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Climate change

Proposed artificial island near Lantau in Hong Kong could suffer same fate as Jebi-hit Osaka airport, green groups warn

Value of costly project questioned amid fears over an uncertain future with climate change and increasingly unpredictable weather

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 September, 2018, 9:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 September, 2018, 9:00am

Extreme weather could flood a proposed artificial island in Hong Kong just as Typhoon Jebi had shut down Osaka’s airport, which was built on reclaimed land 24 years ago, environmental groups said on Wednesday.

The warning came as a public consultation on how to boost land supply, conducted by a government-appointed task force, was under way and set to end on September 26. Eighteen options have been put up for discussion, including building a 1,000-hectare (2,500 acres) island east of Lantau Island.

Leung Wing-mo, former assistant director of the Hong Kong Observatory, said the sea level in Hong Kong was forecast to rise by more than 1 metre from 2000 levels by the end of this century.

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The weather in Hong Kong had also become more “extreme” in recent years and the government should consider the possibility of the proposed island being flooded, as in the case of Kansai International Airport, Leung said. He is now a spokesman for climate advocacy group 350HK.

“[Japan] did not plan thoroughly before the airport was built. The consequences can be dire if [the Hong Kong government] also fails to consider all scenarios in building the artificial island,” Leung said.

[Japan] did not plan thoroughly ... The consequences can be dire if [Hong Kong] also fails to consider all scenarios
Leung Wing-mo, 350HK

Typhoon Jebi tore across southwest Japan on Tuesday, forcing the Osaka airport – Japan’s third busiest – to shut down. Strong winds also sent a 2,591-tonne tanker smashing into the only bridge connecting the airport to the mainland. Runways were inundated, causing hundreds of flight cancellations.

On Wednesday, rescuers began to evacuate thousands of travellers stranded at the airport. As of Wednesday evening, Japan recorded 11 deaths and hundreds of injuries caused by the typhoon.

Roy Tam Hoi-pong, founder of Green Sense, said when the airport was still in the planning stages more than two decades ago, the Japanese government failed to consider the amount of precipitation a typhoon such as Jebi – Japan’s strongest in 25 years – could bring.

With the climate becoming more extreme and unpredictable, Tam said he feared the Hong Kong government would likewise fail to predict a similar disaster years from now.

“Twenty-five or 30 years from now, a typhoon the magnitude of Jebi may come every year,” Tam warned. “You can build the artificial island higher, but then it would cost much more. It is not worth it.”

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He also dismissed remarks by Stanley Wong Yuen-fai, chairman of the Task Force on Land Supply, that reclamation was one of the options most supported by the public.

Tam cited an August study his group conducted with Tom Yam, a member of the Citizens Task Force on Land Resources, that showed it would cost about HK$460 billion (US$58.6 billion) to build the island and its connections to other parts of Hong Kong.

The government has yet to announce its own estimations.

The green groups admitted that rising sea levels could flood not just the proposed island, but other coastal residential areas as well. But because the island would cost billions to build, they asked the government to consider if such an idea was worth it.