Editorial : Government should be more radical in accelerating use of electric cars

【明報專訊】In recent years, the government has been promoting the use of electric vehicles. But the latest Director of Audit's report shows that the number and proportion of electric vehicles in the government vehicle fleet have been declining — instead of rising — over the past five years.

Climate change has global consequences, and it is incumbent on every one of us to halt global warming. Governments around the world have set targets for emission reduction, aiming to achieve "net zero emissions" by the middle of this century. In Hong Kong, cars are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. The policy address published in November last year identified carbon neutrality by 2050 as the target, and the government would take a multi-pronged approach to achieve it. One of the strategies would be the acceleration of the popularisation of electric vehicles. It was also mentioned in this year's budget that the government would take the lead in using more electric vehicles. The latest Director of Audit's report, however, has unavoidably cast doubt on the government's determination to do so.

The Audit Commission has found that electric vehicles account for less than 4% of the cars in the government vehicle fleet. The number of electric cars dropped by over 30% from 249 in late 2016 to 169 at the end of last year. The Government Logistics Department's explanation is that after an electric motorcycle in a government department (the Police force) caught fire, the related government departments became concerned about battery safety, and they suspended the use of dozens of electric vehicles. The Environmental Protection Department has stressed that the government has updated the procurement specifications. Unless there are sufficient grounds, all vehicles with fewer than five seats to be purchased must be electric. But figures do not lie. The fact is that the number of electric vehicles in the government has decreased, not increased.

Last month the Environment Bureau announced a road map for the popularisation of electric vehicles. The bigger goal is to achieve zero emissions from vehicles in Hong Kong by 2050. As for the short-term goals, the authorities hope that 150,000 private parking spaces in Hong Kong will have charging facilities by 2025, and there will be at least 5,000 public charging facilities by then. When it comes to medium-term measures, the government will explore the possibility of transforming oil and gas stations into charging stations. In the road map, it is also suggested that new petrol-fuelled private cars should no longer be registered in or before 2035. Ten years ago, a government document stated that the "long-term goal" was that 30% of all private cars in Hong Kong would be either electric or hybrid by 2020. However, the authorities later "clarified" that that was just a "vision", which, if we do away with the embellishment, actually means all has been empty talk. Now the government has come up with a relatively specific road map for the popularisation of electric vehicles. This is better than an empty "vision". Still, the road map has many practical shortcomings in reality, and the goal is hardly ambitious.

Countries around the world are scrambling to develop innovation and technology to achieve "green transformation". In recent years, the development of electric vehicles has advanced by leaps and bounds with the active participation of traditional car manufacturers. Many technical problems in the past, such as battery safety, charging time and insufficient horsepower, are expected to be solved readily. Many major carmakers around the world have planned to suspend the production of fuel-powered vehicles around 2035. By proposing to stop the registration of new petrol-fuelled private cars by 2035 at the latest, the government is merely going with the trend instead of pioneering the change. A government that is more far-sighted and determined would propose a more radical timetable.

明報社評2021.04.30:加快電動車普及步伐 政府帶頭勿光說不練








by leaps and bounds : very quickly; in large amounts

pioneer : when sb pioneers sth, they are one of the first people to do, discover or use sth new

radical : thorough and complete

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