Climate Change – Never Too Late To Start

By Ronald Leung 22 December, 2020

A year and a half into working in CWR, Leung shares his climate 'change' story & hopes for a resilient Hong Kong

Climate change is a niche topic in HK where only 16% of 1,000 respondents believed it was significant in impact; this is a misconception as HK is extremely at risk from SLR & typhoons
HK ranked in the lowest quartile among 20 APAC cities in CWR's SLR Index, due to inadequate govt actions; it recently made a carbon pledge but still need more as SG started 10 yrs ago
Education is needed as HKers must know more about climate risks & be active if we want to have a say in the future of HK; we can also rebuild the long-long trust in the community along the way

Christmas is a time for good kids to receive presents from Santa. If caring and acting for planet earth are part of Santa’s criteria, that explains why I did not receive any gifts until I joined CWR.

As a young adult – born, raised, educated, and now working in Hong Kong – I never paid much attention to climate change; even at my first job at a property conglomerate. When confronted by the topic, I dismissed it as an exaggeration and believed that the most serious consequence HK could face would only be a few more typhoons per year.

Apparently, I am not the only one.

I am not alone in my old ways of thinking; only 16% in a poll think climate change impacts are significant to HK…

Climate change in Hong Kong is a niche topic that is discussed intensely within relevant communities but it’s largely absent from the public sphere. A public opinion poll by the PORI in early 2020 substantiated this claim – only 16% of the 1,000 participants thought climate change was more significant in impact than livelihood challenges, economic downturn, and health deterioration.

But my eyes have been opened after I worked on the 5 reports in the recent CWR Coastal Capital Threat Series and I now realise this is a dangerous misconception. It turns out that HK is extremely at risk from climate change impacts as a coastal city, particularly from sea level rise (SLR) and strong typhoons.

…yet, storm tides in HK could be as high as 10.7m by 2100

Our analysis shows that even if the world meets the Paris Agreement target of 1.5°C by 2100 (current pledges & targets point to a much higher warming of 2.6°C), SLR will still permanently submerge 7% of HK’s land and population respectively, plus impact our airport and port. And this is even before we use more granular maps and factor in storm tides which could be as high as 10.7m by 2100. If you think we are exaggerating, just see how 8m storm tides have engulfed Byron Bay in Australia 3 days ago WITHOUT typhoons.

Given that most of us live close to the coast and not at the Peak, this is worrying as the lack of government actions has taken a heavy toll in HK’s climate resilience plans vis-à-vis its peers (for more on which cities are ahead & which are behind, see here).

HK ranks in the lowest quartile among 20 APAC cities due to inadequate govt actions…

…SG started acting back in 2010

Our CWR APACCT 20 Index ranks HK in the lowest quartile among 20 APAC cities in both the 1.5°C (an unavoidable scenario) and 4°C (a must-avoid scenario) index. Although lagging behind the best-performers in the 1st quartile like Singapore, Auckland and Sydney is reasonable as they do not have typhoon risks, trailing 8 places behind Shenzhen with almost identical coastal threats can only be explained by inadequate government actions.

Perhaps the double-whammy of political unrest and COVID-19 have distracted the government from climate change, which is understandable, and it is unfair to disregard what it has already done such as the recent pledge for carbon neutrality before 2050 – all points to more emphasis on climate change.

But Singapore formed its National Climate Change Secretariat back in 2010 while HK still does not have a climate change department to this day so we must acknowledge that we are behind and must play catch-up. A good start would be the Lantau Tomorrow Vision. If the government plans to spend over half of our fiscal reserves, it better makes sure it’s climate-resilient and that means factoring in SLR and storm tides risks into the preliminary study.

We, as citizens, also cannot solely lay blame on the government if we want to have a say in the future of HK. Before I became more aware, rarely did I encounter any climate-related knowledge – whether it was on the street or in the classroom – and not everyone is as lucky as me to stumble upon a job opportunity at CWR. We must therefore be more informed on these imminent climate risks, particularly SLR, so that we can collectively drive actions that protect HK.

I know many HKers are still dispirited by politics and COVID-19, and rightly so. However, with the world waking up to the reality of the seriousness of climate change and taking actions, HK must reject to bask in cynicism and do nothing or else risk falling behind.

Together, we can ensure HK remains resilient & rebuild long-lost trust in the community

More importantly, we are all going to be affected by climate change so it’s in everyone interests to work together and ensure HK remains resilient in the face of dire risks. Along the way, maybe we can also rebuild the long-lost trust in the community and foster a more responsive culture in our politics. This is my Christmas wish for the year.

Further Reading

  • The CWR Survival Guides to Avoiding Atlantis – Sea levels can be 3m by 2100, putting urban real estate equivalent to 22 Singapores underwater in just 20 APAC capitals & cities. With US$5.7trn of annual GDP at stake, get on top of the new risk landscape to survive
  • Surviving Rising Seas – 20 APAC Cities: Who’s ahead & Who’s Behind? – The homes of 28mn to 100mn+ residents could be submerged in just 20 APAC cities. Which cities are more prepared? We walk you through the Top 5 Most Proactive & the Bottom 5 Laggards in our CWR APACCT 20 Index
  • COVID & Climate – Make Money Or Save Lives? – Governments are prioritising lives over money but with pressure to re-open the economy, can we use lessons learnt from COVID-19 to prepare for the climate crisis? CWR’s Ronald Leung explores the future of aviation and low oil prices
  • Asia, Why On Earth Would We Leave Our Future To G7? – With G7’s absent leadership & inability to plan for pandemics, CWR’s Debra Tan calls for Asia to step-up & lead the global fight against our climate crises. Tycoons, think about it – what’s the point of building empires that will kill your grandchildren?
  • Capital Threats Remain Post COVID – There is no vaccine for climate & water risks, yet some in the financial sector are still burying their heads. CWR’s Dharisho Mirando reminds us how our capital is at risk & steps we can take to reduce them while going green

More on Christmas

  • Treasure8 – Deploying Nutrition For Humanity – Hear from Treasure8 Co-CEOs Derk Hendrikson & Timothy Childs on how they are taking food waste and upcycling it into nutritious food resources for people
  • Questions for A Bottled Water Tycoon – Nongfu Springs is China’s biggest bottled water comapny but a deep dive on its water strategy leaves CWR’s Yuanchao Xu with questions for its founder & water tycoon
  • The Hidden Cost of Music – Are you endlessly streaming your favourite Christmas songs? Well, that could get you on Santa’s naughty list as CWR’s Dr. CT Low shows the cost of doing so & what you can do better for the climate
  • Zoom University – Better for the environment? – CWR intern, Kaspar Ip, has had to enroll in “Zoom Univeristy” as he can’t fly due to COVID-19. With many students like him in HK, he does the math to see which option is better for the environment?
  • The Gift Of Physical Climate Risk Assessment – Climate risks are already here. Companies, investors and banks should treat themselves to a climate risk assessment, like 427’s, as their Natalie Preudhomme, Communications Director, shares
Ronald Leung
Author: Ronald Leung
Hailing from Hong Kong, Ronald’s interest in geopolitical and economic issues led him to understand that climate change is one of the most pressing challenges of our times, yet politically, the topic lacked urgency and societal attention. This motivated him to join CWR upon graduation from the Master of Global Political Economy at The Chinese University of Hong Kong. He assists the team in research across various focus areas and sectors that CWR covers and works on the publication of CWR’s monthly newsletter. He also helps manage and expand our network of contributors plus keeps the content on our website updated. Prior to CWR, Ronald focused on market and competitor research in a property conglomerate and a travel tech start-up. Besides, he conducted country analysis and co-published geopolitical articles with his professor in CUHK. He hopes to use his experiences as a debate team captain in the University of Hong Kong (where he obtained a Bachelor in Accounting & Finance) to raise public awareness towards climate change in Hong Kong.
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