Environment & Health HKFP Voices

Can Hong Kong lead the way in Asia to a sustainable future?

Buckminster Fuller, the renowned inventor, engineer and designer of the geodesic dome, liked to say that if a system is no longer fit for purpose, it was best not to fight it, but rather to invent a new model that renders the old one obsolete.

He also said that we all live on and are passengers aboard “Spaceship Earth”.

Buckminster Fuller

Buckminster Fuller in 1918. Photo: Flickr.

What is deeply concerning is that we seem to be collectively hell-bent on crashing and burning our one and only living spaceship.

The NASA report, which was referred to in Part 1 of this series warns us that we have 15 years to act before industrial civilisation begins to fall apart. Surely an organisation that put human beings on the Moon, which just completed a survey of the nine planets of our solar system and which is currently mapping Mars is worth taking seriously?

As one of Asia’s most developed societies, it is appropriate and necessary for Hong Kong to take a lead in the region in finding solutions to these critical problems. Some ideas about transport formed the major theme of Part 1 but there is also a great deal more that  could be done. These are ideas that are relatively politically non-contentious and which would also have the support of  the vast majority of Hong Kong’s people, and of its public and private stakeholders (since they would actually lead to a brand new job-creating and revenue-generating industry for us). Crucially, they should also attract the support of the central government in Beijing; because they would tap Hong Kong’s specialist knowledge to boost China’s growth.

Asia’s World City also really should be World Class in Green Leadership and become the Copenhagen of Asia. We, on China’s southern coast, with all of regional, developing Asia to our immediate East and South – are perfectly placed for such a role.

hong kong rural

Photo: Stand News.

So is Hong Kong going to seize the opportunity? For example, it could leverage so-called Green Bonds and World Bank/CDB/AIIB/ADB loans via its utilities and public-private partners to build clean, green marine solar and wind farms on the outlying islands in and around the SAR to protect our city’s economic welfare and, by reducing air pollution, improve the health of ourselves  and our children.

Surely it’s a no-brainer to protect both our collective physical health and also our competitiveness as a world-class city?

The specialist expertise we would gain could then be applied right across Asia, bringing further new, diversified “green technology” industry jobs and revenue into our city for all our stakeholders, both private and public.

What we need is a comprehensive approach spanning energy, transport and infrastructure-buildings, (which are often kept in silos) and so maximising the opportunity for synergies.

The development of renewable energy will result in:

1. Cleaner city air through the  closure of existing  dirty coal-fired power stations and replacing them with wind turbines, concentrated thermal and photovoltaic solar power.

2.  The capability to increase our urban & building energy efficiency further with Building-Integrated PhotoVoltaics and Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plants.

3.  Use the resulting green electricity (and in due course building battery products such as Tesla PowerWall) to power e-vehicles and buildings, further cutting our air pollution, (toxic 80-90% of the year) – and even to produce hydrogen fuel for vehicles and CHP building fuel cells.

4.  Lower city-wide air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and reverse spiraling lung cancer rates.

The non-sea lane marine areas of the SAR and uninhabited islands that are not currently used for leisure could be used for this, which constitutes a considerable amount of space.

In short, there is really nothing preventing Hong Kong from being the Copenhagen of Asia, all that is needed is the vision, leadership and commitment.

cycling hong kong

Photo: Stand News.

This is not science fiction – other cities around the world are doing it now and aiming for 100% renewable energy supply; because they have the vision, heed the science, see the urgency and act.

All the technology exists, and many costs are now at par (or better), with fossil alternatives, especially if you remove subsidies for fossil-fuels, which are badly skewing the playing field.

As mentioned, financial and corporate vehicles  exist, such as Green Bonds from the World Bank, Power Purchaser Agreements, Energy Saving/Service Companies (ESCOs) and Green Performance Contracts – to ensure that all green measures, whether city-wide or individual building scale, can be effectively provided for free (or better).  The “Green Hire-Purchase” repayment comes from the energy savings made, until the principal (with some interest for profit and/or re-investment), is paid off. All further green energy-use savings are then passed directly to the users.

As a global financial centre, Hong Kong is a natural hub for further transformative, positively disruptive innovation in this arena.

Hong Kong could also become a Special EcoLivable City zone (a SEC), to catalyse and accelerate China’s sustainable development – just as Shenzhen is a Special Economic Zone (SEZ); while leveraging the synergies between the two.

eco zone

Photo: juccce.org.

The economy-diversifying expertise we in Hong Kong would gain could then be rolled out across the region, generating new jobs and additional revenue for both our private and public stakeholders.

In the context of a major regional slowdown, this” strategy (emphasising co-operation over conflict and using minimal energy) acquires even greater logic as an appropriate government-curated, stakeholder-led response to avoid a zero-sum game with the central government; one that we in Hong Kong should do our best to avoid.

Central government support could be forthcoming, as Hong Kong’s new green technology expertise would benefit mainland China in terms of supporting its Paris Climate Conference pledges this December, while also ensuring Hong Kong’s continued economic viability and health as a key development accelerator for the entire nation.

cop20

Opening of the COP20, 2014. Photo: Wikicommons.

Hong Kong itself would benefit economically from new revenue streams and jobs in a diversified clean-green technology industry sector that will only grow with accelerated climate change – while society would also benefit from a renewed sense of purpose and progressive momentum that would be tangibly doing good for the people, for profits and for the planet  which crucially, would also be non-contentious all round.

Stakeholders would gain commercial advantage by being the leading adopters of these “smart-networked-sustainable” city developments.

By contrast, stakeholders who ignored, resisted or attempted to actively stymie such changes will arguably find that they begin to suffer terminal reputational damage, whether that manifests itself in terms of financial or electoral loss, such is the scale of the incipient climate crisis that is now apparent.

If Barack Obama, Elon Musk, the Pope, Ban Ki Moon and Xi Jinping now all agree on the urgency of tackling climate change, then it’s now patently a mainstream and high priority issue. Those that choose to demur will surely become known as the ostracised, radical luddites who are wilfully (and also negligently – see recent Dutch legal developments), ignoring the overwhelming verdict of climate science.

The key question is, do we want to be the regional leaders in green technology, an EcoLivable City (potentially with Beijing’s backing for mutual benefit), or “also-rans” who through inertia or complacency, lose this opportunity to our competitors – not to mention betraying our children’s futures?

Part one of two by Nigel Reading. Click here for part one.

Can Hong Kong lead the way in Asia to a sustainable future?