Young HKer’s Climate Change Revelations on HK & the GBA

By Sophie Lam 23 August, 2022

CWR’s Lam, a young HKer rejected her UK offer to stay in HK to fight for its climate future. She shares her shock on finding out about HK’s reliance on the GBA for its basic needs

HK’s basic needs – 80% water, 100% fresh food & 25% electricity, are all supplied by the GBA; HK has no choice but to work closely with the GBA to secure these essential needs
Key GBA supply lines with HK are vulnerable to rising seas; inadequate coastal defences will cut off these links & disrupt 6mn+ goods vehicles & HK$5trn trade at risk per year
No running away = stay & fight as “the worst is yet to come”; Climate resilient HK = massive opportunity to reimagine HK with transformative adaptation in the GBA

I was 22 years old when my rose-tinted glasses came off – if we wanted to secure Hong Kong’s future we had to work alongside the rest of the Greater Bay Area (GBA) more than ever in this changing climate.

I didn’t know how important the Mainland GBA cities are for HK’s basic needs…

…our water, food, & power, is all being supplied by them

Truthfully, I didn’t know how important the Mainland GBA cities are for HK’s basic needs such as water, food, and power until I joined CWR. It was a mindboggling revelation. Why didn’t I know this? I grew up in HK, attended an international school and studied Geography at university. I even asked my other international and local friends if they knew about HK’s unfathomable reliance on the GBA cities; to my surprise they didn’t know either.

So, here are my three recent revelations, since clearly, this was not a subject that was taught in school. In case you weren’t aware of the facts, prepare to be enlightened…

1. HK’s basic needs – water, food & electricity – are predominantly supplied by the rest of the GBA…

Water, a resource we cannot survive without, is currently supplied by Guangdong. And guess how much? A whopping 80%. The situation is no different with our fresh food supply as well: 100% of livestock, 93% of vegetables, 53% of eggs and 45% of marine products. The Mainland accounts for a third of HK’s overall food imports; the rest of our food is flown in and shipped from various other countries.

And don’t even get me started on power – another key utility we can’t live without. A quarter of our electricity is nuclear and supplied from Daya Bay and Conghua. This may not be as significant as water and food, but this is where HK gets all its low-carbon energy. Indeed, if HK is planning to achieve its 2050 carbon neutrality goals in the future, this supply would have to be increased up to 45% by then.

80% of HK’s water, 100% fresh live stock & 93% fresh vegetables, 25% of power all rely on the GBA…

These are basic needs the city cannot function without. Yet, many remain unaware of this interdependence. Going forward, it’s inevitable that intensifying impacts from climate change will threaten these supplies. It’s already happening to us now. Water resources are becoming scarcer – Shenzhen recently faced its most severe drought on record.

Cracks also appeared in HK’s reservoirs…however, you probably didn’t feel it as badly because HK’s water supply agreement guarantees a fixed amount no matter what.

But is it right that we should have unlimited water on this side of the border when our neighbors in Shenzhen must undergo water rationing? Surely, we should also be saving water. And obviously this would be good practice as climate impacts worsen in the future.

…will recent blackouts in China, droughts in Shenzhen, and floods in south China affect HK?

Recent heatwaves have also caused blackouts in China triggered by a surge in electricity usage to record levels as everyone blasts their AC’s to hastily cool down. And then there are erratic flash-floods in the south of China inflicting US$250 million in economic damage and wiping out large swathes of crops contributing to food instability – and more rain is forecast in the upcoming weeks…

Surely, this is a wakeup call for HK to work more closely with the rest of the GBA to secure our essential needs.

2. Key GBA supply lines with HK are extremely vulnerable to sea level rise

I grew depressed when I realized how much of HK was at stake whilst mapping HK’s assets to sea level rise scenarios for the set of 8 Re-IMAGINE HK factsheets. My home was on track to being submerged, along with thousands of commercial and industrial buildings, even HK Island could be stranded unless coastal defences were put in place.

I grew depressed when I realised how much of HK was at stake to SLR…

…all our basic needs & supply routes connecting HK to the GBA are low-lying…

…6mn+ vehicles carrying trading goods & HK$5trn worth of merchandise trade are at risk

More worrying is that key assets essential to provide our basic needs as well as the supply routes that enabled them are low-lying. For example, the Muk Wu pumping station, which carries HK’s freshwater from the Dongjiang River is low-lying; as are almost all of HK’s power plants, making them all vulnerable to rising seas and intensifying storm tides from typhoons.

On top of this, all land, sea, and air infrastructures that link HK to the rest of the GBA are low-lying. So, if current inadequate coastal defences were in place, it could just be a matter of time before all our ties with the Mainland are cut off due to rising seas. For perspective, rising seas is set to disrupt 6mn+ vehicles that pass through key road links such as Lok Ma Chau and Sha Tau Tok annually. These roads also carry HK’s food supply which could clearly be disrupted…I won’t go into that here as I cover this extensively in my other article “Hangry & Submerged”.

Besides food, HK’s economy can also be disrupted as the SAR had over HK$5trn in merchandise trade with Mainland China in 2021 alone.

Water, food, electricity plus HK$5.4trillion dollars of merchandise trade with the Mainland seems like essentials we should protect.

3. There’s no running away, HK cannot be resilient without the rest of the GBA

For HK to thrive, we must fundamentally secure our basic needs and work together with the GBA to come up with a holistic ‘all-of-GBA’ approach to adaptation planning.

It’s down to geography. HK shares the same watershed as the rest of the GBA cities, thus we will not have water unless this entire watershed is protected as a whole. But because the region will also face similar coastal threats, whether it’s typhoons, flashfloods, or sea level rise, we should take this opportunity to share research on these fronts to inform better adaptation planning.

HK can be GBA’s 1st line of coastal defence – since we are one of the 1st cities to be affected

Moreover, HK could also be the GBA’s first line of defense as it is one of the first cities to be hit by coastal threats along with Macao and Zhuhai. Such futureproofing will be encouraged as it is in line with the Outline Development Plan for the GBA, China’s new National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy 2035 as well as what President Xi 4 hopes for HK.

After finishing my internship at CWR in December last year, I had two options. CWR offered me the option to remain with them full-time or I could’ve accepted a graduate corporate role in London. Without a second thought, I took the role here because I wanted to do something to ensure that HK has a future. Never did I imagine I would go down this path and label myself as a ‘climate patriot’ or be reading up on President Xi’s speeches.

However, we don’t have time to wallow or complain that it’s not possible or too difficult because the threats are looming. And there’s no where to run. Now is time to face our reality and “Secure Basic Needs” – see our new factsheet on how.

And although it may all sound overwhelming, I refuse to believe this is a ‘doom and gloom’ situation.

“…youth now have a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to innovate solutions for these climate impacts”

HK’s youth now have a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to innovate solutions for these climate impacts that are already baked-in, so that we secure our future for generations to come. To do this successfully, we must first recognize HK’s significant reliance on the GBA and embrace the fact that HK cannot be resilient without the rest of the GBA.

Depressed & excited at the same time…

As if this summer of heatwaves, droughts, food insecurity, floods and typhoons are not bad enough, the UN’s climate science advisors warn “The worst is yet to come” – it’s depressing. So, we cannot just keep relying on decarbonization efforts in our climate fight, we must also start adapting holistically to a rapidly changing climate.

UN warns “the worst is yet to come”…

…decarb efforts won’t be enough, we must start adapting holistically to a changing climate

While HK is now behind other financial hubs like New York and Singapore on transformative adaptation planning, we still have time to catch up. We still have time to futureproof HK to avoid Atlantis but planning needs to begin now. Like we said before the adaptation roadmap needs to be low-regret, flexible and regenerative so that HK is ‘climate ready’ to tackle all kinds of threats in our changing climate.

The Chief Executive promises to “start a new chapter – one that guides HK from stability to prosperity…to build a more livable, open, vibrant and united city”, I have hope that he will deliver this adaptation roadmap.

HK’s prosperity and sefety need to be ensured…

I simply could not sit still and do nothing when my rose-tinted glasses came off; let’s hope that the new Chief Executive will feel the same especially after reading our 8-Factsheet Survival Guide for HK to survive rising seas and CWR’s new article on Dear John Lee, Heed President Xi’s “4 Hopes” for HK in a Changing Climate”.

Our new Chief Executive must start a dedicated coastal threat defence task force to kickstart HK’s adaptation journey. Because as he truly cares about our safety and HK’s prosperity, building ‘a safe and stable’ HK that will survive coastal threats is the only way forward.




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

More on Latest

Sophie Lam
Author: Sophie Lam
Sophie has recently graduated from the University of Exeter in the UK with a BA Honours Geography degree. Her final year modules focused on sustainability and environmental issues which she is keen to explore further as commences her journey into the workforce. Through joining CWR, Sophie has had an opportunity to apply her GIS knowledge on a project examining the impact of rising sea levels and extreme weather events on the critical infrastructure in the Asia Pacific region. Sophie hopes her participation in this project will facilitate better resilience planning and the management of risks presented by the challenges of climate change.
Read more from Sophie Lam →