SCMP: The Hong Kong government will explore the use of big data and artificial intelligence to boost emergency preparedness and early-warning systems for climate change after extreme weather battered the city twice over the past two months, the chief executive has said.
John Lee Ka-chiu explained in Wednesday’s policy address that the government’s emergency response to recent stormy weather was hampered by “technological constraints”, which led to chaos in the public transport system and at the airport.
“Our preparedness and emergency response to Super Typhoon Saola and the torrential rain in September generally met expectations, but in respect of early-warning arrangements, we were limited by technological constraints,” he said.
A source close to the process said the study would also cover natural and artificial slopes, especially ones at risk of landslides that would block roads, such as along Shek O Road.
Lee said in his policy address that technology would be used to improve risk assessment capabilities, including weather forecasts and alerts, flooding and landslide hazards.
Environmental groups have already appealed to authorities to get tough on climate change after recent storms, including the “once-in-500-years” rainfall and major typhoon warnings over the past two months.
Saola, which lashed the city in early September, caused about 460 flights to be cancelled, leaving about 300 passengers stranded at the airport.
The rainstorm that hammered the city about a week later put scores of people in hospital, with 370 reports of emergency situations, including floods and landslides.
Shek O Road, the only road connecting the peninsula with the rest of the city, was blocked by mudslides and collapses.
He said officials would carry out systematic investigations to devise landslide prevention methods for slopes.
Lee added the government would also prioritise drainage improvement work in areas vulnerable to severe floods, such as Wong Tai Sin and eastern Hong Kong Island.
He said the Drainage Services Department would be instructed to develop a forward-looking strategy for flood management.
Lee also promised to “make every effort to promote the use and supply of new energy” to spearhead green transformation in the city.
Plans include the development of a green maritime fuel bunkering station and promotion of a sustainable aviation fuel supply.
Policy think tank Civic Exchange said it was “encouraged” by the government’s climate change proposals.
“To meet the above goals, the government could draw insights from national experiences and implement a robust governance system,” the group’s executive director, Lawrence Iu Chun-yip, said.
But environmental group Green Earth said the policies designed to tackle extreme weather were “palliative measures” and ignored how nature could help increase the city’s resilience.
“The recommended measures focus on engineering and meteorological monitoring,” the group’s executive director Edwin Lau Che-feng said.
“Green Earth urges authorities to take the lead in protecting natural environments, such as wetlands, and enhance the carbon sequestration capacity of country parks.”
Originally published on SCMP on 25 Oct 2023.