Communication for Sustainable Development

Carrot and stick proposed on energy consumption

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Taxing of excessive electricity consumption will become a major strategy in a series of plans aimed at reducing energy consumption and carbon emissions, as proposed by the Council for Sustainable Development on Friday.

"About 60 percent of the city's greenhouse gas emissions are caused by buildings," said Bernard Chan, chairman of the council.

The council proposed to tighten the Building Energy Code, provide recognition for buildings having achieved high energy efficiency, extend the Mandatory Energy Efficiency Labelling Scheme
, tighten energy efficiency grading levels for air conditioners and refrigerators, phase out energy-inefficient incandescent light bulbs and electrical installations and appliances.

"Air conditioners and refrigerators are the biggest electricity consumers in buildings," said Wong Kam-sing, convener of a support group on the public engagement process titled "Combating Climate Change: Energy Saving and Carbon Emission Reduction in Buildings".

One of the action plans which proposes to introduce a fine-tuning of tariff structure, will not be achievable in the short term, Chan said.

"Hong Kong has two electricity companies. We need to talk to both and analyze their respective conditions, which will take a long time," he said.

Chan said the council will hear the public's view on the document and come up with detailed steps to implement the action plans.

"We'll gather people's opinions and see what our priorities should be," he said.

"But we don't have specific mid-term or long-term goals at the moment."

"We should have goals first, like the exact amount of electricity consumption we intend to reduce, then we'll know what to do," said William Yu, head of World Wildlife Fund's Climate Change Program in Hong Kong.

"Legislation could be a further step ... For example, we could start upgrading the energy efficient labeling standards to keep up with other countries."

Yu said Hong Kong's current standards are much lower than many European ones.

He suggested the government launch a rebate scheme to reward citizens who consume less electricity on a year-on-year basis.

"Now that we have a channel to give HK$6,000 to citizens, we might as well use that to reward people who save energy," Yu said. "The scheme has proven successful in Singapore and Taiwan."

Professor Albert Kwan, from the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Hong Kong, on the other hand, suggested the government raise requirements on heat-proof materials in buildings.

"Most Hong Kong buildings have glass walls, which have very low heat-proof effect. The government should learn from other regions to require new building projects to use heat-proof materials. This will sharply reduce the amount of electricity consumed by air conditioners," he said.

"The industry may also set its own standards in this aspect. Engineers should pay attention to energy efficiency, apart from building structure," he added.

The council will organize five regional forums to engage the public in the discussion, in conjunction with more than 60 supporting organizations.

The public engagement process will last four months.

The council expects to deliver a proposal to the government in the first quarter of 2012.

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