Extreme weather

Cost of proposed artificial island in Hong Kong will more than double if extreme weather and rising sea levels are designed for, experts say

Proposed East Lantau Metropolis will have to be built higher to guard against rising sea levels and storm surges brought by super typhoons, environmental specialists say

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 September, 2018, 10:58pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 September, 2018, 11:12pm

The cost of a proposed 1,000-hectare artificial island in Hong Kong could at least double if it is to be properly designed to fend off extreme weather such as super typhoons and heatwaves, scholars and environmentalists warned.

There is no official estimate of the cost of building the so-called East Lantau Metropolis, off Hong Kong’s largest outlying island, but non-government groups have put the figure at between HK$400 billion (US$51.3 billion) and HK$500 billion, based on past reclamation projects.

But environmental specialists said at the launch of a climate change education programme on Saturday that extreme natural disasters could become worse in the future as a result of global warming, which meant the proposed island would have to be built higher to guard against rising sea levels and storm surges brought by super typhoons.

“If you want to minimise the chance of flooding, of course the higher [above sea level] the better,” said Gabriel Lau Ngar-cheung, director of Chinese University’s Institute of Environment, Energy and Sustainability. “But of course the cost will be far greater.”

Ringo Mak Wing-hoi, co-founder of climate change concern group 350 Hong Kong, cited a 2012 Dutch study as saying the cost of adapting infrastructure ranged from 9 billion euros (US$10.4 billion) to 46 billion euros if the sea level rose between 24 centimetres and 1.5 metres.

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Mak said this showed that infrastructure costs would at least double as the sea level rose, which meant the government-proposed East Lantau project could cost well over HK$1,000 billion.

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

Leung cautioned the city to plan ahead for extreme weather, citing the heavily flooded and damaged Kansai Airport in Japan’s Osaka during last week’s Typhoon Jebi as an example. The airport is on reclaimed land.

Jebi caused at least 11 deaths and hundreds of injuries in Japan.

Lau said if Hong Kong followed the trend of global warming, the temperature could rise to 40 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, compared to the existing record of 36.6 degrees.

Thousands evacuated from flooded airport after typhoon slams Japan

He said more detailed studies about the proposed island’s impact on sea breeze would be needed, as such wind served as a “natural air conditioner” to prevent the city from overheating.

“An island that big will certainly change the circulation pattern of Hong Kong,” he said.

“I think we need to do actual simulations … to be sure how it will affect the wind flow, dispersion of pollutants and interactions with the surrounding land and sea.”

John Leonard Chan, a graduate student of the University of the Philippines Los Baños, watched a neighbouring family drown in their own home when Super Typhoon Haiyan hit the country on November 8, 2013. Chan’s home city Tacloban was one of the worst hit areas.

Chan said the city’s evacuation centre, which also flooded, was built on reclaimed land.

“Putting reclamation there is putting yourself in danger, because it’s not safe for you to put land in the middle of the sea,” Chan said.

East Lantau is one of 18 options the public are being asked to choose from to plug a predicted shortage of 1,200 hectares of land for Hong Kong’s housing and economic development in the next three decades. The public consultation will end on September 26.