Rich Hong Kong must do its fair share to battle global warming

Wang Binbin says we must pull our weight in fight against climate change and the poverty it creates

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 December, 2013, 6:44pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 December, 2013, 2:17am

As Christmas approaches and 2013 comes to a close, many in Hong Kong will be hunkering down to do the same thing: finalising accounts and making sure those balance sheets balance out.

But no matter how much fancy accounting we do, there is something that won't balance out come New Year's Eve, and that is our record of resource use. There is no doubt about it: We use far more than we have. Not only does this affect the environment, by contributing to climate change, it also hurts the livelihoods of poor people globally.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in a report issued in September that the main culprit behind extreme weather events was global warming. The report revealed a wealth of data showing that climate change exists. What's more, it showed there was a certainty of at least 95 per cent that human factors were behind it.

Despite the mounting evidence, Hong Kong remains poorly equipped to play its part in tackling climate change. According to a report released on December 11 by sustainability strategists Carbon Care Asia, only one-tenth of 357 companies listed on the Hang Seng Composite Index produced formal reports on their greenhouse gas emissions - reports that would form the vital first step towards strategies combating climate change.

That is just one indicator of how unprepared Hong Kong is. This unpreparedness is undermining the valuable role that it could - and should - play.

Hong Kong has a lot to offer in helping with the problem and the government must take the lead.

Soon, it will start public consultations on fuel mix and review carbon-intensity reduction targets. Official figures show coal accounts for 54 per cent of our fuel. Adding more renewable sources to the mix will go a long way. The territory can also better regulate its power plants and cut down on energy consumption in its buildings by making them more efficient.

Encouragingly, Hong Kong is becoming more aware of the global interconnectedness of climate change. According to a report released in September by Civic Exchange, the proportion of Hongkongers who were concerned "a great deal" about mainland China's environmental problems has doubled since 2001.

More than 80 per cent of the respondents support these measures to address climate change: altering the government's agreement with power companies to allow building owners to use renewable technologies to generate power, which can be used in the power grid; electrifying transport; and requiring developers to build energy-efficient buildings.

Good signs are coming from the mainland, too. Last year, we found in our survey of 2,000 respondents that one-quarter of them - many of them affluent - were willing to become low-carbon city dwellers. The findings of the survey, conducted in 20 cities in collaboration with Renmin University, were released in July.

About 83 per cent of the quarter said they were willing to pay more for environmentally friendly products. About 45 per cent of them would buy low-carbon products if the price difference was within 10 per cent that of their normal counterparts.

These results give us reason to be optimistic that wealthier Chinese consumers can be convinced to switch to a lower-carbon footprint.

The direct effect of climate change on poverty can be seen in the way extreme weather events affect farmers, livelihoods, property and infrastructure, and in the toll they take on human life. People in developing countries are more susceptible to the effects of climate change because their agriculture and lives depend on natural precipitation. They are less equipped to adapt to changes in water supply and do not recover as easily from natural disasters.

Take Gansu , where Oxfam is working with farmers to improve their livelihoods. The rainy season, which used to last from May to October a decade ago, has shortened to two months. The average rainfall has dropped from 200 millimetres per year to 50mm. The farmers regularly contend with hailstorms and weak harvests.

What people living in places such as Gansu need are initiatives through which they can develop stronger livelihoods and better ways of dealing with natural disasters.

The results reaped by Oxfam's programmes in Gansu demonstrate that the right kind of support can help poor people cope better.

Today, more than 800 million people go hungry every day. They would have a much better chance at breaking the cycle of poverty if they could get some reprieve from the tough environmental conditions that face them - conditions that rich countries have the power to change.

It's time for Hong Kong to do its part for climate change, and for the world's poor people. Now that's food for thought this Christmas.

Wang Binbin is manager of the climate change team at Oxfam Hong Kong