A jogger in Hong Kong during a hot weather warning on September 12. Photo: Jonathan Wong
Kitty Tam
Kitty Tam

COP27 should be Hong Kong’s call to climate action

  • The government shouldn’t be among those dragging their heels on climate action – not when it has promised to make the city carbon neutral by 2050
  • In addition to investment in green initiatives, Hong Kong needs transparency on how money spent directly translates to lower emissions and less waste
Sunday marked the conclusion of yet another United Nations climate change conference (COP27). The goal was to reset targets to save humanity from the ravaging impacts of the climate crisis, yet the result was inadequate, with many countries resisting change.
In 2015, at COP21, 196 parties signed the Paris Agreement on climate change. It obliges participating countries to commit to action plans for climate change mitigation, adaptation and financial alignment, with the aim of limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, ideally to 1.5 degrees.
The World Resources Institute has highlighted that current commitments are set to bring down carbon emissions in 2030 by just 7 per cent from 2019 levels. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, emissions must decline by at least 43 per cent to keep the 1.5 degree goal within reach. In other words, all parties must strengthen their commitments and act with greater urgency.
As a city with a significant global footprint, Hong Kong has a role to play in tackling climate change. Its Climate Action Plan 2050, first published in 2021, promises a net-zero-carbon future. To meet this commitment, government bureaus must work together to make sustainability the core of all future development.
Regarding climate change mitigation, the government has pledged a 7.5-10 per cent increase in renewable energy by 2035. This journey must start with an environmental assessment to confirm we are using the right resources to optimise renewable energy production while avoiding adverse impacts on biodiversity.
For example, instead of promoting overconsumption by relying on waste-to-energy projects, the government should focus on transitioning from a linear economy to a circular one. Meanwhile, proposals to build offshore wind farms should involve drawing up a marine spatial plan to prevent conflicts between marine users.
Demonstrators at the COP27 climate summit in Egypt, on November 12. Photo: AP
In addition, the government should establish a standardised building energy rating system and a public platform for disclosing building energy consumption. Buildings account for 90 per cent of Hong Kong’s electricity usage and 60 per cent of the city’s carbon emissions. With publicly accessible and comparable data, building managers and occupants will be pushed to improve efficiency.

Regarding adaptation, it is encouraging to see countries at COP27 recognise the importance of nature-based solutions. Hong Kong must embrace this approach to counter the effects of climate change.

President Xi Jinping has already stated the importance of wetland conservation in protecting coastlines from flooding and promised to establish an international mangrove centre in Shenzhen. As part of the Greater Bay Area, Hong Kong should show a similar commitment to green infrastructure.

This means updating the Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance to ensure all future projects are climate proof and carbon neutral by 2050. But we must also conduct a worst-case scenario environmental assessment of sea-level rise and storm surges during extreme weather events, to ensure all future developments are safe from the impacts of climate change.


Central under water in 80 years? Hong Kong’s coming climate crisis

Central under water in 80 years? Hong Kong’s coming climate crisis

As for aligning finance, the government has promised to allocate HK$240 billion (US$43 billion) for climate change adaptation and mitigation over the next 15-20 years. But, to achieve meaningful outcomes, the government must be transparent about how funding will directly contribute to emissions reduction.

Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu has stated the government’s aim of developing the city into an international carbon market. To avoid greenwashing, this system must have clear carbon-removal objectives and incentives to go beyond commitments.

Moreover, carbon offset projects must create benefits for local communities and ecosystems. For example, mangrove restoration for carbon offsets should take into account the location and species of mangrove to avoid adverse impacts on biodiversity and improve the livelihoods of local residents.

How Hong Kong’s carbon trading market can promote green building

At COP27, many countries were unwilling to agree to the targets necessary to set the planet on a 1.5-degree trajectory. However, this is an opportunity for Hong Kong to show the world its commitment by setting ambitious climate key performance indicators and a road map for reaching carbon neutrality before 2030.

The government must also disclose its energy use and carbon reduction data to set a good example for other sectors to follow. It’s time for Hong Kong to take climate action seriously to deliver a safe and liveable future.

Kitty Tam is assistant manager, conservation policy, at WWF-Hong Kong