Northern Metropolis project needs talent from diverse backgrounds

Dr. Roy LAW, Research Associate, Division of Public Policy, HKUST

Ms. Olivia TO, Project Manager, Institute for the Environment, HKUST

Mr. Bernard NG, Senior Manager, Corporate Development (FinTech and RegTech), HKSTP

Ms. Cathy LO, Senior Manager, Corporate Development (FinTech and RegTech), HKSTP


The Northern Metropolis (NM) concept plan is a mega project that should be well-integrated to achieve several stated policy goals.

Even if unstated specifically, it goes without saying that all development projects in Hong Kong must contribute to the city’s commitment to carbon neutrality by 2050. The planning, design, and construction of new infrastructure, such as rail lines, highways, and industrial zones, must adhere to carbon neutrality. Moreover, the NM project also consists of initiatives to promote innovation and technology (I&T) and transform the neighbouring cities of Hong Kong and Shenzhen into a powerful regional I&T hub. Talent is the key to the success of these policy objectives.


Expertise in decarbonization and carbon accounting

Achieving carbon neutrality requires expertise in decarbonization and carbon accounting of supply chains. For a large development project like the NM, there will be many new infrastructure and buildings. There is a need to track, calculate, and audit the whole process for creating infrastructure and buildings from “cradle-to-grave” to achieve lower carbon results. Infrastructure and buildings should be designed from the start to use fewer natural resources so that the embodied carbon is lower. Once they are built, their emissions arising from operation must also be tracked so that they can be better managed. Afterall, Hong Kong’s buildings consume 90% of Hong Kong’s electricity and contribute 60% of its carbon emissions. Hence the more energy efficient they are, the lower the carbon emissions over their life time.

Hong Kong needs to beef up its capabilities in tracking, calculating, and auditing “cradle-to-grave” emissions, i.e., the emissions generated through the extraction, production, and logistics of materials/products that goes into construction of infrastructure and buildings. Materials can also be recycled and that too can be taken into account. Currently, due to technological constraints, carbon accounting and auditing rely heavily on secondary data based on generalized emissions data.  Establishing digital data exchange platforms by using emerging technologies, e.g., blockchain and cloud computing, could significantly improve the accuracy of tracking and verifying the GHG emissions, as well as reduce labor costs. In light of Hong Kong’s many development plans, the city could improve its skills in this area of growing importance. Information technology experts are also needed to digitalize the emission accounting workflow. This means many professionals, such as architects, urban planners, engineers, contractors, and infrastructure and building managers will need to learn additional skills to help design, construct and manage infrastructure and buildings for Hong Kong.


Needs for ecological experts

Nature conservation is vital and must be treated as an overarching goal. The NM concept plan includes important ecological protection ideas. It could go further by integrating biodiversity into the whole plan. For example, the government can adopt as far as possible nature-based designs and construction solutions to enhance biodiversity, as well as strengthen climate adaptation and ecological resilience, as these are essential to meeting the challenge of a changing climate.

Hong Kong has a community of ecologists, biologists, and other biodiversity experts, most of whom are attached to universities and NGOs. Their knowledge and experience could be put to good use by innovating on methods of strengthening ecosystems, including creating carbon sinks. Specific support should be made available. If the experience is positive locally, it could be scaled up in the GBA region, which shares a similar natural environment to subtropical Hong Kong.


Manpower planning to meet the growing needs

Creating enough jobs of the right kind in NM requires thinking about manpower planning and training, otherwise there could be a mismatch between needs and availability. Science and technology (S&T) experts are critical to upgrading Hong Kong’s I&T capabilities so that Hong Kong and Shenzhen would take a step forward as a larger I&T hub. The government needs to ensure schools and universities produce young S&T talent to support the targeted I&T industries, such as in artificial intelligence, biotechnology, cybersecurity, fintech, and green technology, as the I&T sector expands.

While the Hong Kong government has dedicated substantial funding to promoting I&T, including funds to help start-ups – it could consider greater involvement of professionals in the I&T sector to identify projects to support and reduce red tape in the administrative process. For example, the Hong Kong and Science Technology Park (HKSTP) is currently offering a wide range of programs. For example, the Technology Leaders of Tomorrow (TLT) program is designed for bright young minds who aspire to become future I&T leaders in Hong Kong, while a range of Incubation and Acceleration programs are tailored for companies in early to pre-IPO stages. There are government funds to help enterprises recruit STEM talent, conduct in-house R&D, upgrade production lines, test products, and develop marketing strategies. The government may wish to see how to further leverage the skills and knowledge of such public institutions as HKSTP so expedite the R&D and commercialization process.

Finally, talent whether stationed in Hong Kong or Shenzhen-Guangdong should be able to move easily across the boundary, and overseas talent can also come and go easily so that the region could be a lively and diverse I&T hub. It should be possible to simplify the work visa application process by strengthening collaboration between government departments responsible for immigration and I&T development. Moreover, facilities and policies which assist expatriates in adapting to the local lifestyle may make Hong Kong more attractive to excellent talent from around the world.


Collaboration between all actors in the society

The NM project not only needs talent from diverse backgrounds, it also needs collaboration between all actors across the society. The government could deliver a positive message to the public and take the lead to establish communication channels between different stakeholders and professionals. Experts regardless of whether they are from the public or private sector should be encouraged to provide constructive ideas which are beneficial to the development of the city.

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