Hong Kong: a city isolated from the global village?

Feature Story - 2007-02-02
The latest climate change report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), concludes that global average temperature is likely to increase between 1.1°C to 6.4°C above 1980-1999 levels by 2095, leading to catastrophic crisis including more extreme weathers.

Right before the release of the “Fourth Assessment Report” by United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Greenpeace members hanged 40 “Doomsday Clocks” on the gate of the Central Government Offices, and erected a banner “Time’s Up! Save the Climate” to show their their dissatisfaction with government’s inaction to climate change, and urge the government to formulate greenhouse gases reduction policy and targets.

Five years ago, when a group of scientists from around the world gathered together in the name of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), after large amount of research, discussions and debates, warned the globe of the danger of climate change, most people sniffed at the possible catastrophe. Not surprisingly as time goes by, extreme weather makes no one able to rebuff that climate change does not exist.

But where is Hong Kong, the self-claimed Asia's World City, in this battle against climate change?

So far Hong Kong has been reluctant to take urgent and immediate actions against climate change. The government did take measures to save energy in the public sector, and encouraged business to act voluntarily, but there are only a few attempts if pursuing renewable energy by setting up several trial wind power turbines on the outlying islands. And Hong Kong, as a coastal city, which is vulnerable to attacks by typhoons, rainstorms and high tides, lacks a comprehensive climate change strategy to mitigate the potential impacts.

In the meantime, Hong Kong's all-time competitor, Singapore, is putting forward a National Climate Change Strategy which prepares itself for the potential climate risk over its national security and economic development. In addition, the possibility of emission trading is also being studied and Singapore could be the first financial centre in Asia to earn revenues from climate-related businesses.

On the other hand, there is no excuse that Hong Kong has no responsibility in combating climate change. The Kyoto Protocol has been extended to Hong Kong in 2003, and although China is not yet obliged to set any reduction targets by 2008, as a developed region under One Country Two Systems, Hong Kong's global and historical responsibility in this battle cannot be shirked as an international city, while continuing to reap economic benefits from China's rapid economic growth.. Hong Kong's inaction on the issue not only offsets global efforts against climate change but also leaves itself alone in the international community.

Chief Executive's election is on the run. This poses a good opportunity for the candidates to show their empathy towards our world, and exhibit their visions in positioning Hong Kong as a key player in combating global climate change. But so far, the two outstanding "candidates", Mr. Donald Tsang and Mr. Alan Leong, are obviously behind the track and are not sensitive to the global risks. While the internationally renowned figureheads such as Stephen Hawking recently highlighted global climate change as a more dangerous threat than nuclear weapons, both candidates did not put any words on this, and submerged in the debate of "pragmatism" versus "visionary".

Climate change is an issue that needs both pragmatic measures and a vision, ranging from switching light bulb in your house, controlling carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, to making a switch in your lifestyle. Therefore, the leader of an international city is expected to exhibit the ability to enact pragmatic measures as well as demonstrate a vision. Will the next Chief Executive be able to bring Hong Kong back on track?

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