the Public Opinion Programme of the University of Hong Kong to conduct an opinion survey, and the outcome revealed that only 15% of the respondents considered that imported nuclear power should be increased by 2020, while over half of the respondents considered that reduction of carbon emissions should be achieved by means of energy conservation and development of renewable energy. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) given that the public consultation exercise on Hong Kong's climate change strategy and action agenda had already ended for 10 months, why the authorities have not yet formally announced the outcome of the consultation; of the current progress of work such as consolidating and summarising the views received, etc. which is related to the consultation; of the preliminary outcome of the consultation exercise; in accordance with the latest timetable, when the authorities will make a decision on the ultimate climate change strategy and action agenda to be adopted; and

(b) given the concerns arising from the nuclear incident in Japan and the outcome of the aforesaid opinion survey, whether the authorities have re-examined the proposal of increasing the share of nuclear power in the fuel mix for electricity generation; if they have, of the contents and whether they will adjust or even shelve the proposal; if they have not re-examined the proposal, the reasons for that; whether the authorities will vigorously promote energy conservation and develop renewable energy as the backbone of their strategy for reducing carbon emissions (including drastically increasing the share of renewable energy in the fuel mix for electricity generation and changing the tariff structure, etc.), as well as cap the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions so as to replace the proposal of using carbon intensity as an emission reduction indicator?  



     Climate change brings about extreme weather conditions and other related phenomena in the climate system, which have substantial implications on our living environment. The Government attaches much importance to climate change. We have been working on measures to mitigate and adapt to the challenge, and participated in international efforts in this cause.  In September 2010, the Government consulted the public on Hong Kong's climate change strategy and action agenda for the next decade.  The consultation document proposes that Hong Kong should adopt a voluntary carbon intensity reduction target of 50% to 60% by 2020 as compared with 2005 level, representing a 19% to 33% absolute reduction in the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Hong Kong.  Per capita emission is also expected to reduce from around 6 tonnes to 3.6 to 4.5 tonnes.  These are commitments that the Government has proposed for Hong Kong.

     A comprehensive package of emission reduction measures has to be adopted and actions have to be taken to achieve the proposed target in Hong Kong.  The consultation document puts forward a number of specific proposals with regard to the major local GHG emission sources; namely electricity generation (about 67%), transport sector (about 18%), and waste treatment (about 5%).  In respect of electricity generation, there is a need to revamp the present coal-dependent fuel mix, and at the same time, focus on demand side management to promote energy efficiency and reduce emission.  The consultation document further proposes measures on greening road transport; promoting the use of clean fuels for motor vehicles; and turning waste into energy.  Our replies to the specific questions raised by Hon Frederick Fung are as follows -

(a) The public consultation on Hong Kong's climate change strategy and action agenda was completed in December 2010.  During the consultation period, which lasted more than three months, we received over 1,200 responses.  In general, respondents are in support of implementing measures to combat climate change, and grasping the opportunity to develop a low carbon economy.  While we were consolidating the feedback and suggestions received, the earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan caused the nuclear accident in Fukushima.  The proposal to revamp the fuel mix forms an important part of our climate change strategy. The Government is aware that in the wake of the incident, there have been divergent views in the community on the use of nuclear power.  On the one hand, there have been suggestions that we should ban the use of nuclear power in Hong Kong; some even suggested relinquishing the some 20% nuclear power currently in use.  On the other hand, there have also been views that the issue should be approached in a pragmatic manner.  The safety aspect of nuclear power generation should first be ascertained, before further consideration is given to the future fuel mix for Hong Kong.  The use of nuclear power has a bearing on the reliability of electricity supply in Hong Kong, and the future fuel mix is important to achieving the proposed carbon reduction target.  As I have reiterated several times in this Council, we have to take into account reviews being conducted by the international community, including important international nuclear safety agencies, on the Fukushima incident and safety of nuclear energy, as well as their analyses, evaluations and conclusions, before coming to a view.  This is a highly important process, and has inevitably affected our timeframe for early formulation of a carbon reduction strategy and target.  Nonetheless, the Government has already embarked upon emission mitigation measures on other fronts.

(b)  In discussing the use of nuclear power, it is important to first understand the relationship between fuel mix for power generation and our GHG emissions.  Electricity generation accounts for as high as 67% of local GHG emissions.  Reducing carbon emissions of this sector is an essential element of our action agenda.  The proportion of coal in electricity generation in Hong Kong is now more than half (about 54%); and as compared to other fuel components, it is public knowledge that coal assumes a higher carbon emission factor.  For instance, its GHG emission level is twice as much of that of natural gas and tens of times more than that of nuclear power and wind power. In considering our future fuel mix, it is necessary to substantially reduce the proportion of coal.  At the same time, we must not overlook the fact that coal-fired power has been a reliable and relatively economical source of electricity supply in Hong Kong for the past few decades. In identifying its replacement, we have to first find suitable alternative fuels.  It is proposed in the consultation document that the share of natural gas in the future fuel mix for electricity generation should be raised from 23% at present to around 40%.  This proposal has taken into account the supply of natural gas to Hong Kong, as well as the tariff implications of investment in local power generation units.  As regards the proposal to increase the share of imported nuclear power from 23% to about 50%, we have taken into account its relatively low carbon footprint as compared to most other types of fuel, and more stable supply.  

     In respect of renewable energy (RE), with regard to current level of technology, local geographical and natural constraints, there is still a very long way before RE can become Hong Kong's mainstream source of energy supply.  That said, both power companies in Hong Kong have been actively exploring the feasibility of solar energy and wind energy generation.  They are actively pursuing the development of commercial scale offshore wind farms in Hong Kong waters.  If these projects are put to operation as planned, the wind farms are expected to produce electricity of up to 560 million kWh per year, and meet 1 to 2% of total electricity demand in Hong Kong by 2020.  The Government will also further promote turning waste into energy. For instance, the integrated waste management facility under planning is expected to supply electricity for use by over 100,000 households every year in its full operation.

     As we have been emphasising, the future fuel mix for Hong Kong has to be in keeping with the four guiding principles underlying our energy policy; namely safety, reliability, environmental protection and affordability.  Energy supply has profound implications for different aspects of development in Hong Kong, and affects the daily lives of the public.  Therefore, we have to exercise care in making the decision.  

     We are in agreement with Hon Fung's suggestion to strengthen our work in enhancing energy efficiency and conservation, and have embarked upon various initiatives.  In our proposed action agenda, energy demand side management is a key component in reducing GHG emissions.  To promote buildings energy efficiency, we will fully implement the Buildings Energy Efficiency Ordinance in September 2012.  The "Buildings Energy Efficiency Funding Scheme" has been well-received.  So far, we have dished out more than $300 million, benefiting close to 6,000 buildings.  We have also started the construction of the first and second phases of the District Cooling System at the Kai Tak Development area, and implemented the first and second phases of the mandatory Energy Efficiency Labelling Scheme in November 2009 and September 2011 respectively to encourage consumers to choose electrical appliances that are more energy efficient.  Furthermore, we have started a public consultation on restricting the sale of energy-inefficient incandescent light bulbs.

     The Council for Sustainable Development is now inviting responses from members of the public, through a public engagement process, on promoting energy efficiency and conservation in buildings (through such means as behavioural changes and financial incentives).  The Council will later submit its recommendations to the Government.

Ends/Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Issued at HKT 14:27