Climate Governance in Hong Kong
An analysis of climate change governance in Hong Kong since it took shape in 2007
This story aims to provide readers with an overview of climate governance in Hong Kong. While climate governance has multiple layers, aspects and actors, this analysis focuses on the city-level governance directed towards mitigating climate change, with Hong Kong government as the actor being studied.
Before the Paris Agreement, China had no binding obligation to reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, but to report its emissions to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) . In 2003, China’s obligation to report its emissions was extended to Hong Kong. Since then, Hong Kong government has started to report GHG inventories to Chinese government to fulfil its indirect obligation to the UNFCCC.
The year 2007 was seen as a watershed in the history of climate change governance in Hong Kong. Before 2007, among all environmental issues, air pollution alleviation was seen by different stakeholders as the most serious environmental issue in Hong Kong . In 2007, Hong Kong received influence from China to strengthen climate governance when China announced its National Climate Change Programme . Since then, the Hong Kong government has formulated a package of policy instruments to mitigate climate change, including command and control, inducements and incentives as well as education and enhancement . A carbon reduction target was also announced.
… Hong Kong now has to play a part to help fulfill the obligations that China has, which are now more than reporting GHG emissions as they were in the Kyoto period.
The above events took place when the Kyoto Protocol was in effect. Under the Paris Agreement, the successor to the Kyoto Protocol which came into force in 2016, all participating countries were to determine their contributions in the national context— instead of following a fixed binding GHG reduction target, or as in China’s case where the binding target did not apply. In this new context, China defined and committed a set of climate actions . In other words, Hong Kong now has to play a part to help fulfill the obligations that China has, which are now more than reporting GHG emissions as they were in the Kyoto period.
As of today, the Hong Kong government announced two city-level GHG reduction targets, both being intensity targets instead of absolute targets:
- reduce the carbon intensity by 50–60% by 2020 (per unit of GDP, 2005 baseline); and
- reduce the carbon intensity by 65%–70% by 2030 (per unit of GDP, 2005 baseline) ,
among which the former one was criticized as weak and inappropriate  and the same is also true for the latter, because intensity targets are only seen as appropriate and relevant to developing countries. Hong Kong as a developed city by all definitions, should be obliged to pursue an absolute reduction target.
To achieve the reduction targets set out above, the Hong Kong government defined in the Hong Kong Climate Change Report 2015 the following as areas that present most reduction opportunities, namely adjusting fuel mix, increasing building energy efficiency, increasing transport energy efficiency, and recovering energy from waste, all being related to energy.
In total, energy accounts for 89.9% of GHG emissions . This justifies the Hong Kong government’s emphasis on energy in designing climate change mitigation strategies for Hong Kong.
In 2015, the total GHGs emissions of Hong Kong is 41.6 million tonnes CO2 equivalent , representing a 0.9% increase compared to 2005. Compared to the world’s GHG emissions portfolio in which electricity and heat generation accounts for 25% of total GHG emissions , electricity generation accounts for 66.5% of total GHG emissions in Hong Kong, followed by transport energy use (18%), waste (5.9%), other end use of fuel (5.4%) and industrial processes and product use (4.1%). In total, energy accounts for 89.9% of GHG emissions . This justifies the Hong Kong government’s emphasis on energy in designing climate change mitigation strategies for Hong Kong.
As the first GHG reduction target (reduce the carbon intensity by 50–60% by 2020) is due in less than 3 years, we should expect to start seeing the GHG emissions to decrease from its current level to around 33 million tonnes CO2 equivalent per year by 2020. In fact, there was a 7.5% reduction in 2015 compared to 2014, and of course we hope the trend will continue .
In terms of fuel switching, we have also seen a good signal. The coal-nuclear-natural gas ratio has changed from 53%-23%-22% in 2012  to 48%-25%-25% in 2015 . Concerted effort is still needed to further reduce the share of coal and increase the share of natural gas and nuclear, as committed by the government.
How does it compare with your city’s climate governance?
Many countries and cities have vowed to put a peak on their growing GHG emissions by the year 2020/ 2025/ 2030. It is not far from now, have we seen GHG emissions levels started hitting a plateau?
There will be more stories on climate governance in Hong Kong/ other countries and cities to come.
And if you want to join this discussion, do drop me a message!
 Since China was not an Annex I country (more developed country) at that time. Annex I countries include the industrialized countries that were members of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) in 1992, plus countries with economies in transition (the EIT Parties).
 Ng, M. K., Lo, Y. H., Cheung, H. Y., Lee, K. W., Leung, D. T. H., & Kwan, B. Y. W. (2007). Reporting Sustainabilty in Hong Kong and the Central and Western District: Technical Report.
 taken charge by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the central planning authority in China
 Choi, C. Y. (2012). Combating climate change: the control of greenhouse gas emissions in Hong Kong. Hong Kong: University of Hong Kong.
 Also known as the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs)
 Which is, according to government, equivalent to 26% to 36% absolute reduction and a reduction to 3.3–3.8 tonnes on a per capita basis.
 Ng, M. K. (2012). A critical review of Hong Kong’s proposed climate change strategy and action agenda. Cities, 29(2), 88–98.
 IPCC (2014). Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Core Writing Team, R.K. Pachauri and L.A. Meyer (eds.)]. IPCC, Geneva, Switzerland, 151 pp.