Hangry & Submerged – A New Vision for HK Food Security

By Sophie Lam 23 August, 2022

CWR’s Lam becomes ‘hangry’ when she realises HK’s food security is threatened by rising seas. She shares her food for thoughts on this front plus a new vision for HK

Grocery shopping made me ‘angry’ about absurd food miles & ‘hungry’ from stranded airports & ports; HK can easily avoid these by ‘going vertical’ and ‘growing local’
Must secure key routes with China (largest supplier); other food imports will be at risk – SG is adapting port & airport to 5m+ but are Japan/US/France (25% of imports)?
Climate change amplifies food insecurity = HK must lead Food 5.0 inc. scaling up alt protein, lab-meats. Don’t lose out to SG, integrate food into HK climate strategy

The other day I was in the supermarket with an extensive grocery list in my hand. Whilst scanning the shelves, it dawned on me that most of the shelves were stocked with food from overseas – organic pork from the US, cherry tomatoes from Japan, mozzarella from Italy, teas from Sri Lanka, sausages from the UK etc… To find locally grown food from HK, I had to walk to the very corner of the supermarket that dedicated only three shelves and two fish tanks.

On my latest supermarket trip I got ‘hangry’ – over the absurd miles food travels to get here & about HK left without food due to rising seas

Panic set in on two fronts. First, I tried to picture the unfathomable carbon (CO2) emissions emitted to get food products here from all over the world. Trying to calculate the absurd numbers in my head made me ‘angry’. Then I got ‘hungry’ thinking about food insecurity when I imagined all the airports and ports that would be stranded by rising seas. Our supermarkets would be empty, and we would be left starving.

This realization made me ‘hangry’ – where was HK’s vision for food security in a changing climate? Here’s some food for thought on this front…

We could avoid ‘food miles’ by ‘going vertical’ & ‘growing local’

It’s difficult to imagine the impact of food miles, there’s no online calculator for it. However, a study revealed that F&B ordered by an urban hotel in HK over one year had travelled a total of 446 million km to get there. For perspective, that is the equivalent distance of travelling around the Earth’s circumference more than 11,000 times. The ‘food miles’ also emitted 27,294 tonnes of CO2 – almost the annual emissions of the Falkland Islands or 5,746 passenger cars. And that’s just food-related emissions from one hotel!

Vertical farming can have massive savings = 99% less land, 70% less emissions & 98% less water…

…plus, local production reduces transport-related energy consumption by 5-17 times

There’s no denying that we should be worried about food miles and must devise a plan now if we want to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. One way we can help HK fast track its decarbonization target is to ‘go vertical’ and ‘grow local’. Not only does growing crops vertically require 99% less land, but also emits 70% less CO2 emissions and uses 98% less water compared to traditional methods of farming. All of this would help decarbonize faster as agriculture accounts for almost a fourth of our global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Consuming local produce also significantly reduces transport-related energy consumption – 5-17 times less CO2 emissions than far-flung ingredients. On top of that, flying in food generates 10 times more CO2 emissions than road transport and 50 times more than shipping. So next time you’re about to pick up salad leaves from the US or pork from Brazil, consider picking up fresh local produce which is often cheaper, more nutritious, and climate friendly!

To enact these changes, HK must set new policies which could also help boost HK’s food security – bringing me to my next point…

We must secure our food routes with Mainland China – our key food supply

According to WITS, HK imports its food from 132 countries. However, as the chart to the right shows, its main supplier is Mainland China, providing 33% of our food, followed by Japan (10%), the US (8%), France (7%), and Singapore (4%).  The remaining 38% comes from 127 other countries – including the UK, South Korea, and Indonesia.

33% of HK’s food comes from China…

…but connecting roads are low-lying, unprotected & highly vulnerable to rising seas

Our reliance on the Mainland was evident earlier this year when our supermarket shelves were deserted because fresh food produce from the Mainland dropped by 70% due to restrictions imposed on COVID positive delivery drivers.

Unfortunately, the same roads linking HK to the Mainland are all low-lying and will face equivalent, if not worse disruption from rising seas. In the face of these threats, we must adapt and protect these key links to the Mainland if we want to secure our largest source of food supply – see our latest factsheet “Secure Basic Needs” for more.

Surely, we should work closely with the GBA to ensure that HK’s food supply remains resilient to COVID as well as rising seas. I won’t deep dive into this as I have other revelations about the GBA here. So, let’s move on to the rest of the imported food pie…

Would adapting the airport and ports be enough to ensure HK’s food security?

From the same HK hotel study mentioned above, most (78%) of the F&B transported to the HK hotel came by sea, 19% was flown in, and the remaining 3% travelled by land. As can be seen from the chart above, at least two-thirds of our food is either shipped and/or flown in from overseas.

Overseas reliance reinforces the importance of protecting our airport & ports from rising seas…

This overseas reliance reinforces the importance of protecting of our airport and ports from rising seas if we don’t want to be left hungry. However, while the Airport Authority has considered the impact of multi-meter SLR in its Climate Resilience Study, the SAR’s port operator has recognized SLR risk but made no mention of any resilience studies.

Perhaps, for the sake of our food security, shouldn’t we take another look at the adaptation efforts of such critical infrastructures? But it’s not just food, adapting the ports and airport will also stand HK in good stead from a trade perspective – see our new factsheet on “Shore Up Trade Resilience”.

…but even if HK adapted, if trading partners don’t, HK won’t be resilient

Anyway, HK’s plans to develop its ‘Smart Port’ and ‘Airport City’ should definitely factor in rising seas. We must also not forget to protect all the roads that link to these critical infrastructures… However, even if we adapted adequately, if the rest of our trading partners have not, we would still not be resilient. Singapore, which provides 4% of HK’s imported food is ahead of the game, they are adapting their airport and port to 5m+ above sea level. But should we bank on Japan, the US and France, which together provide 25% of our imported food, to adapt their ports and airports to these levels too?

Other concerns also surface with melting airport runways as temperatures soar in Europe – will climate change bring the end of imported cheddar from the UK and brie from France? The sweltering heatwaves are also burning vital crops and adding to global food insecurity. We must accept that this is our new norm. Climate impacts are happening now – they are terrifying, and it will get worse…and I haven’t even started on typhoons and floods and their impacts.

With the future of food at risk, we need a grander, more holistic plan that will guarantee HK’s food security and inspire others to rethink food beyond going vertical and growing local…

Why can’t HK lead the future of food? – Innovations in alternative protein + lab-grown meats

Aside from increasing local supply to ramp up HK’s food security, why don’t we consider scaling up the alternative protein sector? A great example is OmniFoods, it started here in HK and now the rest of the world loves it! CWR saw it coming, we already started chatting with its founder David Yeung on “Unleashing Plant Based in Asia” back in 2019.

Switching to a plant-based diet in HK reduces even more emissions than in other developed countries – 1.4 tonnes emissions annually

The growing appetite for plant-based foods in HK has increased significantly in the last couple of years, and more HK based products and supermarkets are emerging and expanding – Plant Sifu, Green Common, Batata Greens etc. Switching to a plant-based diet in HK reduces even more emissions than in other developed countries, at So next time you’re in a restaurant ordering a hamburger, give an Omni burger a try instead – you won’t be disappointed!

Alternatively, imagine if we didn’t have to make any changes to our diet because switching to lab-grown meat would be enough? According to Oxford University, lab-grown meat generates 96% less greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and requires 45% less energy, 99% less land use, and 96% less water than the production of conventional meat.

Even China’s 14th Five-Year Plan and President Xi are touting alt foods. Xi’s speech to national political advisors from the sectors of agriculture, welfare and social security recently vouched for advancing alt protein bio sciences and bio-tech industries to ensure a “greater food approach for China”, which would drastically impact legislation and policies connected to the food sector. Hong Kong should rise to this call.

Scale up these alt protein and lab-grown meet sectors at HKSTP to foster new job opps & amplify HK’s food revolution

And what better location to scale up HK’s alt protein and lab-grown meat startups than the HK Science and Technology Parks Corporation – home to 900 tech enterprises, and AI and environmental tech startups. Not only is this site undergoing drastic expansion, but it can also foster thousands of new job opportunities. Moreover, this could help counter crazy surges in food prices the next time there is another disease outbreak/war/extreme weather events. Indeed, Professor Kenneth Lee was already touting “Revolution 5.0: Digital Printing Meat” back in 2019.

There’s no doubt that more people are starting to recognize the destructive and insecure nature of our food system. More people in HK are making the switch to a conscious flexitarian diet and restaurants are also joining the bandwagon such as KIN food halls – operating with a single traceable supply chain, using only regeneratively sourced ingredients, carbon cut on-foot deliverers etc.

A global food resilient transition is already happening in HK and the city’s food-preneurs can totally help drive HK’s leadership in Food 5.0. Surely, the HKSAR government should arm these food-preneurs with the right policies and incentives to do this…

We can and must have a new vision for food security

These of course are only a couple of strategic ideas on how we can become a more food secure and less hangry HK. With climate change wreaking havoc on food systems, we must take urgent action now. Hong Kong needs a vision for food security in a changing climate that could nurture these strategies.

Take a leaf out of Singapore’s 30 by 30 vision or risk losing future growth…

…the time is now to include food as part of HK’s climate strategy; it is glaringly absent from HK’s 2050 carbon neutrality plan

Perhaps HK citizens need a clear direction, like Singapore’s 30 by 30 vision. HK could take a leaf out of Singapore’s playbook – it plans to produce 30% of its nation’s nutritional needs locally by 2030. Singapore’s vision and incentives toward Food 5.0 is also luring away HK investors – tycoon Li Ka-shing has helped fund Asia’s biggest lab-grown meat facility based in Singapore; it’s set to open in 2023. We must grab these opportunities and not lose our competitive advantage.

The time is now to include food as part of HK’s climate strategy. It is glaringly absent from HK’s 2050 carbon neutrality plan as well as our adaptation plans so far. Sure, HK does not produce much agri-emissions as it hardly grows any food but we are responsible for enormous food mile emissions. Growing local and vertical can help cut these as well as make the SAR self-sufficient.

At the same time, because such transition takes time, food supply routes (imported or local) as well as food storage must also be secure and protected from coastal threat disruptions.

So, the next time you’re at the supermarket staring at the wide variety of food products in front of you, think about the carbon footprint of the item you are buying because it is accelerating climate threats and setting us on a path towards being ‘hangry and submerged’.

I have laid out my 3 wishes to avoid this future. And if these wishes came true, we would all be happy, not hangry!

3 Wishes for HK Food Security

  1. Secure basic needs (food, water, etc.) – adapt all local, regional & global supply links & storage
  2. Go local & grow vertical – ramp up local production to reduce reliance on international food supply
  3. Incentivize Food 5.0 – provide policies that nurture and amplify HK’s food revolution



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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.
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