Across the border, the Shenzhen Government launched an incentive scheme on 1 October to reduce ship and port emissions. Up to 200 million RMB a year will be provided to ship and port operators for three years, as a means to encourage voluntary initiatives such as the use of on-shore power and low sulphur fuel while the vessels are at berth. The scheme draws on similarities with the initiatives rolled out in Hong Kong since 2011, including an industry-led, voluntary Fair Winds Charter that promotes at-berth fuel switching, and a government incentive scheme implemented in 2012 to subsidise part of the extra cost of low sulphur fuel.
Shenzhen is now the world’s third largest container port, followed by Hong Kong in fourth place. Studies conducted in Shenzhen show that with ocean-going vessels still burning filthy bunker fuel in their ports, 66 per cent of sulphur dioxide, 14 per cent of nitrogen oxide and 6 per cent of fine particulates in the air there are related to ship and port activities. In Hong Kong, ships are the biggest local emission source of these three pollutants.
The scheme was greeted with approval and support from the shipping industry operating in the Pearl River Delta region, which has been crying for a level playing field since day one when green practices were first debated and then introduced in Hong Kong. Environmentalists are thrilled because making Shenzhen a cleaner port will no doubt benefit the air quality
improvement and public health protection in the entire region including Hong Kong.
Policy makers in Hong Kong should be encouraged by the Shenzhen Government’s policy commitment, as they have been initiating dialogue and sharing information with their mainland counterparts in the past two years. The ability to combine research, voluntary action and evidence-based policy has propelled Hong Kong to a leading position in Asia in ship emission control and management. This successful tripartite partnership that involves the private, the public and civic society sectors has become a model for Shenzhen to shape its own emission reduction programme.
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To stay as the leader in this policy area, Hong Kong should relentlessly keep up its effort locally and regionally. One way to go is to optimise our current incentive scheme for better emission reduction results. Once the regulation on at-berth fuel switching becomes effective in 2015, ocean-going vessels will use 0.5 per cent sulphur fuel according to law without any subsidy.
However, instead of dropping the scheme, the government could leverage the remaining funds or even apply for new funding to encourage the voluntary use of 0.1 per cent sulphur fuel, as a way to drive the standard forward. In Shenzhen’s scheme, ship operators will get a rebate of the extra fuel cost between 75 to 100 per cent based on fuel quality.
In the region, Hong Kong should step up the partnership with Shenzhen and make an effort to get the rest of Guangdong and Macau on board with similar initiatives. Achieving a uniform standard for ship emissions across the region will be a solid platform to build on as the Pearl River Delta gears up to become a ship emission control area in the foreseeable future.