Volunteers support firefighters during a wildfire next to the village of Kamatriades in Greece. Photo: AFP
by Neil Newman
by Neil Newman

The US, Britain and Europe ‘led’ in creating climate change. China, Japan and Australia can lead the solution

  • 10,973 offshore wind power turbines generate 30 per cent of the UK’s electricity needs. Hong Kong has one lonely turbine on Lamma Island that perhaps can power a village
  • The 2021 IPCC report may be the turning point when we are forced consider where Hong Kong and the rest of Asia is on renewable energy

Brits in the UK love to talk about the weather. It is the topic of conversation which is guaranteed to come up when meeting and greeting, followed by blaming delays in public transport on the dreadful weather. It’s the same broken record: how rotten the summer is and, indeed, how all summers have worsened since 1976 – the best summer in living memory, now 45 years ago.

I’m just as bad. Sitting by the Discovery Bay ferry pier with my pint, I’m likely to witter on about how hot it has been this past week, or how wet it has been, and how mushrooms are growing on my unused ties in the closet.

The changing weather has recently got the globe talking too, with widespread storms this year flooding parts of China, Germany, Australia, and Britain – followed by giant hailstones the size of golf balls in northern England. There was record snow in Madrid, and rare and heavy snow in Texas and parts of Brazil. Air temperatures during the Pacific northwest “heat dome” cooked eggs while wildfires raged in Oregon and parts of Greece. The most recent oddity was a tropical storm that hit New England last week, landing on Rhode Island while some friends with kids cowered in their basement. And what about snow in Sichuan in August?

The destabilisation of weather patterns has been an increasing concern for scientists who regularly deliver the message that we are responsible, to many deaf ears. Perhaps we are still in denial, or just don’t believe the warnings, as we continue to allow frivolous industries like cryptocurrency mining – the global electricity consumption from Bitcoin mining outstrips that of Bangladesh.
Historically, some have expressed doubt about the climate emergency, arguing that warming overall temperatures were a normal occurrence caused by the Earth’s wobbly orbit, or some other natural influence. Or that it was all made up for political purposes. Never mind that oil companies like Exxon knew about climate change nearly 45 years ago, but spent decades telling the world otherwise.
In a much-publicised report this month by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), to my mind, all doubt was removed. And the report is clearly compiled as a wake-up call for policymakers.


What is China doing about climate change?

What is China doing about climate change?
The term “ global warming” had its origins in British universities, at a time when no one had any idea that it would have such an impact, and it was used during the years of prime minister Margaret Thatcher to help deal with the coal miners’ strikes – a thorn in the side of successive British governments throughout the 1970s and 1980s. The last strike led to the government forcing the closure of mines and the eventual dismantling of the coal industry, which in most part had been supported by the faltering steel industry and electricity generation which was moving on to new fuels after the clean air acts of 1956 and 1968.

For a while, “global warming” became a buzz word to get university funding. If proposals for scientific projects included the magical phrase, the government would immediately pull out the chequebook. The long-term effect of that has been to breed sceptics – myself included – and until recently that was also the US government’s view. But the IPCC tells governments bluntly that our lifestyles, historically and currently, are now coming back to bite us. As the industrial revolution got under way some 250 years ago, we inadvertently started a process that would disrupt the delicate balance of the jet streams that dictate our weather. It is not a blanket of smog that is keeping us warm on Earth, it is far more complex and dangerous than that.

Please bear with my rudimentary understanding of meteorology. The weather on Earth is the result of a temperature imbalance as the sun’s warming rays hit us while the planet spins on its axis each day, at a slight angle, and orbits the sun each year. This causes heating and cooling in bands around the planet: one starting at the equator over sweaty Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Balikpapan, then heading north or south. Another is over the chilly polar regions – in the northern hemisphere that means Siberia and northern parts of China, including the permanently frozen city of Mohe. Then there are the comfy parts sandwiched in the middle, with seasons of the year: Hong Kong, Beijing, Tokyo, etc.


Global warming dangerously close to being out of control: US climate report

Global warming dangerously close to being out of control: US climate report
These bands meet 6-8 miles up in the atmosphere where the temperature differences between them create strong winds, known as jet streams. These jet streams explain why getting from Hong Kong to Tokyo by plane takes three hours while getting back is a bumpy five-and-a-half hours. They are generally predictable and very useful to airlines, though we didn’t even know jet streams existed until relatively recently when we flew aircraft high enough to discover them. And we didn’t know how sensitive they were to changes in temperature until we started to get whacked by the weather.

These jet streams move around on their own and influence the weather on the ground. A jet-stream moving north in the northern hemisphere brings hotter, drier weather with clear and sunny days, and when moving south beings cold, rain and snow. The heating of the Earth’s upper atmosphere is now causing the jet streams to twist and turn further and more violently than normal, and the more they move the more extreme weather we get on the ground.

Can it be reversed? Probably not. Can it get worse? Certainly – or so it appears from the computer models. If that’s true, and we are able to put the brakes on further heating of the atmosphere, perhaps the future impact can be slowed down while we find a permanent fix.

It’s a gas: Saudi, Japan and China pivot to clean hydrogen

Slowing climate change will largely rely on government-led investment and regulation of industries, not on the likes of you and I turning the air con down a notch. I am expecting there to be a crescendo of government promises and budget allocations ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow this November, and with it we are likely to see a convergence of ideas. So I think it is worth considering a selection of renewable energy stocks for the portfolio again.

I am expecting the following to happen:

  • The next stage of renewable energy development will be led by Asia, with China and Japan competing for the major projects around the region, both solar and wind.
  • Britain will be used as the model for offshore wind power, as the buildout has been so successful that the country’s wind farms can cover 30 per cent of its daily need, and Brits no longer rely on coal for power. The latest turbine technology at the Dogger Bank Windfarm can generate one day’s power for two houses with just one turn of a blade. By contrast, Hong Kong has one miserable turbine – a 15-year-old gift from Li Ka-shing to Lamma Island – with plans as stale as the turbine itself for more offshore capacity to generate up to 1 per cent of Hong Kong’s needs.
  • Australia could be the region’s model for green hydrogen and small, localised wind and solar farms. If demand does develop, there are few other places in Asia with the scale and the resources to do it.


Grim warning for Hong Kong as UN releases major report on climate crisis

Grim warning for Hong Kong as UN releases major report on climate crisis

The impact of severe weather is global, but the major effects on economic growth could be local. Across developing Asia, industries ranging from finance and commerce, to manufacturing, and primary industries such as farming are symbiotic across borders in a region that has more than its fair share of natural disasters.

Disastrous weather events this year have prompted a lot of talk, and I’m expecting that Asia can get ahead of November’s climate change conference with some positive action in the near term. Just as Britain, Europe and the United States led in creating the problem as far back as the industrial revolution, this is Asia’s opportunity to capitalise on spearheading the solution. China, Japan and Australia are particularly well-positioned, especially if they take some pointers from Britain.

Neil Newman is a thematic portfolio strategist focused on pan-Asian equity markets