Clear The Air News Blog Rotating Header Image

December 17th, 2008:

HK People Ignore Pollution Problems

SCMP – Updated on Dec 14, 2008

Pollution in Hong Kong must be reduced.

Problems are caused by factories polluting the atmosphere and lead to people suffering respiratory illnesses such as asthma.

Cars are also a major cause of pollution and drivers can be so selfish. Many keep their engines idling even when their vehicles are stationary and this makes me furious. Also, some people appear to keep their air conditioners on even when they are out of their flats.

It makes me wonder if people care about the pollution problems in Hong Kong. It is clear that pollution levels in the city must be cut back.

Tiffany Tang, The Peak

Climate Change In Hong Kong And The Role Of The Private Sector by Richard Welford – 17 Dec 2008

Greenhouse gases emitted in the last century is still present in today’s atmosphere and is unlikely to be reabsorbed into oceans and forests until the middle of the 21st century. Yet we continue to add carbon dioxide to our environment at an increasing and alarming rate. Even if all emissions stopped today, carbon dioxide levels could take 50 to 150 years to reduce, during which time we will continue to experience the impacts of climate change. Since emissions are set to increase for some time yet we are clearly going to see accelerations in climate change trends requiring ongoing mitigation and adaptation measures.

If greenhouse gases (GHGs) are not drastically reduced, then the world faces a significant temperature change and potentially irreversible damage to the planet’s ability to buffer extreme changes in our climate. Tackling climate change therefore requires mitigation measures that limit the magnitude of further climate change and avoid catastrophic consequences by reducing GHG emissions. In response to this CSR Asia and the University of Hong Kong have recently published a report on climate change adaptation in Hong Kong. This article concentrates on the private sector’s role in that adaptation.

Climate change is inevitable and therefore there is a need to examine adaptation measures that can manage the challenges presented by changes in the climate that we will experience in Hong Kong. Such measures include an important role for the private sector.

Climate change will mean that Hong Kong will experience a warmer climate, at times with significantly more rainfall but will also face the risk of seasonal water shortages. Hong Kong will also experience a significant increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, such as heat waves, tidal surges, typhoons and very heavy rainfall. Sea levels will continue to rise for decades. The impacts of these changes on Hong Kong will be increased risks of flooding, droughts and dangerously hot weather. There will also be secondary and indirect impacts, including an increased risk of infrastructure damage, ground instability and landslides, and further increases in dangerously poor air quality periods. This will all impact on human health and quality of life and pose significant risks for the economy of Hong Kong.

It is important that Hong Kong begins to recognize the risks of climate change and puts into place both mitigation and adaptation measures now. Early anticipatory adaptation will be more effective and less costly than retrospective, emergency action. Although the scale of climate change risk is uncertain, it is increasingly clear that like many of the world’s leading cities, Hong Kong faces huge changes as a result of climate change and that adaptation measures must become a strategic priority.

In Hong Kong adaptation will be needed to deal with the following issues:

  • Extreme weather events including heavy rainfall, high temperatures, sea-level rises, tidal surges and super-typhoons.
  • Flooding, overstrained drainage systems and groundwater pollution leading to possible disease, damage to property, soil degradation and personal injury.
  • Decreasing water availability and periods of drought, increased water evaporation.
  • Heat waves and dangerously hot days with the potential to cause death, severe health problems and economic losses through damage to infrastructure.
  • Health impacts and rising social inequities with the poorer suffering more health problems associated with heat exhaustion, respiratory problems and pollution effects.
  • Threatened ecosystem services through impacts on wetland areas and other crucial ecosystems which affect species distribution, spawning, flowering, water retention and replenishment.

Hong Kong is particularly vulnerable to climate change because of the agglomeration of people and assets in a small area. Hong Kong is also highly dependent on importing food, water, energy and products for the territory to thrive. All these facets of life in Hong Kong will be impacted by climate change and there is therefore a need for Hong Kong to become more resilient to the full impacts of climate change over coming decades. Unless it builds this resilience it will easily lose its competitive advantage as both people and businesses move to alternative destinations.

Hong Kong’s position as a world city could easily be undermined unless it not only tackles climate change but also takes on a leadership role, providing the skills that the world needs to cope with a changing climate. There is a role for all sectors of society including the government, NGO community and the private sector in ensuring that the economic prosperity of Hong Kong is protected therefore.

Hong Kong’s ability to remain as a world city will be in part a function of how it prepares for and adapts to climate change. It needs to be able to continue to provide a base for internationally competitive firms in the finance and business sectors as well as attract new investment. To do this, it will need to be able to train, attract and retain high quality human resources. In achieving this, Hong Kong will have to be able to invest in developing the quality of life it offers to its residents and current and future workforces.

Hong Kong is ranked the seventh most vulnerable megacity on a natural hazards risk register for the world’s 50 megacities. Most risks are weather related and include tropical storms, flooding and sea level rises. Only Tokyo, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Osaka, Miami and New York rank above Hong Kong in terms of risks and in many cases this is because they have a high risk of earthquakes.

In the context of the many facets of climate change identified above, Hong Kong will need to ensure that it is seen as a safe and secure place to do business. It will have to identify its main risks associated with climate change and to begin to work on them now. It should take its world city status seriously and demonstrate leadership in mitigating and adapting to climate change.

One of the most important business sectors in Hong Kong is the financial services sector. This sector is hugely exposed to climate change because of its links to assets that are put at risk by climate change. One problem is that the impacts of climate change are beyond the time horizons upon which many of these businesses base their decisions. Yet, taking action now will reduce risks later. This is something that many companies currently fail to grasp adequately.

Of course, different segments of the financial services sector will experience differing risks and opportunities. Assets vulnerable to climate change risk losing value and fund managers may be held accountable for not considering climate change impacts sooner. The insurance sector has a clear role to play in climate change risk management. Weather-related insurance claims have risen steadily over the past decade and are set to continue to do so. Many more assets are going to become uninsurable, however.

Both life insurance business and general insurance business are exposed to climate change risks through the people and assets that they insure and the portfolio of assets they own to pay for insurance claims. General insurers face two key risks. Firstly, an increase in the number of claims being made due to changes in the frequency, intensity and location of extreme weather events. Secondly, a potential devaluation of the capital assets they own to pay out on claims. Both put significant pressure on the sector meaning that insurers may decide not to provide cover for certain risks, may decide on the need to raise premiums which some people may not be able to afford, may raise excesses on certain risks, leaving some people still vulnerable and require those seeking insurance to take steps to reduce the risk of making a claim through mitigatory actions.

Apart from finance, Hong Kong is a large logistics hub with international trade the bedrock of many of its activities. Climate change will significantly impact on this sector both directly and indirectly as supply chains become more vulnerable.

Hong Kong’s skyline might be part of its world city status but it also poses a risk as freak weather incidents, sea levels rises and flooding begin to impact real estate. There are therefore huge implications for building design, construction, maintenance and facilities management. However, many of the buildings most at risk from climate change are old, poorly managed and home to some of the most disadvantaged groups.

Businesses will also be impacted by many of the human dimensions associated with climate change. If Hong Kong fails to address the impacts of climate change it can rapidly become an unattractive place to live and work impacting on the quality of the workforce available to employers. But climate change may also be associated with changing lifestyles, changing patterns of consumer demand and changing expectations on the part of a wide range of stakeholders on the activities of business in the territory.

If Hong Kong continues to want to be positioned as a world city it will have to demonstrate leadership on climate change issues. Located at the heart of a typhoon zone, Hong Kong could position itself as a leader on climate change adaptation in the region as well. A new partnership between government, civil society and business will be needed if Hong Kong is not to lose its global position and competitiveness to other locations less at risk from climate change.

The business community, in particular, needs to respond to both climate change risks and possible business opportunities by undertaking climate risks assessments, carbon foot-printing, developing climate change strategies and preparing a business continuity plan.

It is urgent that Hong Kong recognizes the risks of climate change and puts into place both mitigation and adaptation measures now. Early anticipatory adaptation will be more effective and less costly than retrospective, emergency action. Although the exact ramifications of climate change risk remain uncertain for Hong Kong, it is increasingly clear that like many of the world’s leading cities, Hong Kong faces huge changes as a result of the impacts outlined in this report. Adaptation measures must become a strategic priority for both government and the private sector if the full impacts are not to impact on the competitiveness of the economy.

Levels of awareness in Hong Kong in relation to climate change remain relatively low. There is a need for education and capacity building initiatives amongst individuals living in Hong Kong and organisations impacted by climate change. This should involve community-based adaptation planning and capacity building for the private sector to put into place both climate change mitigation and adaptation measures.

There is a need for more research into the possible impacts of climate change on Hong Kong and the most cost effective adaptation strategies that should be put in place. Such research should include risk assessments of the impacts of climate change on all facets of society.

There is also a need for Hong Kong to demonstrate a degree of leadership on climate change issues if it is to maintain its reputation for a high degree of competitiveness and innovation.

The full report can be found here.