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Administration Reveals Four Strategies that Make Hong Kong Climate-ready

Hong Kong took a big step forward in combating climate change on 8 October 2021 with their long-awaited “Climate Action Plan 2050” announced. Biomass is expected to raise the share of renewables in Hong Kong's electricity fuel mix in addition to wind and solar PV.

MioTech Research2021-11-07

Covered Document: Hong Kong's Climate Action Plan 2050

Date of Announcement: 8 October 2021

Key Takeaways

  • After its much-delayed publishing, Hong Kong filled the blank with a rather modest action plan.
  • Biomass electricity generation and electric vehicle are promising sectors to watch in terms of potential to boost decarbonisation in Hong Kong.
  • Biomass is expected to raise the share of renewables in the electricity fuel mix in addition to wind and solar PV.
  • Hong Kong has high expectations for decarbonisation through the demand side with ambitious targets to reduce electricity consumption in commercial and residential buildings by up to 20% and 15% by 2035 compared to 2015 levels.
  • The report represents a general attempt by Hong Kong to further decarbonise its economy with emission-free transport and less waste landfill, while more specific measures and targets are yet to be explored.

Hong Kong took a big step forward in combating climate change on 8 October 2021 with the long-awaited “Climate Action Plan 2050” announced. The new plan has a series of actions covering four major areas targeting the three biggest sources of Hong Kong’s carbon emissions of 43 million tCO2 as of 2019.

Figure: Hong Kong’s Carbon Emissions by Sector

Source: International Energy Agency[1], MioTech

New Mid-term Target

Prior to the new action plan, the Hong Kong government had announced in 2017 to reduce per capita carbon emissions by 65% to 70% by 2030 from 2005 level. It had also announced the reduction of the total emissions by 26% to 36% in the same timeframe and had declared in 2020 that it would aim to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

In the new plan, the government has made the vision clearer with a mid-term target to halve its carbon emissions by 2035 using 2005 as base year.

Overall Strategies

Electricity generation is the largest source of Hong Kong’s carbon emissions as is the case for many other Asian economies, accounting for 66% of its total emissions. Transport adds another 8 million tCO2, or 18% of the total emissions. The third largest contributor accounting for about 7% of the total emissions is waste disposal, mainly sent to landfill.

That is why the plan centers around solutions that focus on emissions caused by these three areas and is committed to four major decarbonization strategies, “net-zero electricity generation” and “energy saving and green buildings” that jointly reduce emissions from electricity generation, apart from “green transport”, and waste reduction. In the report, the Hong Kong government announced that it would invest around HKD 240 billion by 2040 to support the practice of these strategies.

Figure: Four Decarbonisation Strategies Hong Kong Puts Forward

Source: Hong Kong's Climate Action Plan 2050, MioTech

Net-zero Electricity Generation

Hong Kong runs a simple electricity energy mix where coal and natural gas generate more than 99% of Hong Kong’s electricity.

From the current level of below 1%, Hong Kong aims for significant growth of renewables’ share in electricity fuel mix to 10% at maximum by 2035, including 4% from both wind and waste-to-energy and 2% from solar. The ratio will rise till it ultimately reaches 15% by 2050.

The Hong Kong government placed particular emphasis on waste-to-energy technologies provided the less feasibility of developing large-scale land-taking renewables in Hong Kong. Although the share remains tiny, IEA data shows electricity generation from municipal waste rose dramatically from 14 GWh in 2015 to 43 GWh in 2020. Waste-to-energy can not only green the electricity supply, but also reduce the volume of waste sent to landfill.

Alongside renewables, replacing coal with other less-polluting sources like natural gas is also pivotal to decarbonisation. The SAR’s two electricity providers CLP and HK Electric both underpin developing natural gas to help Hong Kong’s decarbonisation in their 2020 sustainability disclosures. With CLP and HK Electric respectively adding 575 MW and 380 MW of natural gas capacity to its portfolio in Hong Kong, natural gas’ share in electricity generation finally exceeded coal in 2020.

Figure: Coal and Natural Gas’ Electricity Generation in Hong Kong

Source: International Energy Agency[2], MioTech

The combination of renewables and natural gas will lift the share of zero-carbon energy in Hong Kong’s fuel mix for electricity generation to around 60% and could further increase to 70% with more actions taken.

Energy Savings and Green Buildings

Due to limited conditions to develop renewables, Hong Kong places heavy emphasis on energy savings in addition to greening energy production. The report noted that buildings contribute to approximately 90% of the energy consumption in Hong Kong and electricity generated for buildings are responsible for 60% of the territory’s carbon emissions, making green buildings the top priority in this process.

To achieve better energy efficiency, Hong Kong will ask for energy efficient facilities to be installed in new development projects, consider more frequent energy audit, and might mandate the implementation of identified energy management opportunities. To lead the play, the Hong Kong government has set a new target to improve the government’s energy efficiency by 6% by 2025 after successfully reducing its electricity consumption by 7.8% from 2016 to 2020.

Green Transport

Hong Kong has set a long-term target to seek zero carbon emissions from vehicles and the transport sector before 2050. While the plan has been ambiguous about its mid-term targets, which is to set a concrete timetable for adopting new energy public transport, likely in 2025.

In the earlier “Hong Kong Roadmap on Popularisation of Electric Vehicles” the government announced that it would cease new registration of fuel-propelled and hybrid private cars in 2035 or earlier. Regarding charging infrastructure, the “Roadmap” set to increase the number of public charging facilities in Hong Kong from around 3,400 as of March 2021 to over 5,000 in 2025.

Waste Reduction

The decomposition of landfilled wastes generates almost 7% of Hong Kong’s carbon emissions. In Hong Kong, one of the world’s most densely populated city, municipal solid waste (MSW) and its management has become a burden on the city’s administration. The city aims to progressively reduce the per capita MSW disposal by 40% to 45% and increase MSW recovery rate to around 55%.

To assist the long-term target of carbon neutrality in waste management and Hong Kong’s economy-wide carbon neutrality, the plan has included a mid-term goal to remove landfill as an approach to municipal waste disposal by 2035.

Despite Hong Kong’s claimed achievements in lowering emissions, a publication on “Environmental Research Letters” in 2018 noted that Hong Kong is unfortunately the city with the highest carbon intensity, with every Hong Kong resident responsible for 34.60 tonnes of CO2 emissions on average[3].

Figure: Major Cities’ Carbon Emissions and Carbon Intensity

Source: Moran et al. [3], MioTech
*Bubble size represents carbon intensity.

Unlike mainland China’s climate-related policies that count on wind and solar power, energy storage, and an all-electric fleet to reduce carbon emissions. Hong Kong’s new plan dives into the smaller decarbonisation opportunities that are equally promising to the city, which has limited land supply. Two months ago, on 26 August 2021, the Legislative Council of Hong Kong (LegCo) passed the bill to charge residents for waste disposal at around HKD 0.11 per litre. Effective from early 2023, the new measure would help reduce the emissions from waste, the city’s third-largest source of carbon emissions. It is likely the proceeds will be used to finance waste-to-energy projects that Hong Kong has committed to.

Despite it being reasonable to focus on the largest emitters, there are claims that Hong Kong has left out aspects including emissions from food production[4], when meat consumption in Hong Kong is among the highest in the world. In addition, even though the plan has regarded green finance as a key opportunity, there is a blank to fill as to how Hong Kong will boost green investment as Asia’s financial hub.

[1] IEA. CO2 emissions by sector, Hong Kong 1990-2019 [DS]. 2020,
[2] IEA. Electricity generation by source, Hong Kong 1990-2020 [DS]. 2020,
[3] MORAN D, KANEMOTO K, JIBORN M, et al. Carbon footprints of 13 000 cities [J]. Environmental Research Letters, 2018, 13(6): 064041.
[4] HO S. Hong Kong’s Climate Plan Leaves Out Emissions Caused By Meat and Dairy [J/OL] 2021, https://www.greenqueen.com.hk/hong-kong-climate-plan-food/.