Hong Kong youth views: what would you tell world leaders at COP21 about climate change?

Young Post, and six other youth publications from around the world, asked readers to answer two questions about environmental issues. Here are their responses.


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The questions we asked:

1 If you could give a speech to the world leaders at COP 21, what would you say?
2 What do you usually do to help the environment?

Henry Lui, 16, Sha Tin College

Photo: Henry Lui

1 I’d plead for them to prioritise the interests of the international people, rather than that of their own nations. It is extremely worrying how some politicians, particularly from developed nations, are worried that any commitment to reducing emissions in their own country makes them “less competitive”. It’s time for us to think of ourselves as the “people of the world” instead.

2 Though one can’t be too overzealous, I think that everyone should, and can, play a role in slowing down climate change. Private cars are definitely one of the bigger contributors to global carbon emissions; I think it’s time we abandon our cars in favour of public transport. In a small city such as Hong Kong, there’s no real need for one to own a private car, the public transport system already does the job. If we all abandoned fossil-fuel-powered cars, we’d be doing ourselves a great favour.

Joy Pamnani, 17, PLK Ngan Po Ling College 

Photo: Joy Pamnani

1 For starters, I think I’d encourage more fixed targets to combat climate change. At the Copenhagen conference, most countries agreed to combat the issue, but no fixed concrete plans were formulated. I would definitely call for that in Paris.

As far as previous climate conferences have gone, I am aware that a lot of time isn’t actually spent discussing strategies to curb global warming, but more on who deserves greater blame for the situation we see today. There are developing countries pointing the finger at developed ones, saying their Industrial Revolution sparked all this chaos, and developed countries ought to bear greater responsibility. But the developing countries are no less guilty, with nations like China being the largest polluters these days.

We also saw the US back out of Kyoto Protocol, not wishing to take part. I would say this was also probably due to economic reasons. A lot of countries are very economy-oriented, don’t bother to look at the environmental consequences of their actions and back out of agreements at the end of these conferences.

If I could give a speech at the conference, I’d first probably tell everyone to stop finding an excuse not to bear responsibility. Everyone should bear responsibility, as we humans have made this mess, and it’s our duty to clean it up, regardless of what country we come from. For nations only focused on money making, I’d emphasise the importance of environmental protection as a global issue, and the importance of their support in fighting the issue.

I mean, it’s for our future generations to enjoy life just like we did; not having to suffer through heat waves and floods, the increased risk of diseases like malaria, or actually getting to experience winter in the month of November (unlike us Hongkongers).

For our grandchildren, our great grandchildren, and many more to come …

2 I guess there are a lot of things we can do to live a low carbon lifestyle. There’s taking public transport, or walking, instead of using private cars, to reduce carbon emissions; saving electricity by turning off appliances when not necessary or buying energy-efficient appliances. We’ve seen quite a few electric taxis on roads these days in Hong Kong, and I’m sure a lot more similar private electric vehicles could do good to our atmosphere.

There’s the 4Rs; and another way a lot of people tend to overlook is actually diet. I actually just finished my IES [Independent Enquiry Study, a school-based assessment that is part of Hong Kong’s Liberal Studies syllabus for the HKDSE] about how vegetarianism can be further promoted in Hong Kong. I learned that cows release methane into the atmosphere, whereas a vegetarian diet is actually supposed to be low carbon (yay vegetarianism!). If further promoted by NGOs or governments, we’d see a lot more people adopting low-carbon lifestyles.

Catherine Wang, 16, Chinese International School

Photo: Catherine Wang

1 It doesn’t snow in Hong Kong. If anything, for most of the year it’s unbearably hot. Even the most devoted fans of Hong Kong weather have claimed that with all the humidity, the air is so thick with moisture that getting around on the streets is like trying to walk through a swimming pool. Towards the end of the year, typically from November on through February, winter arrives and brings a relieving, if sometimes harsh, “cold”.

Over the seven years that I have lived here, I’ve come to love Hong Kong dearly, particularly its weather. However, temperatures have been rising. This time last year, I was swaddled in sweaters. Now, I can get around in little more a T-shirt and shorts. Empirically, we can prove that this is change in temperature is real. The Hong Kong Observatory has stated that this has been the warmest winter in 22 years. The clearest cause for this, they comment, is climate change.

I wanted to use this story about the changing winters as an example of my concerns for the state of this planet. Climate change is just one of many serious environmental issues that concern us all, including waste management, sustainable energy, and wildlife preservation. As a teenager, it is very difficult growing up in a world where every day you are exposed to these seemingly incurable global problems. It is particularly difficult seeing these issues and feeling that there is nothing that can be done to address them.

Why is there still not enough being done on a national scale? Time and time again, I have heard of conferences: UN conferences, diplomatic assemblies, talks, perhaps even like this one. I have read of treaties written up about Carbon emissions and over the use of ‘Green’ technologies.

Over dinner the other night, I spoke to my mother about this topic, and she said that “I would understand when I get older”, and that I “couldn’t expect anything to be perfect, anyway”. I don’t see how growing up would justify indifference, or an acceptance of things clearly problematic – do we not all have a responsibility to change things for the better? Age cannot simply an excuse for apathy. We cannot ignore these problems.

I know this because there is a need to make a change, and a change soon. I am not the only young citizen with the future of our planet. Think of a daughter, or a student, or family member. We will be inheriting this world, wrecked ecosystems. Right now, winter in Hong Kong is warmer than ever. If I look into the future now, I can only see more winters that are becoming hotter and hotter. I do not know where they lead.

I do not want to live in a world like this – nobody does.

Please, I have not lived on this planet for as long as you, but my appeal is urgent. To all the developed countries of the world – please do not let corporate interests overshadow environmental responsibility. Do not let cynicism prevent you from placing the well-being of the environment on your political agendas. Do not believe that you do not have a duty to make a difference.

To all the developing countries of the world – please do not lose sight of the importance of environmental preservation. Do not let economic expansion blind you from the consequences of destroying the environment. Do not believe that you are not enough to make a difference.

Our environmental difficulties are very real, and they are caused by the dangerous mindset that we cannot do anything to prevent it. Our apathy as an international community as been slowly cooking us from the inside out, from our households, to our own communities, to our countries, to the entire world. To rephrase the words of Billy Joel, it does not matter how the fire has started; it is time now that we see it and work together to put it out.

2 Recently, apart from turning off the lights and switching off unused appliances, I’ve taken to recycling my empty cups, used napkins, half-blank pieces of paper, and other bits and bobs that I would have thrown away before. What troubles me, though, is the lack of recycling support in Hong Kong. Remarkably enough, many supposedly “recycled” goods are in fact simply sold to highly selective reproducers, with large proportion of goods being thrown in the trash. I hope to be able to do more research on local recycling facilities and see what initiatives can be made. 

Additionally, I’ve been trying to go vegetarian in an effort to reduce my intake of meat. The livestock and meat production industry is actually one of the most environmentally taxing, using huge amounts of water, fuel, and land annually. Going vegetarian will hopefully help reduce my environmental impact in this regard.