Hong Kong’s proposed East Lantau Metropolis will face flood risk amid global warming

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 September, 2017, 5:20pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 September, 2017, 9:50pm

Sitting in my flat on Mui Wo’s waterfront during Severe Typhoon Hato last month, I saw what a No 10 typhoon can do to an area at sea-level, as the waves surged onto the street, flooded the car park and lapped at shops. Those scenes, and the knee-high submersion of other low-lying areas, are another reminder of how delusional is the government’s “vision” about building a city in the middle of the sea.

No other government in the world is planning a city vulnerable to rising sea levels. Yet the Hong Kong government wants to create the so-called East Lantau Metropolis by reclaiming land around two islands east of Lantau.

Up to 700,000 people will be housed on this 1,000-hectare metropolis, with schools, clinics and a business district.

Bridges or tunnels and railways totalling 29km will link this vast new town with the rest of Hong Kong.

Coastal communities everywhere, from Florida to Bangladesh, face rising seas and fiercer storms stemming from global warming; many are spending millions to mitigate the effects. Several scientific reports from China predict the sea level will rise one to two metres in the Pearl River Delta area within 100 years.

But our government’s Sustainable Lantau Blueprint says nothing on this risk. Its planners actually started exploring the idea of reclaiming 1,000 hectares around the islands of Kau Yi Chau and Hei Ling Chau in 1983; then, the concept was dubbed the East Lantau Island. The science of climate change was not well-understood at the time, so those planners can be excused for not taking into account the implications of global warming.

But the science is widely understood and unambiguous now. Yet the East Lantau Island of 30 years ago has been revived as the East Lantau Metropolis. Perhaps our planners are climate change deniers?

The HK$400 billion East Lantau Metropolis is not viable simply in terms of the environmental risk, never mind its astronomical cost and that it also cannot be justified on the basis of population, housing or economic needs.

It is a Beijing-pleasing project, to be realised over a 30-year time horizon, which former chief executive Leung Chun-ying had not thought through before he announced it in his January 2014 policy address.

Three years on, the government has provided few details of the project. But it is seeking HK$248 million in taxpayers’ money to do a feasibility study – the most expensive such study in the history of Hong Kong.

Tom Yam, Lantau