The Curious Case of Hong Kong’s First EV Roadmap

It may seem surprising that it was the Financial Secretary who made the announcement on the government’s proposal to formulate Hong Kong’s first EV Roadmap.

Some might recall the Financial Secretary’s controversial decision in Budget 2017/18 to set a cap on the concessions of the First Registration Tax (FRT) on electric private vehicle. While the Secretary clarified the intention of the policy, which was to inhibit the overall growth of private car fleet, the electric car industry was ‘demoralized’ by the move.

Few might understand the role of the Financial Secretary on the issue of electric vehicle. Since established in 2009, a high-level Steering Committee on Promotion of Electric Vehicle was set up under the chairmanship of the Financial Secretary, with the objective to ‘recommend a strategy complementary with specific measures to promote the use of electric vehicles in Hong Kong, having regard to the resulting energy efficiency, environmental benefits and the creation of business opportunities.’

However, it is doubtful on the impact of the Committee – since established, there is no clear strategy and timeline for the stakeholders and the public to understand what specific milestones we are hitting.  There was no public record of meeting agenda or minutes – as the government claimed ‘the Committee’s meeting were conducted confidentially to encourage frank and open discussion’ – thus it was challenging for public to demand accountability of any plan developed within the Committee.

For the first EV Roadmap, it is remained unclear on the institutional set up – who is on the driver seat to drive the formulation of roadmap? In our opinion,  the Steering Committee on the Promotion of Electric Vehicles led by the Financial Secretary should take full responsibility to formulate this EV Roadmap. While the Environment Bureau should continue to be the supporting arm of the Steering Committee to take the initiative of setting out the vision and timeline of the EV Roadmap, with the primary objectives to speed up the process for Hong Kong to achieve clean air (meeting World Health Organization’s recommended safe level) and decarbonization (meeting net zero carbon emission).

The scope of the roadmap is remained unclear. We recommend the EV Roadmap should put special emphasis on electrifying all commercial vehicles, including buses, freight vehicles, minibuses, taxis, in additional to private cars. In Hong Kong, commercial vehicles account for over 90% of roadside air pollution. Regional study  showed that Heavy Duty Diesel Vehicles (HDDV) and Light Duty Gasoline Vehicles (LDGV) account for over 40% of respiratory mortality and lung cancer among population in Hong Kong due to nitrogen oxides (NOx) emission[1]. From the perspective of maximizing public health gain, it is necessary to put more effort and resources on all commercial vehicles in the EV Roadmap.

How the roadmap is put into action is remained unclear. We recommend that, as part of the EV Roadmap, there should be an EV Action Plan. In additional, in parallel to formulating the EV Roadmap, there should be an implementation arm set up within the administration. The Government should set up an EV Office to implement the EV Action Plan with engagement of the stakeholders from public and private sectors to address the anticipated issues, including technology and operational compatibility of EVs and charging infrastructure, as well as development of the charging infrastructure.

In our perspective, the EV Action Plan should cover the following aspects:

  • Develop and construct the charging infrastructure in stages to meet the growing needs especially for the public transport and commercial vehicles;
  • Engage stakeholders from the public and private sectors in developing different charging options to ensure the practicability and sustainability of these options;
  • Provide adequate incentives for public transport and commercial vehicle operators to switch to EVs.

Obviously the Steering Committee on the Promotion of Electric Vehicles should be strengthened to collate views from wider circle, including members of experts from various sectors such as power transmission, EV charging technology EV charging facilities, EV manufacturer and dealer, EV maintenance workshop, battery management system as well as public transport operators. The accountability of the Steering Committee should be strengthened to ensure the Roadmap, Action Plan and specific measures are to be met, to achieve cleaner air as soon as possible.

[1] Xingcheng Lu, Teng Yao, Ying Li, Jimmy C.H. Fung, Alexis K.H. Lau, Source apportionment and health effect of NOx over the Pearl River Delta region in southern China, Environmental Pollution, Volume 212, 2016, Pages 135-146, ISSN 0269-7491, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envpol.2016.01.056. (2016)

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