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CarbonCare InnoLab (CCIL)’s Submission to the 2023 Policy Address Public Consultation

CarbonCare InnoLab (CCIL) submits the following recommendations for the 2023 Policy Address Public Consultation to meet the urgent need for ambitious climate action.

Established in 2014, CCIL is an independent non-governmental environmental organization focused on cultivating an active community to adopt low-carbon lifestyles and take climate action, especially among Hong Kong's youth. Through innovation, education and participation, CCIL aims to empower society to respond to the climate crisis. We also conduct research and engagement to catalyze climate ambition in Hong Kong and cities regionally.

The latest reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and World Meteorological Organization (WMO) clearly demonstrate the urgent need to accelerate climate action and the severe consequences of delayed response. Global temperatures continue to rise at alarming rates, with extreme weather events like heatwaves, storms and floods increasing in frequency and intensity. Locally, Hong Kong experienced record-breaking high temperatures in 2022, including the 3rd highest temperature on record in July at 36.1°C. There were also 52 Very Hot Days and 52 Hot Nights, ranking 2nd highest. This highlights Hong Kong's acute vulnerability to climate change impacts.

According to the UNFCCC’s analysis of countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), the projected global temperature rise is 2.4-2.6°C based on current commitments. This dangerously exceeds the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C threshold to avoid catastrophic climate change. The IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report likewise warns that temperatures have a high likelihood of hitting 1.5°C between 2030 and 2035 at the current trajectory. More recently, the WMO found over 50% probability that the 1.5°C threshold will temporarily be exceeded in the next 5 years, from 2022 to 2027. This underscores the insufficient pace of climate action worldwide. Crossing the 1.5°C guardrail will have severe repercussions for health, food and water security, the environment and sustainable development.

Yet Hong Kong's current 2030 target for reducing absolute emissions by 26-36% compared to 2005 falls far short of the IPCC’s recommendation of 45% reduction by 2030. Now, renewable energy also remains low at respectively 0.4% of total electricity use and 0.9% of total energy use. Building energy efficiency has seen marginal improvements, with residential electricity consumption continuing to rise. Climate adaptation plans have overlooked tailoring measures to the needs of vulnerable communities during disasters like heatwaves, who bear the harshest impacts. Hong Kong’s climate ambition and policies lag behind science-based benchmarks and leading cities in the world.

This Policy Address must prioritize responding to and aligning with the "dual carbon" goals under the National 14th Five-Year Plan and the Hong Kong Climate Action Plan 2050 by reporting on related progress and proposing work plans and concrete measures for the coming year. It should also give priority to addressing the climate emergency by comprehensively strengthening and accelerating climate action across all of government and society, setting ambitious targets in line with international best practices to limit warming to 1.5°C. Concrete policies and implementation plans must also build Hong Kong’s resilience, enable a just transition for vulnerable groups, and achieve carbon neutrality equitably and inclusively. As recent heatwaves exemplify, climate change magnifies inequalities.

Urgent action is needed for Hong Kong to accelerate climate action, transition to a low-carbon economy, reduce carbon emissions from consumption activities, and even achieve net zero emissions before 2050, in order to safeguard our society and future well-being.

Therefore, CCIL respectfully recommends the following priorities for the 2023 Policy Address:
1.    Prioritize climate change as top governance priority with empowered, high-profile coordination mechanism

1.1.    The Policy Address must elevate climate change as the most urgent priority and threat facing Hong Kong. All government bureaus and departments must urgently align policies and resources towards the shared mission of climate action.
1.2.    The HKSAR government should elevate the current Climate Change and Carbon Neutrality Office under the Environment Bureau to become a cross-departmental Climate Change and Carbon Neutrality Steering Committee Secretariat chaired by the Chief Executive, with its own dedicated budget. The Committee should develop and publish a comprehensive, cross-cutting climate action strategy guided by the goals of limiting warming to 1.5°C, achieving climate justice and a net zero vision, to coordinate government policies and budgets across departments for climate mitigation, adaptation, resilience, just transition and sustainability. During extreme weather events, the Office should participate in coordination and activate climate emergency response mechanisms. The Office should also submit regular progress reports to the Legislative Council and the public to enhance accountability.
1.3.    The HKSAR government should periodically publish progress reports on achieving the carbon neutrality and renewable energy targets and timelines outlined in the "Hong Kong Climate Action Plan 2050." Regular reporting will strengthen accountability and demonstrate Hong Kong's progress towards the goal of net-zero emissions.

2.    Adopt IPCC-aligned targets to cut emissions 50% by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2050

2.1    Implementing science-based targets is vital for meeting Hong Kong’s obligations under the Paris Agreement as well as securing our communities’ health and prosperity. Hong Kong must update its climate targets to align with IPCC recommendations and leading cities. This Policy Address should adopt key targets of 50% absolute emissions reduction by 2030 compared to 2005 levels and Carbon neutrality before 2050. This will bring forward the 50% target by 5 years compared to the existing 2035 goal, and advance the net-zero timeline beyond 2050. Targets may be periodically tightened as technology advances.
2.2    5-year reduction targets should also be mandated to enhance government accountability in steadily reducing carbon emissions.
2.3    The government should also lead by example by conducting carbon audits of government procurement and establishing relevant protocol and codes of practice, as well as publishing its carbon footprint annually to allow public monitoring of decarbonisation performance across government departments.

3.    Boost renewables in Hong Kong's energy mix by 2030 by incentivizing floating solar panels community renewable energy and removing policy barriers to solar and offshore wind.

3.1    Scaling up renewable energy is critical for Hong Kong to achieve net-zero carbon emissions. Solar and offshore wind are plentiful renewable resources in Hong Kong, yet remain underutilized. Local groups estimate solar power could meet as high as 21% of Hong Kong's electricity demand by 2030. Together with other local and imported renewables from the Greater Bay Area, renewables could potentially exceed 50% of Hong Kong's electricity demand. Hong Kong should set more ambitious targets to substantially boost the proportion of renewables in its energy mix by 2030 and 2050. The existing conservative targets of 7.5-10% by 2035 and 15% by 2050 as per Hong Kong Climate Action Plan 2050 significantly lag behind other leading cities.
3.2    To catalyse investment and financing, the government can establish an information platform, streamline approval procedures for renewable energy installations, and subsidize upfront project costs. 
3.3    Until the proportion of local renewable energy has substantially increased, feed-in tariffs should be maintained at competitive rates.
3.4    The HKSAR government should review and remove policy barriers hindering solar and offshore wind development. Planning and building regulations should be updated to facilitate renewable energy installations.
3.5    The public and private sectors should be engaged to identify sites suitable for renewable energy generation. In particular, floating solar farms should be continued expanding in more reservoirs and across larger areas, and installation of solar panels or solar thermal systems should be required during building renovations.
3.6    Community-based renewable energy projects should be incentivized as they raise awareness, empower public participation and benefit local residents. Schemes enabling residents to collectively invest in and own solar panels can be piloted.

4.    Mandate building energy efficiency retrofits through subsidizing energy audits and developing building decarbonisation requirements.

4.1    As buildings account for over 90% of Hong Kong’s electricity usage, mandatory building energy efficiency policies are essential for emission reduction. However, the progress in improving building energy efficiency has been very limited.
4.2    The government should mandate energy efficiency retrofits for existing buildings beyond a certain age. Financial incentives like tax rebates and low-interest loans can assist owners, in tandem with mandatory energy efficiency audits. Energy consumption requirements should also be tightened for new buildings.
4.3    To phase out fossil fuel use, more pilots can be considered for buildings to progressively transition to energy-saving technologies. Necessary upgrades to distribution networks must also be planned. Piloting district cooling systems will further improve efficiency. Integrating renewable energy into building design should similarly be stipulated. 

5.    Phase out fossil-fuel vehicles. Increase zero-emission vehicle and charging infrastructure targets.

5.1    Transport emissions remain a major, rising contributor. Phasing out all fossil-fuel vehicles and transitioning rapidly to electric vehicles (EVs) is essential for emission reduction. Simply ceasing new registrations for petrol and diesel vehicles by 2035 is inadequate. Advancing this phase-out date earlier than 2035 is feasible with concerted efforts. The EV roadmap should also be more ambitious than the existing target of no new registrations of fossil-fuel vehicles by 2035. 
5.2    The installation target of 150,000 charging points by 2025 should likewise be accelerated and significantly enhanced. 
5.3    Financial incentives like tax exemptions on EVs should continue, while disincentives can be imposed on fossil-fuel vehicles. 

6.    Enhance climate resilience for vulnerable groups through localized adaptation, heat relief plans and emergency response mechanisms

6.1    Extreme weather events like heatwaves and super typhoons are increasing, necessitating urgent action to strengthen Hong Kong’s climate resilience and disaster preparedness. Infrastructure projects should undergo climate risk assessments and implement resilient designs for rising sea levels, flooding, extreme heat and storms. 
6.2    Localized adaptation and heat relief plans developed through community dialogue are critical to protect the most vulnerable groups. These should provide information, social support, relief shelters, and subsidies for energy efficiency, cooling, and electricity, targeted by socioeconomic need. Health systems require additional capacity to manage patient surges during extremes.
6.3    The emergency response mechanism is crucial to mitigate climate impacts. The government must disclose details like lead agencies, timelines and budgets to ensure transparency. The mechanism should align with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and conform to climate justice and social inclusion principles, addressing the needs of the vulnerable. 
6.4    The Hong Kong Just Transition Report published last year by CarbonCare InnoLab summarizes discussions from ten climate community dialogues. It outlines seven key areas to strengthen vulnerable communities' resilience, including protecting health and well-being, stabilizing cost of living, ensuring access to information, improving transportation, adjusting work environments and arrangements, and promoting green lifestyles. The government should refer to this report when formulating adaptation measures to ensure a just transition.

7.    Ensure climate policy transparency through monitoring, evaluation, stocktaking and climate justice frameworks

7.1    Transparency is key to assess if climate actions and budgets achieve intended outcomes for the vulnerable. The HK$240 billion climate budget should be detailed, with expenditures tracked and audited.
7.2    Monitoring, evaluation and learning frameworks should review implementation and identify improvements through progress reports and indicators covering policy effectiveness, emissions reduced, climate risks addressed, and benefits to frontline communities.
7.3    2023 is the year of the Paris Agreement Global Stocktake. Relevant public reviews, taking stock of Hong Kong's climate action and achievements over the past seven years, should be initiated in line with the Agreement's spirit. 
7.4    A climate justice lens should be mainstreamed to evaluate if policies and programs are equitable, inclusive and empowering. Indicators, segmented data and consultations with vulnerable groups will uncover blind spots for improvement. Climate justice principles must be integrated into planning and budgets.

8.    Promote a just transition through inclusive dialogues and policies enabling equitable participation

8.1    Pursuing a just transition through community dialogues and people-centred policies is key to ensure social equity in climate action. The costs of transition must not burden the most vulnerable. The government can convene multi-stakeholder advisory groups and town halls for deliberating on optimizing policies and investments. Frontline communities should be equitably represented, not just corporations and institutions. Insights can inform assistance schemes and inclusive initiatives.
8.2    For instance, new training, employment and social protection can help workers transition from carbon-intensive sectors. Subdivided flat families can obtain subsidies for heat relief, energy efficiency, and cleaner mobility, and access to community cooling centres and education. Outreach to these families can protect vulnerable residents from extreme heat.

9.    Hong Kong should champion international climate cooperation and provide climate finance to developing nations

9.1    Hong Kong is well-positioned to mobilize green and climate finance and technology cooperation locally, regionally and globally. Leveraging Hong Kong’s resources and expertise in climate governance, finance, technology, and capacity building can catalyse climate action locally and in developing countries lacking means and know-how. Hong Kong cultivated expertise in green bonds and ESG reporting, enabling sustainable investment flows in the region. Both the government and banks leveraged Hong Kong's financial hub status for green bond issuance. By channelling this knowledge, Hong Kong can mobilize climate adaptation funds for vulnerable Asian cities through scaled green bonds.
9.2    Hong Kong can also become a global champion in climate-resilient disaster risk reduction, as long as emergency response is inclusive and climate-resilient. By taking the initiative to champion international climate cooperation, Hong Kong reinforces our standing as a responsible global city and member of the international community.

In conclusion, the climate crisis requires immediate, ambitious action guided by science, climate justice and a net-zero vision. The future livelihood and competitiveness of Hong Kong rests on our leadership and cooperation to meet this generational challenge.

CCIL stands ready to fully support and advise the government's efforts towards an equitable, net-zero emissions and climate-resilient Hong Kong. We urge recognizing climate change as an emergency and implementing these decisive policies for safeguarding the wellbeing of all our communities. Our submission represents the voices of concerned citizens and we hope these recommendations will inform a strategic, whole-of-society approach in the 2023 Policy Address.