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Environment

Chinese University teams up with University of Exeter to launch joint research project on climate change and meat eating in China

The HK$20 million Joint Centre for Environmental Sustainability and Resilience will look for solutions to global problems

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 June, 2018, 9:30am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 June, 2018, 9:30am

A Hong Kong and British university have teamed up to build a HK$20 million (US$2.5 million) joint research centre in the city that will focus on finding solutions to climate and environmental change, and their affect on public health.

On the research agenda is a comprehensive survey of how dietary changes in China, which consumes 28 per cent of the world’s meat, are affecting the global environment.

Professor Gavin Shaddick, co-director of the Chinese University–University of Exeter Joint Centre for Environmental Sustainability and Resilience, said collaboration between different academic disciplines was needed to tackle modern global environmental challenges.

“By working together to understand local problems, and how local problems are essentially part of a much bigger global eco-structure, we might start to understand how we might make mitigation or policies both on a global level and an individual one,” Shaddick, the chairman of data science and statistics at the University of Exeter, said.

He cited issues such as cross-border air pollution and flood risks as mutual challenges faced by both cities.

“Seeing where things might be similar and understanding the differences, will be essential and deciding how to tackle these challenges,” Shaddick said.

The new centre, which is the first of its kind in Hong Kong, would meld the school’s expertise in climate science, economics and law, with the Chinese University’s research strengths in agricultural biotechnology and air pollution modelling, and public health.

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Professor Gabriel Lau Ngar-cheung, another co-director said collaborative projects in the pipeline include studies on changing dietary patterns on the mainland, and the impacts on climate change.

“In China, people’s diets are shifting from a mainly vegetarian-centred diet to a meat-centred one. This has a lot of implications economically and environmentally,” Lau, a renowned climate and meteorological expert, said.

“We’d like to conduct a large survey of how diets are changing, and if its true [that they are]. This is one area that both Exeter and ourselves are very interested in.”

An estimated 14.5 per cent of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock.

With growing wealth, average per capita meat consumption in China has grown from just 13kg per year in 1982 to 63kg in 2016. The figure is expected to surpass 90kg by 2030, though the government is hoping to lower this.

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Assistant professor Amos Tai Pui-kuen of CUHK’s Earth System Science Programme said the research produced would have global implications.

“By bringing the two teams together we can look at very impactful cross-disciplinary [subjects] that combine the physical and social sciences, to look at how we can sustain future food production and supply for urban populations.”

The centre is also discussing the possibility of studying how climate change has been changing coastal environments in subtropical regions such as Hong Kong, developing a LIDAR (light detection and ranging) network to look at the vertical distribution of air pollutant concentrations, and studying the economic and policy connections between climate change management and governance.

The universities will contribute equal amounts of funding to a shared pot, which will be used to fund the centre’s research.