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November 5th, 2016:

How a ‘green living’ Hong Kong family survives on HK$8,000 monthly

They farm their own vegetables, recycle wood for fire and have not used toilet paper in over a decade

Environmentalist Mok Ho-kwong and his wife spend their days in a small, rural house tucked between Fanling and Kam Tin. They tend their farmland, where they grow their own vegetables.

They cook their dinners using abandoned wood from garbage, and wash their hair with tea seed powder. They wash their clothes with baking soda in a nearby stream.

They haven’t used toilet paper in over a decade, choosing instead to use water for cleansing.

Called “Ye Yan” in Cantonese – which translates to “Wild Man” – by those who know him, 34-year-old Mok is an environmentalist who has embraced what he refers to as “green living” for almost a decade. Mok, his wife and their six-month-old baby strive to live their lives in the most sustainable way possible by reducing their energy  usage and waste. The house is sparse, with only a computer, a fridge, and some lights.

“Consumption does not mean happiness. Happiness actually comes from everywhere, and is not related to money or property,” says Mok, who works as a nature educator and activity instructor for self-launched social enterprise Natural Network, which promotes nature.

“We don’t need much money to live this way. We spend less than HK$8,000 per month.

We’re definitely happier,” adds Mok.

He was introduced to the concept by a teacher during his university years. Although he was always interested in environmental protection, the teacher inspired him to go beyond recycling and really embrace a more subsistent way of living in order to minimise his environmental impact.

Although he recognises that his lifestyle may seem extreme, there are many other ways people can live more sustainably, Mok says. He suggests buying second-hand, local  or handmade products from small shops rather than chains. Mok also recommends bringing your own containers to the market when purchasing food, or your own bags to cut down on using new ones.

“I would like to show other people that such a lifestyle is happy and enjoyable, and one they are able to follow,” Mok said.

“I encourage more people to live with less dependence on money, and to start a ‘green living’ lifestyle to save our environment.”

How many earths do we need, if the rest of the world consumed as much as Hong Kong?

Hongkongers consume so much that if everyone else in the world lived like us, we would need almost four Planet Earths to sustain us.

Hong Kong’s ecological footprint per capita, or the area required to sustain a person’s use of natural resources, has reached a historic high, according to a study by conservation body WWF, released last week. The city’s footprint is the second largest in Asia, behind Singapore, and 17thin the world.

About 3.9 earths would be needed to sustain humanity’s lifestyle if everyone consumed at the same rate as Hongkongers, the report said.


The city’s footprint grew to 6.7 global hectares (gha) per person this year from 5.4 gha in 2014, when we would have needed three Planet Earths if everyone in the world lived like Hongkongers. Global hectares measure the average productivity of land and sea areas.

Worldwide, the average footprint per capita is 2.8 gha and we would need 1.6 earths to support this rate, the study showed.

Allen To Wai-lun, assistant manager of WWF-Hong Kong’s Footprint Programme, said although there were minor changes to the study’s methodology, the results clearly show a trend of unsustainable consumption.

Daily consumption by individuals, households and businesses are responsible for 76 per cent of Hong Kong’s footprint – 57 per cent of which comprises consumption involving personal transport, food, clothing, electricity, gas and other fuels.

The largest portion is made up of local carbon dioxide emissions and the carbon embodied in the products we use, many of which are imported.

“We buy too much stuff. We don’t have a sense of connecting our consumption to the deteriorating environment,” To said. “Changing the lifestyles of people is not easy.

But to alleviate [this problem] we need to consume less, and consume wisely.”

According to To, the city’s growing footprint can be attributed to fast fashion trends and meat consumption. The trend of readily available clothing at cheaper prices increased our cotton consumption, causing us to use more cropland, he said.

Added to that, increased meat consumption, particularly beef, has also led to more greenhouse gas emissions and contributed to climate change. The city also imports seafood from over 170 territories worldwide, ranking second in Asia and seventh globally in terms of per capita seafood consumption.

Ng Cho-nam, associate professor of geography at the University of Hong Kong, said cities usually had lower productivity due to lack of natural resources, and a high rate of consumption. This impacts their ecological footprint. Although countries like Australia consume lots of resources, their net deficit is small because they also produce a lot, according to Ng.

“When comparing a city with a country, then the city will have a bigger deficit as cities are the biggest places for consumption,” Ng said.

“We rely heavily on consuming imported goods. We enjoy cheap stuff, and then we export the pollution. We also have a huge number of tourists, [which] are top consumers,” Ng added.

In recent years, overexploitation, pollution, habitat loss and other consequences of unsustainable consumption has led to the deterioration of wildlife, fisheries and natural environments, as well as increased carbon accumulation in the atmosphere, WWF said.

Global wildlife populations could decline by more than two-thirds by 2020 compared to 1970 levels, WWF’s Living Planet Report 2016 showed. Between 1970 and 2012, populations of fish, mammals, reptiles, birds and amphibians decreased by 58 per cent.

Local wildlife populations have also deteriorated. Numbers of the Hong Kong grouper have declined by 63 per cent in two decades, and the fish is now an endangered species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List – an inventory of the conservation status of species. Another fish, the golden threadfin bream, has decreased by 30 per cent in 10 years, while the three-striped box turtle is now critically endangered.

“Hong Kong certainly plays a role in wildlife trading through legal and illegal means [through the] consumption of shark fins, some coral reef fish, pets, reptiles, corals and more,” Ng said. “There are lots of wild birds being traded in Hong Kong, as well as animals whose body parts are used for traditional Chinese medicine like tigers and rhinos.”

In February, the Consumer Council released a report showing that 75 per cent of Hongkongers are prepared to pay more for sustainable products. But the government had yet to take adequate action, activist groups said. Now, the city’s Council for Sustainable Development is also conducting a public consultation that ends on November 15, seeking views on how to make our consumption more sustainable.

According to Ng, since the government is one of Hong Kong’s biggest consumers, it should include more products such as building materials under its green purchasing policy, to ensure that it takes the lead in sustainable consumption. More stringent labelling systems for green products would also allow consumers to make informed decisions, he added.

Allen To from WWF-Hong Kong said the government should provide incentives for consumers and businesses to trade and consume in a more sustainable manner. The city could take up green credit systems that are now being used in countries like South Korea, where consumers can receive points and other rewards when buying green products. They can then use the rewards to purchase other sustainable items or take public transport, he said.

Edwin Lau Che-fung, executive director of eco-friendly charity Green Earth, echoed the sentiments and urged the government to implement legislation to increase sustainability and reduce waste levels – such as more producer responsibility schemes requiring manufacturers, distributors and retailers to share the duty of collecting, recycling, treating and disposing products.

“There is still a lot of room for our government to take aggressive action towards lowering the ecological footprint for the whole of Hong Kong,” Lau said. “We are currently using the resources that we are borrowing from our future generations.”


The ecological footprint refers to the total area required to sustain a person or community’s use of natural resources and shows their impact on the environment.


• Cropland for producing food and fibre, including oil crops and rubber
• Grazing land for raising livestock
• Fishing grounds for marine and inland water ecosystems to generate primary production, which supports seafood catch and aquaculture
• Forest for providing fuel wood, timber products and pulp
• Built-up land or biologically productive areas for infrastructure
• Forests as primary ecosystems for long-term storage or sequestration of carbon to slow or reverse the build-up of CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere


• Daily consumption of seafood and meat
• Daily consumption of timber and paper products
• Carbon dioxide emissions including those resulting from the trade of goods

Source: WWF-Hong Kong



On average, some monitored animal species declined by 58 per cent between 1970 and 2012 as a result of unsustainable agriculture, mining, fisheries and other human activities. The population sizes of vertebrate species dropped by more than half in just over 40 years, with an average annual decline of 2 per cent.


As of 2000, 45.8 per cent of the world’s temperate grasslands and 48.5 per cent of the world’s tropical and subtropical dry broadleaf forest habitats have been converted for human use.


Freshwater habitats have been damaged by pollution, dams, invasive aquatic species and unsustainable water extractions. Freshwater accounts for only 0.01 per cent of the world’s water, but it is home to nearly 10 per cent of the world’s known species.


Between 1970 and 2012, marine life experienced an overall decline of 36 per cent. Overfishing is the most common threat to fish populations, and 31 per cent of global fish stocks are overfished.


Three-quarters of the world’s coral reefs are now threatened and facing large-scale extinction as a result of mass bleaching and acidification. Although reefs cover less than 0.1 per cent of the ocean, they support over 25 per cent of all marine fish species. Threats to reefs include greenhouse gases, pollution, overfishing and coastal development.


Changes in temperature can confound signals for seasonal events such as reproduction and migration, causing them to occur at the wrong time. Some species will also have to adapt by shifting their migration range in search of suitable climate.

Source: Living Planet Report 2016 by WWF-Hong Kong in collaboration with the Zoological Society of London and Global Footprint Network

Historic climate deal goes into force in fight versus global warming

A worldwide pact to battle global warming entered into force Friday, just a week before nations reassemble to discuss how to make good on their promises to cut planet-warming greenhouse gases.

Dubbed the Paris Agreement, it is the first-ever deal binding all the world’s nations, rich and poor, to a commitment to cap global warming caused mainly by the burning of coal, oil and gas.

“A historic day for the planet,” said the office of President Francois Hollande of France, host to the 2015 negotiations that yielded the breakthrough pact.

“Humanity will look back on November 4, 2016, as the day that countries of the world shut the door on inevitable climate disaster,” UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa and Moroccan Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar said in a joint statement.

Mezouar will preside over the UN meeting opening in Marrakesh on Monday.

“It is also a moment to look ahead with sober assessment and renewed will over the task ahead,” they said.

This meant drastically and urgently cutting emissions, which requires political commitment and considerable financial investment.

The urgency was brought home by a UN report on Thursday which warned that emissions trends were steering the world towards climate “tragedy”.

By 2030, said the UN Environment Programme, annual emissions will be 12 to 14 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) higher than the desired level of 42 billion tonnes.

The 2014 level was about 52.7 billion tonnes.

The year 2016 is on track to be the hottest year on record, and carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere passed an ominous milestone in 2015.

Lit up in green, the Eiffel Tower in Paris proclaimed: “Accord de Paris, c’est fait!” (Paris Agreement, it’s a done deal!) — to hail the entry into force of the pact meant to stop the rot.

The historic agreement was finally endorsed in the French capital last December, after years of complex and divisive negotiations, but the ratification was reached with record speed.

At least 55 parties to the UN’s climate convention (UNFCCC), responsible for at least 55 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, had to ratify it for it to take effect.

It passed the threshold last month, and by Friday it had been ratified by 97 of the 197 UNFCCC parties, representing 67.5 per cent of emissions, according to France’s environment minister Segolene Royal, outgoing president of the UN talks.

“It is a magnificent day, concluding years of hard work,” Royal told journalists in Paris.

“We must maintain this extraordinary momentum by encouraging countries to continue ratifying the deal, and by moving full steam ahead with our preparations to put it into action across the world,” Europe’s climate commissioner Miguel Canete said in a statement.

A major doubt looms over the process, however, as diplomats gear up for 11 days of talks in Morocco to discuss way of putting the agreement’s political undertakings into practise.

US Republican nominee Donald Trump has threatened to “cancel” Washington’s participation in the agreement if he is elected president on November 8.

“I refuse to think along these lines,” Royal said, when asked about a possible US withdrawal under Trump. “The Paris agreement prohibits any exit for a period of three years, plus a year-long notice period, so there will be four stable years,” she said.

The pact undertakes to limit global warming to “well below” two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-Industrial Revolution levels, and to strive for 1.5 C.

Countries submitted voluntary, non-binding carbon-cutting goals towards this goal.

According to the International Energy Agency, implementing the pledges would require investments of US$13.5 trillion in efficient and low-carbon and energy technology to 2030 — almost 40 per cent of total energy sector spending.

“The timetable is pressing because globally, greenhouse gas emissions which drive climate change and its impacts are not falling,” said Espinosa and Mezouar.
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