Efforts to rein in emissions must be accelerated

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 November, 2015, 1:50am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 November, 2015, 4:34pm

The 21st century has been hailed as the Asian century, but that could yet depend on more effective efforts to limit climate change that threatens development goals. One prediction about failure to do so, from US-based group Climate Central, says some 45 million people in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tianjin could be displaced by rising seas if global temperatures rise 4 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, twice the accepted 2-degree target. And according to a new paper in the scientific journal Nature, climate change could shrink the global economy this century without action to prevent rises in carbon dioxide levels from burning of fossil fuels. Ominously, seven of the first nine months this year had the highest average global temperatures ever recorded.

It is peak season for such dire warnings, because it is just a couple of weeks now before a UN climate summit in Paris tries to strike an agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Whatever the outcome, Asian nations need to work together to combat global warming if this is to remain Asia's century. It is against this background that the Hong Kong government has issued a new report on measures already taken. Environment undersecretary Christine Loh Kung-wah says Hong Kong is closer to setting a time frame for a cap on rising emissions with the retirement of coal-fired generating units from 2017.

The summit is likely to result in an agreement under which governments set voluntary emissions targets, rather than a legally binding treaty. So far, global carbon-cutting pledges fall far short of limiting warming this century to 2 degrees. In that respect, it is disappointing that Hong Kong has not followed the mainland's example in pledging that annual emissions will peak by 2030 on the back of heavy investment in low-carbon economic growth. Environmentalists point out that current measures to rein in emissions by 2020 can only reach the lower ends of reduction targets. There is room for accelerating progress with more efficient and less wasteful energy use and environmentally cleaner transport, among other things.