HK’s Climate Change Strategy – a Response

The government is asking for responses to its consultation paper regarding climate change. I sent the following deposition : 

I would like to respond to the Government’s Climate Change Strategy and Action Agenda on behalf of the South Lantau Transition Group.

First of all a few facts about Climate Change (CC) which are generally accepted by most climate scientists and which need to be acknowledged before any talk of a ‘strategy’:

1) If an increase in temperature of over 2C above pre-industrial levels is allowed to happen we will be in very dangerous territory because positive feedbacks will start to kick in which will be uncontrollable. The planet will get hotter and hotter, making more and more of it uninhabitable. It is absolutely essential to stop temperatures reaching this level, and yet we have already increased the temperature by 0.8C and there is at least another 0.6C in the pipeline which we can do nothing to stop (there is about a 30-year lag in the effects of CO2 in the atmosphere, so we are presently experiencing the results of CO2 which was pumped into the atmosphere in the 80s. What was subsequently pumped in has yet to hit us).

2) The question of rising seas and hotter weather gets a lot of attention, but the more immediate danger is the fact that extreme weather conditions such as drought and flooding will have catastrophic effects upon farming worldwide. Very serious food shortages could occur in the very near future, and therefore any country which is heavily dependent upon food imports – and of course Hong Kong is one of them – could find itself in the position of being unable to adequately feed its population. Thus strengthening local sources of food to increase local resilience is essential.

3) This year is, up until the end of November, the hottest on record; this past decade has been the hottest decade on record; the hottest 25 years ever recorded have occurred since 1980; the hottest 10 years ever recorded have occurred since 1998.

4) CO2 has reached concentrations of 390 ppm in the atmosphere, and yet it is regarded as necessary to reduce this to at most 350 ppm and probably much lower than that, if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change.

5) We have less than a decade to get things under control, and yet CO2 emissions are going up every year despite all the talk.

6) There are a great many testimonies to the fact that climate scientists – off the record – are very, very scared about what they know is happening and what they see is the refusal by politicians to act upon what they say.

We are quite clearly facing the greatest crisis mankind has ever faced. We are – if it’s not too trite a metaphor – fiddling while Rome burns. Consequently, I was hoping that your document might at least show some awareness of the fact that we are in an emergency. Unfortunately, this was a forlorn hope. Far from recognizing the need to take drastic action immediately to at least do what we can here in Hong Kong to combat CC, you seem to see it as an opportunity to make more money. For example:

a) You say it is ‘not about foregoing economic growth’. This is precisely 180 degrees wrong. Economic growth, powered as it is by fossil fuels (look at graphs showing economic growth and the use of fossil fuels, especially oil, over the last 200 years, and you’ll see they fit together like a hand in a glove) is at the root of CC. It is imperative that we stop using fossil fuels in the next decade or two if we are to control CC, and that means an end to economic growth. We need to develop a steady-state economy operating at a drastically lower level of sophistication than the one we have now. This means there will be a big drop in the standard of living for all of those who are well-off, if we assume that our standard of living is determined by the amount of ‘stuff’ we can buy.

b) You talk about ‘a new window of green business opportunities’ and ‘green and energy efficient technologies and applications….could be a promising economic growth area…’ This simply means that you expect business as usual (BAU) to continue but with renewable energy and green technologies keeping the wheels oiled. We need green technologies and renewable energy, but there is no possibility of ramping this up to take over from fossil fuels in the limited time available to us, even supposing that it were ever possible to do so (in fact, there is nothing remotely on the horizon that is capable of doing for us what oil currently does). The transformation of our energy systems and, in particular, our transport infrastructure is a massive task that will take decades to achieve. To imply that a smooth and simple transition is possible is totally mistaken.

c) There are many other examples, such as ‘making economic sense of the challenge of CC’… ‘by going green, we would help maintain our competitiveness as an international city’ which suggest that you see CC as just another environmental problem which will be dealt with as long as we don’t have to disturb the status quo. This shows an appalling failure to grasp the scale of the dilemma that faces us.

d) You talk about ‘trying to reduce carbon intensity by 50-60% by 2020’ when you must know that carbon intensity can be reduced whilst still increasing carbon emissions. This seems like another attempt to evade the realities of CC and to pull the wool over people’s eyes about the efforts you intend making. It is absolutely essential to reduce carbon emissions drastically. Carbon intensity is a red herring.

e) You say that we produced about 6 tonnes of CO2 per capita in 2008, and yet the most recent findings from Norway – which received plenty of publicity in Hong Kong – shows that when a proper carbon audit is done, taking into account the imports into the country, then far from producing 6 tonnes per capita we are literally the world’s worst, producing nearly 30 tonnes per capita. These are the figures we should be looking at, not those which have been massaged to make us look much better than we are. I could go on, but the point is that we cannot begin to tackle CC until we look the situation squarely in the eye without trying to deceive ourselves or anyone else. We could easily destroy the whole of modern civilization within this century, or within the lifetime of our children. I do not want to be party to such a monstrous crime, and I expect far more honesty from this government than it is giving us at the moment.

Action Agenda

I would like to see a massive public discussion of CC instituted by the government, not to discuss whether it’s happening, but to educate the public about the huge scale of the problem and to facilitate responses and solutions from all sectors of society. We need to discuss what measures must be taken to help us to become more resilient to the changes that are going to hit us. The action agenda in your paper has its merits but it in no way addresses the scale of the problem. Yes, we need to be more energy efficient; yes, we need greener transport; no, there is no such thing as a clean fuel…But this is all viewing the situation as a slight environmental problem which, if we’re canny enough, we can make money out of –BAU. We cannot continue with BAU. Our economy must stop growing. We need to reduce our dependence on imports and the massive carbon footprint they are imposing upon us. To do this we need to start with the basics, and that means food.

Food and Water

1) There should be a mobilization of all farmers and potential farmers to grow organic fruit and vegetables on all suitable land throughout the territory. It would have to be organic, and preferably grown according to permaculture principles, so that reliance on fossil fuel inputs is further reduced.

2) Schools should be mobilized to teach children how to grow food and how to cook it. Each school should grow some of its own organic food. This would mean developing school farms and allowing green rooftops wherever possible instead of putting up obstacles to such developments as the government currently does. These activities would take priority over everything else.

3) We need government finance to set up community composting schemes so that every neighbourhood has compost available for growers to purchase for their crops. Food from households and restaurants should be collected and composted, along with garden waste and clippings taken by municipal workers tending government gardens.

4) All municipal gardens should be converted to food production. Fruit trees should replace ornamentals, and vegetables should replace flowers. The produce could be taken for free by the local population, or collected by the government and distributed to the poorer members of the locality.

5) Composting of human manure needs to be instituted so as to recycle the phosphorus. Urine can easily be used as fertilizer, but the same can be done with faeces if properly treated.

6) Water catchment systems are needed to enable all of the growers to continue watering plants through the dry season without making unnecessary demands on municipal water supplies. Guttering, downpipes and water barrels will need to be made available for all village houses, and where possible in the city itself.

Transport

Not much needs to be said about transport as Richard Gilbert produced an excellent publication for Civic Exchange a few years ago on the electrification of passenger and goods transport in Hong Kong. It’s time that the government put his ideas into practice, using wind turbines to generate the necessary energy for the electricity. The focus must be on public transport and the movement of goods. Private transport needs to be severely curtailed. The government could set a high-profile example here by getting all Legco members to use only public transport.

Renewable Energy

There should be massive investments made in setting up wind farms to generate energy for local communities throughout the islands and New Territories. Offshore wind farms could help to reduce fossil fuel dependency in the city. You say, presumably seriously, that ‘the Government has taken the lead to install a PVC system of 350 kw on the roof of the EMSD HQ in Kowloon Bay’. Wow! Good work! How about introducing feedback tariffs to encourage citizens and businesses throughout Hong Kong to install solar panels and water heaters to cut down on electricity usage? How about covering the roofs of hospitals, schools and the homes of the poor with solar panels? How about giving everybody else financial incentives to do likewise with their own buildings so that buildings everywhere can be covered in solar panels? And what about imposing severe penalties on companies that leave their lights on throughout the night when the buildings are empty. Street-level lighting and rooftop lights as warnings for airplanes, where necessary, are all that is needed. There should also be strict limits imposed upon everyone with regard to the use of air-conditioning. Every company should have a government energy audit done each year with an enforced reduction of 5-10% to be managed in each subsequent year.

These are just a few suggestions to get the ball rolling.

To summarise, we need to:

a) Declare an emergency

b) Educate the public about CC and fossil fuels (I’ve not even mentioned Peak Oil yet, which is another major catastrophe about to hit us between the eyes)

c) Have a full-scale public debate, no holds barred

d) Make massive cuts in our emissions of carbon by focusing initially on food, transport and energy

e) Relocalise, relocalise, relocalise to build local resilience

It’s way past time to get serious. Unfortunately, your CC strategy shows no inkling of this.

The consultation paper can be found here: http://www.epd.gov.hk/epd/english/climate_change/consult.html

Donald Latter

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About transitionsl

I've been an English teacher for the best part of 30 years, teaching in England, Tanzania, Brunei, Australia and Hong Kong. I've always been interested in nature and environmental issues, but it was the discovery of Peak Oil about five years ago that galvanised me into trying to help my local community to prepare for what will be a dramatically different world to the one many of us have been used to. I've been helping to run a transition group, following the guidelines created by Rob Hopkins's Transition Movement in the UK. This blog is an attempt to engage in discussion with a wider group of people in Hong Kong on the ways to transition from our current oil dependency to a state of fossil-free local resilience.
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2 Responses to HK’s Climate Change Strategy – a Response

  1. a says:

    Your words may be hard sometimes but brought out the serious of the issue. I am quite impressed though some of your ideas may not share by the majority.

    • transitionsl says:

      I’m sure you’re absolutely right that the majority would not share my views. Unfortunately, I think we’re pushing the world in such an appalling direction that it sometimes seems as if the only thing to do is shout from the rooftops. As far as the science of global warming is concerned, I’m merely reiterating the common consensus amongst climate scientists, so there’s nothing to debate there. As far as remedies are concerned, if we don’t act very soon then all of our opinions will be an irrelevance because the situation will be out of our control.

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