Andy Cornish's Blog

Dr Andy Cornish was raised in Hong Kong, and gained a strong interest in wildlife through spending time in Pokfulam Country Park. He studied Zoology at Nottingham University in England, travelled extensively through Central America where he learnt to scuba dive, and later did his PhD on reef fishes at the University of Hong Kong. Since then, he worked for a year doing coral reef management for the government of American Samoa, and taught in the Dept. of Ecology and Biodiversity at the University of Hong Kong. He worked at WWF from 2005 to late 2012 as Conservation Director, and was responsible for four programmes: Climate, Footprint, Local Biodiversity and Regional Wetlands (including management of the Mai Po Nature Reserve). He remains involved in environmental issues on an independent basis.

Low carbon city policies

Be careful what you wish for
December 18, 2012

I attended a Civic Exchange talk this morning by Tony Wood the Energy Program Director of the Grattan Institute, who shared lessons learnt from the Australian experience of how/how not to stimulate investment in low carbon electricity generation with different kinds of government policies. The subject was dry enough to warrant a Red Fire warning - but I did find one sharing particularly relevant to Hong Kong.
 
That is, policies have to be carefully thought out to match the full aspirations of emission reduction related targets, or there may be unintended consequences. As an example was given of an target for renewable energy (RE) that was intended to spark a wave of investment in a broad swathe of RE devices -but actually ended up all focused on the same RE technoology. as it provided the most cost-efficient solution at the time the policy was set.
 
The lesson is relevant locally as while there is general consensus that we should move to a low-carbon economy, there is little consensus on exactly why, and what that should consist of in practical terms.
 
To Edward Yau, the previous Secretary for the Environment low-carbon meant first and foremost a reduction in the amount of greenhouse gases produced per unit of electriciuty, so he proposed increasing the proportion of nuclear power in the fuel mix from 23 to 50%. This was the polar opposite of Greenpeace's vision of a low-carbon future, and they launched an anti-nuclear campaign. At WWF our aspirations were more wide ranging, and had to include an overall emission reduction target (i.e. not just an intensity target) in order to be meaningful. Furthermore, we felt that ignoring Hong Kong's often incredibly extravagant and wasteful use of electricity and focusing so heavily on increasing the use of nuclear to make that energy was completely missing the point. Wasting nuclear energy is still wasting energy - and it's a million miles from a free lunch.
 
Tony Wood raised another interesting point. If Hong Kong has an RE target, does that need to be met locally in the form of wind-farms etc.? Or could we simply acknowledge that China can generate RE far more efficiently than our little SAR, and buy such energy - or even carbon credits to offset our fossil-fuel generated power - on the China market? Questions like this need to be debated and clarified, but have barely been touched on so far.
 
In a recent Envioronment Bureau briefing, Christine Loh made it clear that the new administration is open to solutions other than the nuclear bullet - a very welcome signal. However, given the divergences of opinion that I've already pointed out, she would do well to try and gain consensus about what the community really expects from a low-carbon economy, before moving onto the nuts and bolts of how to deliver it.
 
Andy
 

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