By Nicholas Brooke, Professional Property Services Group in Hong Kong.
1 July 2013 — The release of the Blueprint for Sustainable Use of Resources by the Environment Bureau outlining policy proposals for the next 10 years is a welcome step in Hong Kong’s becoming a more sustainable city.
However, the success of that policy vision will depend largely on the response of the community to the proposals and to similar initiatives in the areas of energy, water, and environmentally acceptable transport.
Given our compact built environment and the density of population and development, there is not only the opportunity to achieve greater sustainability, but also to become a model smart city and one of the most liveable in the Asian region – so long as we have the leadership and commitment to such a goal.
More than half of the world’s population today lives in cities and this is anticipated to rise to 70 per cent by 2030, underscoring the role of cities as engines of economic growth and the need to address the rise in carbon emissions which result from such economic activity.
This need has inspired the emergence of “smart city” initiatives across the globe. “Smart” has become interchangeable with “green”, but it’s more than that. A smart city is one that integrates all the key resources – energy, waste, water, and transport – using innovative technologies.
I believe Hong Kong can and should become a smart city. It already scores highly in terms of its mass transit system and the use of the Octopus smart-card system. However, the government clearly needs to do more to manage other resources.
Energy efficiency is one of the big challenges, and one that could bring much success.
Over 80 per cent of the city’s energy is consumed by buildings, mostly in air conditioning. Incentives for such technologies as smart metering is one way to demonstrate what can be done to measure consumption and drive improved energy efficiency.
One of the by-products of economic activity is waste, the most urgent challenge for Hong Kong and one which the recent Blueprint seeks to address. About 17,000 tonnes of waste is generated every day. While there is increased awareness of the need to address this, what is now urgently needed, as a catalyst, is accountability. The pay-per-use proposals contained in the Blueprint are a key priority.
On the other hand, waste should not only be viewed as a cost but also as a business opportunity. This needs infrastructural support, and perhaps there is the need to revisit the contribution that could be made by the government Eco-Park initiative, which was intended to provide sites for such activities but where there has been limited success so far.
Water is another resource where Hong Kong can do a better job, especially in water treatment and the recycling of rainwater.
Alarmingly, water is not valued locally as it should be and much is wasted. It is estimated that 30 per cent is lost en route from source to customer, and it is also subject to serious pollution.
As we know, much of the air pollution in the city comes from the road-transport sector. This means better efficiency in managing our rail interchanges, and a more integrated approach that includes the bus and taxi fleets. More support is also required to put electric and/or hybrid vehicles on our streets.
Recently announced initiatives to replace 80,000 diesel-fuelled commercial vehicles and to upgrade the bus fleets indicate that at least the administration is taking roadside pollution seriously and those efforts should be supported.
Above all, there needs to be a more co-ordinated approach to addressing the overall sustainable agenda with all sections of society playing their part.
It is essential not simply to put right what is currently wrong, but also to introduce innovative and creative solutions which support and improve the city’s growing reputation as a living laboratory for sustainable technologies – whether in terms of developing smart homes, smart offices, a smart grid, or smart transport, Hong Kong needs to be at the fore.
While the city needs to work hard to maintain its competitive edge, it also has to stay relevant by pursuing its smart-city ambitions.
Ultimately, the outcome of a smart city is quality of life, and Hong Kong needs this to retain its most important resource of all – its people and their talent.
Nicholas Brooke is the chairman of Professional Property Services Group in Hong Kong.
This article first appeared in the South China Morning Post.