Collectively, countries hope to avoid the potentially catastrophic consequences of where we are currently heading in terms of warming – 4 degrees or more. The consequences of a temperature rise of this magnitude for life in our oceans, our lungs, for agriculture and our ability to feed ourselves in the future, for water resources, are expected to be dramatic.
There will also be substantial sea level rises. Hong Kong already faces significant challenges from climate, including more hot days and drought in the Greater Bay Area. Eight of the 11 cities that form the Greater Bay Area have per capita water resources similar to the Middle East, according to recent research by Hong Kong think tank CWR.
Almost three-quarters of Hong Kong’s gross domestic product comes from sectors that could face disruptions from extreme storm tides as early as 2030, the report says. This would clearly devastate our economy, unless the government takes action.
So, we have no choice but to act. According to the Civic Exchange-World Resources Institute report, our 2030 targets, including 60 per cent carbon intensity reduction and 3.3-3.8 tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent per capita emissions should be achieved under our government’s current policies – largely by switching from coal to gas in our power plants.
But the current course will not set us on a path to net-zero emissions by 2050. For this, more ambitious action is needed. Achieving this goal, which we must do to stave off the worst effects, requires an average annual decline in absolute emissions of 9 per cent between 2030 and 2050 if we wait another decade before starting, or 6.6 per cent if we begin today.
So how can we get where we need to go? In terms of energy-related carbon emissions, the Civic Exchange/World Resources Institute decarbonisation scenario includes developing local renewable sources, sourcing more low-carbon energy from neighbouring regions, replacing coal with gas coupled with carbon capture and storage, when available, and replacing piped gas with net-zero-emission energy. Estimates are that we could see a decline of 27 million tonnes in power-sector emissions.
Building energy efficiency will also be key, with the expectation that 10.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide could be abated through enhancements to comply with much stricter standards. And mobility can contribute 6.7 million tonnes through changing how we use transport and shifting to zero-emission vehicles. Electric vehicles that run on batteries are a good solution for cars.
Benefits will not only come in improved air, a more mobile and liveable city, but in reduced mortality, including an estimated improvement in life expectancy equivalent to 26,000 lives saved. And the net economic benefit between now and 2050 is estimated at HK$460 billion.
The objectives are ambitious but necessary and will require us to pull together to achieve the greener society we want. Working together within Hong Kong and regionally will also be critical. Climate knows no boundaries, emissions don’t stop at borders; solutions in our case will, of necessity, be regional.
A recent Public Opinion Research Institute survey showed that 80 per cent of Hong Kong people felt that climate change was something for our future and not as urgent now. But they couldn’t be more wrong.
We must act now if we are to build the low-carbon city we want. We have the ability, with innovation and determination, to build this greener vision, so what are waiting for?
Lisa Genasci is CEO of the ADM Capital Foundation and a board member of Civic Exchange. Along with partners, Lisa has helped to establish HK2050isnow.org, a platform for education, research and action to decarbonise Hong Kong. Wee Kean Fong is the deputy China Country Director of World Resources Institute