Hong Kong can do its part in global commitment to fight climate change
Vincent Piket calls on China to take a lead in tackling climate change, with support from Hong Kong
Over 800 scientists from 80 countries assessing over 30,000 scientific papers have agreed that human influence has led to a pattern of increasingly frequent extreme weather events. The Pearl River Delta is one of the 10 most vulnerable regions in the world when it comes to storms and sea-level rise. Last year was the Earth's hottest year in over a century.
In Hong Kong, the weather overall was warmer than usual, and the serious air pollution affecting it, and many other cities in China, shares a common cause with climate change: the burning of fossil fuel.
According to the Hong Kong Observatory, if no global action is taken, Hong Kong might enter a "high carbon dioxide concentration scenario", where temperatures would rise by about 3 to 6 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, leading to more typhoons, floods and diseases such as malaria and dengue.
This year is crucial for global climate policy - a key UN climate conference aiming to reach an agreement on global action will be held in December in Paris.
The government, business leaders and the people of Hong Kong are increasingly conscious of the need to tackle this issue if the city wants to stay viable and competitive. Hong Kong has plans to cut energy intensity by 40 per cent by 2025 and to reduce carbon intensity by 50-60 per cent by 2020. But a lot more can still be done to "de-carbonise" the economy, through innovation in many areas, including cleaner energy, energy efficiency and saving, green building, low-carbon urban planning and sustainable consumption. Most importantly, Hong Kong has the assets - funds, expertise, governance and system - to innovate and become a low-carbon smart city. This would set the example for the low-carbon transition in China and the rest of Asia, where the need for smart urbanisation is most pressing.
We hope the Hong Kong government will seize the opportunity and show even more leadership through ambitious policymaking in the run-up to the climate change conference in Paris.
Some fear that tackling climate change may adversely affect economic growth. But analysis shows that an efficient, low-carbon path is key to economic success. Climate change should not only be seen as a challenge but also as an opportunity. The EU has proved that economic growth can be decoupled from greenhouse gas emissions. Between 1990 and 2012, we reduced such emissions by 19 per cent, while our economy grew by 45 per cent, with significant job creation in the "green economy" and massive savings on energy imports. We achieved this through legally binding targets.
Our target now is to cut emissions by at least 40 per cent by 2030 (compared to 1990 levels). To achieve this, we have climate change legislation and plans at European, national, regional and individual city levels. There are clear opportunities to innovate, create economic value and ensure sustainable growth.
There is no city in the world with greater potential to do this than Hong Kong. Hong Kong and the EU can and should be partners to help secure our low-carbon future. The EU and its member states are keen to share experience and know-how with Hong Kong on climate action and green development.
In Hong Kong, the EU Office and the consulates of the member states interact with policymakers, companies, scientists, financial experts, non-governmental organisations, students and the general public to raise awareness. In the context of France hosting the climate change conference this year, the French consulate is organising talks on the negotiation process, lectures by scientists, exhibitions and educational activities from this month to December.
If we are to stand a chance of keeping global warming to within 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels (the globally agreed objective) and avoid catastrophe, the international community must reach an agreement at the conference in Paris. The EU wants a robust and ambitious international agreement that creates a common legal framework applying to all countries, while taking into account the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. Hong Kong has an important role to play, although it is not a stand-alone party to the UN process.
Significant financial resources are crucial to securing success at the Paris conference. Over the next 15 years, the global economy will require an estimated US$89 trillion of investment on energy, smart urban policies and land use systems as part of the fight against climate change. The EU is committed to "climate" finance via the Green Climate Fund, of which it is the largest contributor. However, public funding alone will not be sufficient.
China has estimated that, through public resources, it can only deliver 15 per cent of the annual investment of about US$322 billion needed for low-carbon growth on the mainland. Hong Kong, as China's international financial centre, can play an important role to help channel private finance into mainland China as well as the region.
The EU and its member states will play their part to make sure that the Paris conference can deliver. The EU's binding emissions reduction target of at least 40 per cent by 2030 will be our "national contribution" to the Paris agreement. We urge similarly ambitious action from other countries and regions.
Of course, there can be no successful outcome in Paris without China. Recent developments are greatly encouraging, both on the domestic and international fronts. So we expect and look forward to China showing leadership and playing a major positive role at the Paris conference.
Hong Kong can play its part. As a mega-city belonging to the Large Cities Climate Leadership Group, Hong Kong can contribute its experience towards finding urban solutions for low-carbon development and thus contribute to China's overall strategy.
There is no time to waste for Hong Kong, which stands to reap benefits by pursuing green development.
Vincent Piket is head of the EU Office to Hong Kong and Macau. This article is also on behalf of the consuls general of Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom