Dear John Lee, Heed President Xi’s “4 Hopes” for HK & Futureproof HK

By Chien Tat Low, Debra Tan 23 August, 2022

Rising seas could sink HK. The new government can safeguard HK by following President Xi’s 4 proposals made during HK’s 25th Anniversary

Improve new governance: start a dedicated Coastal Threat Defence Taskforce as up to 82% of HKSAR's revenue + homes, critical infrastructure & basic needs are vulnerable to rising seas
Transformative adaptation can lead new growth, this dovetails with China's Climate Adaptation 2035 & 14 FYP. HK’s Northern Metropolis can be a grand pilot; if successful can be exported to BRI
Address people’s concern + safeguard harmony & stability = protect people’s homes + secure basic needs; HK must work with the GBA + be pragmatic & courageous with low-regret adaptation

Our planet is “on fire”. Persistent heatwaves and wildfires around the world have become a global wake up call for climate actions. While we in HK can still turn on the AC and escape from the heat, our oceans continue to warm causing polar ice sheets and mountain glaciers to melt away. This in turn brings another threat – sea level rise. Unlike the heat, there’s nowhere to hide from rising seas – they are rising faster than we thought and we are not prepared.

Unlike the heat, there’s nowhere to hide from rising seas…

…up to 82% of HKs revenue streams + thousands of homes, critical infrastructure & basic needs could be underwater

Sea level rise poses multiple existential threats to HK – not only could up to 82% of Hong Kong’s revenue streams be underwater, but we will also lose our homes, critical infrastructure and basic needs to permanent submersion. Sadly, the poor will suffer more than the rich from coastal threats. But even the rich, high up in the Peak may not be safe as the entire HK Island could be stranded from rising seas.

We realise that you have been extremely busy and that rising seas may not be on the top of your list, especially since the latest Coastal Hazard Study in HK failed to convey the “code red” sea level rise (SLR) risks sounded by latest science and policy recommendations by the IPCC earlier this year.

So, we have prepared a “8-Factsheet Survival Guide for HK to survive rising seas” for you with science facts and 3D maps of impacts on HK should we fail to heed the IPCC’s 2021-2022 warnings. We hope that after reading these 8 pages that you would realise that like Singapore, Fiji & the Maldives, it is also “adapt or die” for Hong Kong.

We need to take bold action…

HK should leverage coastal threats, open opportunities to Re-IMAGINE HK & lead in global adaptation innovations

President Xi Jinping’s encouragement for HK on the 1st of July could not be more apt: Administrators of Hong Kong need to have a new outlook on the motherland and have an international vision in order to make better development plans for the region from an overall and long-term perspective”.

HK cannot be climate resilient without the Mainland…

…thus, a new outlook & deep cooperation is needed

There’s nothing more urgent in the international arena than climate change and international vision of how to adapt to climate change is sorely lacking with the G7 still failing (after 13 years) to provide billions in funds to poorer countries to adapt to climate threats.

As you will see from the factsheets that food, water & energy inter-dependencies with the GBA means that the SAR cannot be climate resilient without the Mainland. Thus, a new outlook and deep cooperation with the motherland is also needed to protect HK from rising seas. Under the new administration’s steady guidance, we hope that Hong Kong will take bold steps to lay out a local, regional and global vision to act and retain its status as an international finance and trade hub despite climate change.

How can HK do this? Why not also follow President’s Xi’s advice laid out in his four proposals or “4 hopes” for HK during the 25th Anniversary

1. “Improve new governance” = start a dedicated coastal threat taskforce now

As President Xi Jinping said “Hong Kong has overcome various hardships and challenges and advanced steadily forward. Be it the global financial crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, or social unrest, none of them have stopped Hong Kong from marching forward”. So, neither should Hong Kong fail to prepare for climate impacts, especially from coastal threats as the stakes are high.

HKMA is already warning of ~HK$1trn of downside (mainly from floods & typhoons)…

…yet, this could be worse when IPCC SLR levels are used

Already, the HKMA is warning of almost HK$1trn of downside (mainly from floods and typhoons) in its stress test of 27 banks. Yet, this hit could be worse as tests were only conducted to 2050 when SLR estimates are only 0.32-0.55m compared to the 2m to 5m of SLR that the IPCC has said “cannot be ruled out” by 2100 and 2150.

And we will be hit because unlike other island financial centres of New York & Singapore which are preparing their cities today for low-regret adaptation to 2100 levels of 2-3m of SLR; HK is only preparing for at most 0.23m by 2050 and 0.49m by 2100. We won’t get into the technical inconsistencies here – but if you are interested in these gaps as well as adaptation inconsistences within HK depts – read this.

There is no time to waste – our factsheet “Defend HK Property from Submersion” shows that around 45,000 more residential, commercial & industrial buildings will be submerged if HK gets its coastal defences wrong as it’s not adapting for 2-3m like New York & Singapore.

First, the new HKSAR administration should further “improve its governance” and set up a dedicated coastal threat defence taskforce to “proactively adapt” like the Mainland. Such action will be on point with the newly released National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy that aims to build a climate resilient society by 2035; this new strategy encourages China proactively adapt for climate impacts.

HK should set up a Coastal Threat Defence Taskforce

Like China’s new national adaptation plan that was jointly released by 17 ministries, HK’s new dedicated Coastal Threat Defence Taskforce should be empowered to act across multiple government functions to develop a holistic plan with a long term perspective.


Given the extent of the threats, there should be a dedicated SAR Coastal Threat Director responsible for assessing and executing adaptation protection, collaborating with the GBA as well as inputting into the climate resilient vision of the SAR. Singapore has one – we were honoured that she opened our 2-hour discussion on “Futureproofing Cities to Avoid Atlantis” in April this year.

Don’t let HK lose out to Singapore and New York – we must do more to retain HK’s status as an international finance centre as well as a global shipping, aviation and trade hub.

Rising seas are now also recognised to impact sovereign risk ratings,  With up to 82% of the SAR’s revenues exposed to rising seas, HKSAR’s credit rating may be affected as its adaptation efforts lag other cities despite high exposure to physical coastal threats. Surely, dear John you would not like a downgrade to happen during your term.

2. “Create strong impetus for growth” = innovate transformative adaptation in the Northern Metropolis; invigorate the youth

President Xi also recommends Hong Kong to “actively dovetail itself with 14 Five Year Plan and other national strategies such as the development of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area and high-quality Belt and Road cooperation”.

Here, HK should heed the 14th Five Year Plan for water which is China’s first ever ‘umbrella plan’ that holds together all water policies and actions to manage water from mountains-to-oceans plus strong fortifying of flood measures. China has also acknowledged that seas along China’s coastlines are rising faster than the global average and ocean-related hazards are becoming more frequent and serious.

China’s ‘National Adaptation Strategy 2035’ calls for Southern China to prioritise adaptation to heat waves & ocean-related risks…

…a climate-ready Northern Metropolis can be the nexus to build a high-quality GBA

Other national strategies include China’s “National Adaptation Strategy 2035” which calls for Southern China to prioritise adaptation to heat waves and ocean-related risks. The HKSAR government must step up and rise to this challenge for the whole SAR. We can start with the Northern Metropolis as Yuen Long is a well know low-lying region. This new metropolis is HK’s opportunity to lead and showcase transformative adaptation not just for HK but also for the GBA.

There is no reason why the HKSAR cannot build the Northern Metropolis into a climate ready metropolis of the future – it’s not just the nexus to build a high-quality GBA, but also to create a state-of-the art futureproof coastal hub that is vibrant and resilient to rising seas. Indeed, such transformative rather than incremental adaptation is recommended by the IPCC 2022 Climate Change report as it will be flexible enough to cope with fast-moving climate risks including rising seas. See what the co-chair of the IPCC report has to say in our interview discussion here.

Incidentally, such a grand pilot will also dovetail with the “Outline Development Plan for the GBA” which urges integration of HK & Macao into the development of the country. The plan has listed specific actions to strengthen protection for the security of water resources including improving water infrastructure as well as flood prevention & mitigation systems. Indeed, the Guangdong has also been building a network of seawalls to protect low-lying areas of the PRD. The coastlines along high GDP regions such as Guangzhou and Shenzhen are heavily protected by seawalls of up to 100 or 200-year return period of tide levels. By the way, Super Typhoon Mangkhut storm tide in 2018 was 50 to 100-year return period in HK.

And if successful, the model can be “exported” to other countries in the region which also face similar coastal threats as part of the Belt and Road cooperation. Therefore, reach-for-the-sky solutions should be encouraged and supported as it can help the HKSAR and the rest of the GBA adapt, survive and thrive despite climate risks.

This regenerative approach can also revitalise the youth by giving them an opportunity to have a say in their future through reimagining, redesigning, innovating as well as building a climate resilient Hong Kong. This will enhance their sense of belonging and ensure that “Hong Kong is administered by patriots”.

It works – a young local Hong Konger who found out how HK’s future in a changing climate is tied to the GBA; rejected her job in London to work for CWR on the Re-IMAGINE HK project to ensure HK has a future. Check out her story in “Young Hker’s Climate Change Revelation on HK & the GBA” or check out what coastal defences our interns imagined to protect HK – they are studying architecture at HKU.


3. “Address people’s concern & difficulties in daily life” = protect our homes must be the top priority

President Xi also urges the new administration to “earnestly address people’s concerns and difficulties in daily life”, including housing – one of the top issues that Hong Kong people care most about. “What the people call for, we must strive to deliver” he said. The average person needs to save 100% of their earnings for 21 years to buy a property; so ensuring our homes are safe from coastal threats must be a top priority.

An average person needs to save 100% of income for 21 years to buy a property; so ensuring our homes are safe from coastal threats must be a top priority

Hong Kong has long suffered from land and housing crisis. This is why 27% of Hong Kong’s population and 70% of its economic activities are clustered in low-lying reclaimed lands. Such concentration makes sea level rise a clear threat yet there is no conversation about this unlike in Singapore whose Prime Minister has recognized it as an existential threat.

Neighbouring Shenzhen has started shoring up coastal defences up to 6-8m post Mangkhut, a T10 super typhoon – something similar to Mangkhut could happen every year in Hong Kong from 2050. Even Jakarta is talking about building a giant sea wall and artificial islands to protect its shoreline. This is why HK is ranked so behind in CWR APACCT 20 Index – see the index here.

Perhaps the lack of conversation is due to vested interests? The vested interests of property developers have not just kept property prices beyond the people’s reach, but they also don’t want to talk about sea level rise – why would they when most of the properties they sell could be underwater in the future. Our analysis of 10,000+ properties listed for sale from a popular local property agent revealed that at any one time around a quarter of property for sale on the market is vulnerable to rising seas!

We must start difficult conversations about rising seas & their impact now, so that we have enough time to mount adequate coastal defences for areas that will be the hardest hit

But remember… President Xi said,the central government also fully supports Hong Kong in taking active yet prudent steps to advance reforms and dismantle the barriers of vested interests in order to unlock enormous creativity and development potential of Hong Kong society. Evidently, we must be pragmatic and courageous – we must start difficult conversations about rising seas and their impact now, so that we have enough time to mount adequate coastal defences for areas that will be the hardest hit.

At 2-3m of SLR without storm tides, it is the residents of Kowloon and not Yuen Long that will be the most affected. Our stress tests show that almost two-thirds of Yau Tsim Mong’s residents will be affected by rising seas, followed by Sham Shui Po at 51%, whereas only 27% of Yuen Long will be affected, a similar share to Wan Chai and Tsuen Wan.

Should we not convey this to property owners and potential buyers like London and New York? Even the 10 Top housing estates in HK like Tai Koo Shing and Whampoa Garden will not be safe – see impact by district in our “Protect Our Homes” factsheet.

No doubt, the poor will be hit the hardest – our analysis of impacts by household income group revealed that low and middle-income groups will suffer more from coastal threats – indeed they suffer a triple whammy hit compared to the rich.

Should the HKSAR government continue to allow new developments or reclaim more land for housing before we have a coastal defence plan? Or should there be responsible housing reform with climate change in mind? The people of Hong Kong should not have to spend their hard-earned 21 years of life-savings to buy a property that could soon be an underwater home – now that’s climate injustice!

As Xi said, the new administration “should be more courageous and adopt more efficient measures to overcome difficulties and forge ahead”. The plans for the Northern Metropolis, set to house 2.5mn people, should ensure it is adapted for future climate risks. The plans must be holistic so that the area is “waterproofed” and it is not the next Hang Fa Tsuen, Tai O, or Lei Yue Mun.

Plus, please don’t forget about connectivity – our homes could be easily stranded – HK is but a string of islands connected to the Kowloon Peninsula by road, rail or ferry. The entire HK Island could be stranded along with sizeable MTR and ferry pier exposure; key access routes to the Mainland are also low-lying.

The entire HK Island could be stranded along with sizeable MTR and ferry pier exposure; key access routes to the Mainland are also low-lying

4. “Work together to safeguard harmony & stability” = secure basic needs & build GBA reliance together

As President Xi stressed Hong Kong should work together to safeguard harmony and stability” and no society is stable without access to basic needs such as water, food, power and energy. Unfortunately, much of the infrastructure necessary for HK’s basic needs are low-lying and rising seas could threaten up to 80% of its water, almost 100% of electricity supply and 100% of oil bunkering; even our internet access is vulnerable.

The National Climate Change Adaptation Plan has already formulated measures to protect these basic needs for the Mainland, but what about Hong Kong – where’s our adaptation plan for these basic needs? We urgently need one as they are essential to ensuring stability.

HK is way behind other global financial centres in adaptation efforts as well securing future food

While typhoon-free Singapore has announced that it is already adapting such critical infrastructure to at least 5m today, we are adopting a wait-and-see approach; only adapting for 0.16-0.35m of SLR by 2050 (CEDD) or 0.49m by 2100 (DSD). Clearly, HK is way behind the other global financial centres in adaptation efforts.

Another area where we are falling behind Singapore is on basic need security – particularly waterproofing the future of food. HK tycoons are rushing to invest billions in alt protein and lab meats in Singapore. Why? Because they have a vision for climate-resilient agri/food. So why can’t we? The youngest member of our team has some ideas on what HK can do on this front – she feels hangry.

With rising water and food insecurity around the world compounded by climate change, can HK afford not to act? After all, Xi said “Through trials and tribulations, now we keenly feel that Hong Kong cannot withstand chaos and will not afford to have any, and we also deeply feel that the development of Hong Kong allows no delay. We must get rid of whatever interference there may be to concentrate our attention on the development of the region.” 

Indeed, development of the region, including the GBA, is a must and demands our full attention. As mentioned before, the interdependencies of Hong Kong and the Mainland from trade to food, water, and electricity supply means that HKSAR cannot be climate resilient without working together with other cities in the GBA. Harmony and stability are paramount so we must work together with the GBA to safeguard these for the HKSAR, and we must start now to defend HK against existential threat like rising seas as climate change waits for no one.

Re-IMAGINE HK so that Hong Kong can “rise and shine” again

Hong Kong has survived hardships and challenges in recent years, yet with advancing climate threats, the worst is yet to come. Rising temperatures and sea level rise will be the next biggest challenge not just for Hong Kong but for other world cities. China recognizes it as a “non-traditional security threat” that “poses serious threats to the building of a Beautiful China” and calls for “proactive action”.

“…we must rise to President Xi’s call to build a resilient city – one with an international vision of transformative resilience. We can and must work together with the GBA to innovate adaptation”

We in Hong Kong must not fall behind; we must rise to President Xi’s call to build a resilient city – one with an international vision of transformative resilience. We can and must work together with the GBA to innovate adaptation. Re-imagining HK at this scale is a grand pilot; we can start with the Northern Metropolis, and we have scores of talented world class engineers, architects, designers and climate experts who can help.

So dear John, we look forward to this new chapter: to build a “new Hong Kong” that is climate ready.  Be pragmatic and courageous to lean into the climate threats ahead for only then can we surface new opportunities and revenue streams; for only then can HK not just survive rising seas but also “rise and shine brighter than ever”.

“Over the next 5 years, I look forward to leading Hong Kong to start a new chapter – one that guides Hong Kong from stability to prosperity. We are here to build a more liveable, open, vibrant and united city. Hong Kong will make us and our country proud and be the envy of the world. The “Pearl of the Orient” will shine brighter than ever!”

John Lee, Election Manifesto 2022




Further Reading

  • 3 First Steps To Protect HK From Rising Seas – The IPCC AR6 warnings on rising seas bring bad tidings for Hong Kong. If you are 20 & younger, HK could become the new Atlantis in your lifetime unless we take action now. See 3D maps of areas submerged and get on top of what you need to do to survive, adapt & thrive
  • Hong Kong Is Tracking Worst-Case Scenario Impacts – 8 Reasons To Act Now – With this summer of rising climate risks, don’t get caught out. CWR’s Chien Tat Low & Debra Tan run through 8 reasons why Hong Kong must act now to get on top of advancing climate threats – from hot weather, strong winds to flash floods – be prepared!
  • Code Red: 8 things you need to know about water in IPCC AR6 IPCC AR6 is a code red for water too! CWR’s Debra Tan shares 8 things you may have missed on water and urges to delay no more
  • Existential Coastal Threats: 8 Things You Must Know – Rapid SLR will happen sooner than we think, yet we are still driving investments to vulnerable locations. CWR’s Debra Tan shares 8 things you need to know about the existential threat from SLR – from glaciers in the mountains to ice sheets in our poles, permafrost + more
  • It’s Time To Prioritise Sea Level Rise – CWR’s Debra Tan says it’s time to be FOMO about our rising seas. From emission accelerants to accelerated impacts she runs through three reasons to rethink our attitudes towards sea level rise – it’s a big deal, sea level rise is worse than you think. This time, even she’s depressed
  • Are We More Or Less Water Secure Post COP26? – Find out what COP26 means for water security with CWR’s Debra Tan as she reflects on frank conversations had by ministers & water leaders at a high-level water security forum on the eve of COP26 in Glasgow.
  • Time To Get Radical – Alarm bells are ringing for climate change but we are still wedded to the ‘norm’ and on track to miss even the 2°C target. With time running out and serious implications for Asia’s water resources, China Water Risk’s Debra Tan calls for more flashes of brilliance

More on Latest

  • Hong Kong Rising Seas Adaptation Is Way Behind New York & Singapore – New York & Singapore are planning adaptation to levels of sea level rise that are 4-6x HK’s. CWR’s Dr CT Low & Debra Tan highlight key planning stumbling blocks & layout steps HK urgently needs to take
  • HK Stranded! – ‘Asia’s World Low-lying City’ –  With more than 200+ islands, HK is more like Fiji than not. Ready to swim from island-to-island when parts of HK’s well-connected transport system are lost to rising seas? CWR’s Sophie Lam debunks dangerous myths to avoid a stranded island-city reality
  • Triple Whammy Hit for HK’s Poor; the Rich can Escape Rising Seas – Buyer beware! You could lose your homes & savings from rising seas. More so if you are poor in Hong Kong. CWR’s Dr CT Low & Debra Tan share 3 hits + 3 actions to close the gap on climate injustice
  • Hangry & Submerged – A New Vision for HK Food Security – Whilst grocery shopping, CWR’s Sophie Lam becomes ‘hangry’ over absurd food miles & HK food insecurity from climate threats ahead. With no holistic adaptation strategies in place to defend against rising seas, she shares her ideas for a new ‘food’ vision to ensure HK’s food security
  • Young HKer’s Climate Change Revelations on HK & the GBA – Shocked, CWR’s Sophie Lam did not realize HK’s hefty reliance on the GBA. See this young HKer’s revelations on why HK cannot be resilient without working together with the GBA & what led her to reject her UK job offer to stay in HK & fight for its climate future
Chien Tat Low
Author: Chien Tat Low
Low has extensive inter-disciplinary research experience, which although wide-ranging, focuses on identifying hotspots to facilitate better planning. At CWR, Low uses spatial modelling and statistical analysis as well as remote sensing, cartography, and geo-statistics to map and assess water risks. In addition, he helps manage CWR’s extensive network of contributors and partners. CWR is Low’s first foray outside academia and he hopes to apply his 12 years of scientific know-how toward enhancing the understanding of water risk in Asia, including spatial temporal variabilities of anthropogenic and natural factors on water resources. Previously, Low was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Hong Kong where he devised methodologies to measure and benchmark the quality of urban life in an Asian context. As a certified GIS Professional, he also taught GIS and spatial analysis modules there. Low’s research on urban, human and environmental health is published in 11 prominent international peer-reviewed journals; he has also written a chapter in a book on managing environmental hazards. His PhD thesis on place effect on human well-being was prize-winning. Low is currently the reviewer editor for the journal “Frontiers in Environmental Informatics” and also reviews other international journals such as “Applied Geography”.
Read more from Chien Tat Low →
Debra Tan
Author: Debra Tan
Debra heads the CWR team and has steered the CWR brand from idea to a leader in the water risk conversation globally. Reports she has written for and with financial institutions analyzing the impact of water risks on the Power, Mining, Agricultural and Textiles industries have been considered groundbreaking and instrumental in understanding not just China’s but future global water challenges. One of these led the fashion industry to nominate CWR as a finalist for the Global Leadership Awards in Sustainable Apparel; another is helping to build consensus toward water risk valuation. Debra is a prolific speaker on water risk delivering keynotes, participating in panel discussions at water prize seminars, numerous investor & industry conferences as well as G2G and academic forums. Before venturing into “water”, she worked in finance, spending over a decade as a chartered accountant and investment banker specializing in M&A and strategic advisory. Debra left banking to pursue her interest in photography and also ran and organized philanthropic and luxury holidays for a small but global private members travel network She has lived and worked in Beijing, HK, KL, London, New York and Singapore and spends her spare time exploring glaciers in Asia.
Read more from Debra Tan →