The Irish lesson for Hong Kong

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Ireland’s Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Alan Kelly shares his views on emissions control and urban planning with Hong Kong. (Photo: Alan Kelly’s blog)


Here in Hong Kong, many people do not think the city’s carbon emissions would be on par with the global big players but there is an inconvenient truth: Hong Kong’s emissions per capita on a production basis is around world average “but on a (personal per capita) consumption basis this rises to nearly 15 tonnes – close to the top among world cities,” says Albert Lai, CEO of Carbon Care Asia and Policy Committee Convenor of Professional Commons.


Much more needs to be done to curb emissions and for people to adopt a green lifestyle, which is why when Ireland’s Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Alan Kelly came to Hong Kong for a short visit recently, Harbour Times asked for some advice for Hong Kong to turn green.


Charging for waste

 “Hong Kong doesn’t charge for waste, I found that unbelievable,” Mr Kelly says. “Waste management is critical, especially for a city of this size.” It is possible that the Hong Kong Government has found this kind of saying so familiar that it decided to gear up the waste charging in recent years. The Council for Sustainable Development has submitted a report to the Government on Municipal Solid Waste Charging last December and the Government also completed a pilot test of the charging at seven housing estates. Legislation is expected to be out in 2016.


But more than using a stick (no carrot) approach, Ireland’s success in its green transform is due to a transparent system. “We have literally the strongest and best food and beverage production method in the world. We can trace CO2 emissions down to a family farm. If somebody has a hundred cows, we can trace the emissions to the hundred cows. We can trace all food production. We can trace how food is made, where it is made.”


Communication is everything

 Housing and planning policies also fall under the scope of Mr Kelly’s work. Being aware of the land problem in Hong Kong, he offered a new perspective on land planning.


“Planning for the use of land and the whole spatial analysis required is different now. Companies out there like IBM are doing smart city projects. Smart city is the analysis of how the future city should work with environment management, transport management, housing, planning, all of that. It basically puts together all the data across a whole range of fields: education, travel movement of the people, weather, requirement for housing, demographic data, everything.”


This may shed some light on how Hong Kong can tackle the city’s most challenging problem.  But with tension running high between the Government and the pan-democratic politicians, sound policies may gain little applause at best, and be impeded at worst.


“Communication is everything. It’s about bringing people with you. There are issues in Hong Kong but these issues are not so insurmountable and these issues can be addressed. I think you need a bit of time and Hong Kong need a bit of space but I also think you need a bit of trust and collegiality. I think people can put it together. We have issues in Ireland for many decades. The Troubles in Ireland are very famous. The peace process is something we are very proud of in Ireland.”

Asked what a effective communication looks like, Mr Kelly concludes that it is to “make sure you are communicating with people at a level that they know you are trying to do your best.”