Keynote Address: Richard Lancaster, Chief Executive Officer, CLP Group
(Keynote transcript below)
Good morning, distinguished guests and interested parties in climate change. I would like to thank South China Morning Post for organising this event. I think it’s extremely timely. We’ve had three years of what can only be described as crisis here in Hong Kong, and that has taken a lot of our attention. But there has been a very important issue that has been running. A clock has been running against us, and that is dealing with climate change.
Putting climate change on the backburner may have seemed appropriate given the issues that we’ve had to deal with in Hong Kong, but this is an issue which hasn’t gone away. It’s something that I have followed for decades. I can say to you that the work of thousands of scientists around the world under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has reached a view after 30 years of work to say that the consequences of not addressing climate change will be disastrous for the planet. It is a very real issue, and the key issue is that we only have a limited time to deal with it.
We’ve just heard from the Financial Secretary that 66% of carbon emissions in Hong Kong come from the electricity sector, which may seem high, but it is a fact that we don’t have a lot of diverse industries in Hong Kong, so much about our industrial activities is related to electricity generation. But I would like to say we have some good news because Hong Kong now has a climate action plan that will see us achieving a net-zero target by 2050. Based on current technology and based on a concerted programme of investment we can achieve that. CLP, which provides about 75% of Hong Kong’s electricity, in October last year has committed to a net-zero target by 2050 and a target to phase out coal by 2040. Hong Kong is an important part of our objective. We have alignment between government and the industry.
We’ve also heard from the Financial Secretary about the tremendous opportunities that we have. I would like to spend a little bit of time this morning talking through what will be required for Hong Kong to decarbonise, and also what are the opportunities that are open to us. If you think about what we have to achieve to decarbonise an industry that is 125 years old, we have developed our industry around converting fossil fuels into electricity, and it’s taken us 125 years to get to where we are today with all the infrastructure that we currently have. We essentially have to replace that in 30 years. We’ve got a quarter of the time available to us, and all the infrastructure we’ve built has to be replaced with infrastructure that doesn’t produce electricity from fossil fuels, but from completely carbon-free sources.
The good news is that we have all the technology that we need. We have renewable energy, we have nuclear power. We do use a lot of natural gas for producing electricity, but there is a perfectly viable fuel called hydrogen which doesn’t emit carbon. Hydrogen is a fuel that has been used for centuries. So, this is all technology which is open to us. What it’s going to take is, first of all, investment. We do need to invest in new infrastructure. It’s also going to take careful planning. We cannot just close down our existing infrastructure without having a perfectly viable replacement that’s operating and working well. We need to rebuild that infrastructure before we can close down the fossil fuel generation. We’ll require planning and careful coordination.
The third thing that we’ll require is collaboration. If we think about collaboration in a number of aspects, collaboration between governments and industries; collaboration between industries and adjacent industries; and collaboration regionally. If we try to decarbonise our city here in Hong Kong, and just think about doing that within the confines of our city boundary, we will never achieve what we need to achieve. It would be unthinkable for a city such as New York or Paris or London to try and decarbonise and only consider things within a city’s boundaries. These cities use the resources that are available to them in their region, and we in Hong Kong need to think regionally as well. There are opportunities that we have taken advantage of in the past with the Daya Bay Nuclear Power Station, for example, which was developed in the 1990s. It’s sited in Guangdong province but it provides 80% of the electricity to supply us in Hong Kong, and has done so reliably for the last 25 years.
When we think about decarbonisation, we also need to think about how we can work in collaboration within our region. It’s not going to be easy. It will require a lot of concerted efforts and a sense of urgency. The infrastructure that we need to develop has to be built within 30 years. I am what many consider to be a veteran of the electricity industry that used to be everything we developed was built on a 10-year time scale. That was a general rule of thumb that if you wanted to do anything, it would typically take 10 years to build it. These days, those time scales are being pushed out further and further. It’s taking longer and it’s harder to develop big infrastructure projects. But we’ve only got 30 years, so we really need to start now and work with a sense of urgency.
I believe the opportunities that we have open to us, as the Financial Secretary has outlined, Hong Kong is in a great position as a financial centre. The energy transition that I’m talking about is going on all over the world. The entire electricity infrastructure on this planet is in the process of being replaced. We are not unique here in Hong Kong. We are part of a global change in the way that we produce and the way that we use electricity. It’s trillions of dollars of investment that is going to be needed to make that happen. All of that is investment with a very clear and very sound purpose to really prevent climate change from having a disastrous impact on the planet. It has a tremendous purpose there.
There are a lot of financial resources that are looking for investment with a purpose, and what better purpose is there than to invest in addressing climate change? Hong Kong has this perfect opportunity as a sophisticated international financal centre to play a role in that and to position itself as a green hub for green financing. To do that with a good conscience, we need to be green as well. We need to get on with the process of decarbonising our city here in Hong Kong. We do need to do that with a sense of urgency. There is a lot that we have to do. We need to do that with a sense of collaboration. This is not something that the electricity industry can do on its own. We need the support of our customers, we need the support of our suppliers, we need the support of our government, and we need the support of financial institutions. We all need to work together. I believe that if we can do this in a timely fashion, the opportunities are there for us to take advantage of.
I feel this conference is coming at the right time. We now have perhaps a little bit of space from dealing with the immediate crises that we’ve had over the last few years. We can now start to turn our attention to another crisis, but I think it’s one that comes with a very clear opportunity. We have the ability to plan, the know-how and the technologies. We just need to put it together and get on with it. Thank you very much.