What Britain can learn from Hong Kong’s environmental innovations

Connor Tomlinson

June 26, 2020

The United Kingdom has a moral prerogative to intervene in China’s incursions on Hong Kong’s independence. I predicted (in articles in February and April) that Covid-19 would direct global attention away from China’s colonialist attempts at superseding the sovereignty of Hong Kong.

In May, China proposed a new security law which would impose extradition of Hong Kong citizens for criminalised acts of opposition to the Chinese government, such as protestors’ candlelight vigil to the Tiananmen Square massacre. In response, the UK, USA, Canada and Australia issued a joint statement condemning China’s actions.

The US Congress also passed the Uyghur Human Rights Act (condemning China’s Muslim concentration camps) with bipartisan support. Still, more tangible solutions are needed. Right on cue, the UK Home Office began discussing a “path to citizenship” for the 2.9 million Hong Kong citizens who hold British passports, 300,000 of whom can already visit the UK without visas.

Home Secretary Priti Patel affirmed the government’s mandate to “defend the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong”. On 3 June, the prime minister confirmed his intention to institute the path to citizenship as “one of the biggest changes in our visa system in British history”.

Partisan opposition to the motion persists. China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian stated such measures would violate international law. The Guardian declared that the UK “has too much at stake” in trade with China to stand with Hong Kong against tyranny. Senior Labour figures have been ridiculed for their previous pro-Maoist stances.

Not only does Britain have a duty to align itself against totalitarianism, but the UK is also in the fortunate position of benefiting from Hong Kong’s feats of environmental engineering and infrastructural innovation.

Hong Kong is a bastion of free-market flourishment and idyllic cooperative living. It frequently tops the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom, features in The Economist’s Safe Cities Index, has a poverty rate 2.1% lower than that of the UK’s, and a GDP that is growing at twice the UK rate.

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, Asia accounted for forty-two per cent of worldwide energy production by 2017. The WWF projects that Hong Kong will obtain eighty-five per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2050.

Former German Green party politician Hans-Josef Fell, a winner of the Lui Che Woo Prize for sustainable development, said that Hong Kong can achieve a complete transition to renewable energy by 2050, if “bio-coals”, imported clean sources, and recycling of landfill waste into gas-generated power are utilised.

Using a feed-in tariff scheme, Hong Kong has enabled the construction of private renewable power plants to generate 1,000 annual units of electricity for sale to the nations’ two leading suppliers.

After scrapping its feed-in tariff system, the UK government introduced the Smart Export Guarantee, reimbursing homeowners for contributing energy generated by renewable systems to the National Grid. 2019’s average system sell price for solar systems was 5.4p/kWh. With these two systems operating in tandem, the UK and Hong Kong can compare successes to determine optimal government assistance schemes for homeowners purchasing renewable technology.

The UK also leads the world in wind power. As the cost-efficiency of the technology improves with innovation over time, Hong Kong can adopt Britain’s pioneering plans along its 455-mile coastline.

Also, while no nuclear powerplants exist in Hong Kong currently, strengthened trade relations with the UK could provide cost-effective, carbon-neutral nuclear plant schematics (like Rolls-Royce’s mini-reactors) or city-centric Combined Heat and Power stations for replication.

These kinds of market-based environmental solutions, documented in the form of Green Market Revolution, the new, free book from the British Conservation Alliance and the Austrian Economics Center, are exactly where the UK should be focussing its attention, even removing relations with China from the equation.

Hong Kong could also help develop ACUMEN-adjacent methane capture systems. Methane constitutes 4 per cent of UK emissions. A government-subsidised project from the University of Southampton utilised bio-oxidation generators to mitigate the methane released from bio-waste decay in five British landfill sites between 2012 and 2015. Said generators cannot turn a profit yet, and are only viable in defunct landfills.

The Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy has since invested £9m into developing gas removal and waste management technologies as part of its Clean Growth Strategy. In Hong Kong, plastic waste is mounting and decaying food waste makes up 33 per cent of all generated waste. Cooperative ventures in engineering methane-capture generators could mutually alleviate this issue for both nations.

Britain can also aid in curbing the expansion of China’s culturally-ingrained, appalling animal rights record to neighbouring nations. China’s exotic animal wet markets are ground zero for zoonotic disease pandemics.

In April 2020, 339 conservation groups signed an open letter to the WHO to urge its support for issuing a permanent ban on wildlife wet-markets, and revise the WHO’s 2014-2023 Traditional Medicine Strategy to exclude the use of wildlife.

Hong Kong’s customs officials have already intervened in the exotic animal smuggling trade, seizing thirteen tonnes of dried endangered shark fins, worth £6.9m. Unlike in China, ‘finning’ and other acts of importing or exporting endangered species incurs fines of up to £8 million and a ten-year prison sentence in Hong Kong as of 2013. By aiding Hong Kong in retaining national sovereignty, the UK is helping limit the reach of China’s exotic and endangered animal trade.

The UK should be proud of Hong Kong’s exemplary peace, prosperity, and ingenuity. We should all be proud of the UK for standing with the protestors who value freedom above personal safety.

Though this feat of amnesty may provide mutually assured benefits of environmental innovation and economic stimulation, the best export those from Hong Kong can bring to the UK is their upstanding moral character, which might provide a much-needed bout of optimism.


  • Connor Tomlinson

    Connor Tomlinson is the Head of Research at the British Conservation Alliance, and a political commentator with Young Voices UK. He appears regularly in C3 Magazine, AIER, and on talkRadio. Follow him on Twitter: @Con_Tomlinson

Written by Connor Tomlinson

Connor Tomlinson is the Head of Research at the British Conservation Alliance, and a political commentator with Young Voices UK. He appears regularly in C3 Magazine, AIER, and on talkRadio. Follow him on Twitter: @Con_Tomlinson


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