1. Is climate change a problem in Hong Kong?
Climate change is a brute fact. According to United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), over the 20th century, the surface temperature of the earth recorded an increase of 0.6 degree Celsius, destabilizing the fragile climate and ecosystem. The Hong Kong Observatory (HKO) also confirmed a simultaneous trend of temperature rise in Hong Kong: average annual mean temperature taken by the HKO in Tsim Sha Tsui in the recent decade is 23.5 degree Celsius, 1.5 degree Celsius higher than the reading at the end of the end of 19th century.
IPCC also asserted that, as a result of global warming, extreme weather, such as hot wave, drought and hurricane, will undoubtedly become more frequent. The situation in Hong Kong matches perfectly with IPCC's assertion. Between 1885 and 1944, HKO recorded 147 very hot days (days with a maximum temperature of 33 degree Celsius or above). From 1945 to 2004, the number rocketed to 660, 4 times the figure between 1885 and 1944.
With reference to the simulation models of greenhouse gases emission from major climate centers in the world, the HKO has made an estimation on the future temperature trend: the average temperature of the last decade of 21st century will be 3.5 degree Celsius higher than that between 1961 and 1990.
The temperature rise in Hong Kong, as powerfully illustrated by the figures above, closely resembles the trend of global climate change. We are no exception.
2. How are we endangered as a result of the extreme hot weather caused by global warming?
Extreme hot weather affects our health in various extents: from dizziness and panting to heatstroke and sudden death. In August 2006, Government Mod 1 Staff General Union conducted a survey, namely “Introduction of break for outdoor works” and 201 Workman II grade staffs of FEHD were interviewed. According to the survey, more than 90% experienced sickness during outdoor works, among them 43% experienced dizziness, 38% suffocation, 36% exhaustion, 32% panting, serious cases such as shock (9%) and heatstroke (9%) also occurred. As a matter of fact, outdoor workers suffering unwell or even dying out of very hot weather happens times and again. (See table)
Owing to the trend of global warming, HKO determines that Hong Kong's temperature is rising too. The situation affirms workers' impression that the working environment is becoming hotter and hotter. The annual mean temperature is estimated to further increase by 3.5 degree Celsius by the end of this century. Threat to the health of people will by no means be alleviated.
Extreme weather, being one of the devastating consequences of global warming, is becoming a major problem in the US and Europe. Hundreds of people are dying of heat waves every year in these countries. In France, where there is no tradition for staying in a summer resort, 15,000 people were killed by heat waves and its complications 3 years ago. In July this year, California suffered from heat wave for weeks with the highest temperature recorded as 46 degree Celsius. More than 160 people died.
Cases of outdoor workers accident in recent years
July 23, 2006
A 40 year-old man was sent to hospital after over-exposure under sunshine in a construction site in Sai Tso Wan, Tsing-yi.
July 21, 2006
A mid-age construction worker was sent to hospital under extreme hot weather in a construction site in Mody Road, Tsim Sha Tsui.
July 12, 2006
An out-sourced female cleaning worker of FEHD suffered from heatstroke in Tin Liu Ha, Lam Kam Road, Taipo.
July 6, 2006
A transportation worker is suspected to die of heatstroke when he was unloading goods in Tam Kung Temple Road, Shau Kei Wan.
June 25, 2006
A worker fell unconscious under extreme hot weather when working in the construction site of the Airport access terminal.
April 20, 2006
A wall-maintenance worker suffered from heatstroke and fell unconscious during work.
August 4, 2005
A worker aged 29 was suspected to suffer from heatstroke, fell from ladder and broke his jaw. His colleagues found him only half an hour later and the worker was certified dead after sending to hospital.
July 27, 2005
A mid-age worker was suspected to die of heatstroke in an outdoor work site in Ping Che, Ta Kwu Ling.
July 19, 2005
An out-sourced female cleaning worker of FEHD was sent to hospital due to heatstroke and dizziness when working in Tai Tam Country Park.
July 16, 2005
A 51-year-old female worker of FEHD's pest control unit fell unconscious when working under the sun in Tai Tam Reservoir.
3. Why is the Hong Kong government responsible for restricting GHG emission?
Greenhouse gas (GHG) is the name for gases that trap heat and hence causing increase in global temperature. CO2, CH4, N2O and CFCs are well-known examples of GHG. In a collective effort to stop climate change, 164 countries have already signed the Kyoto Protocol, committing to obligation of emission reduction. According to Annex 1 of the Protocol, countries (mainly developed countries) have to reduce their GHG emissions by around 5% below their 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012,
The Protocol becomes effective in Hong Kong from 2003 onwards, as China is one of the signatories. While China is classified as a developing county (so no obligation to meet reduction target), Hong Kong is a developed region by definition of the International Monetary Fund and the territory ranks 9th globally in terms of GDP. Hong Kong is indisputably responsible and financially capable as well, in taking up reducing the emission of GHG.
4. In order to reduce GHG emission, which industry should Hong Kong Government regulate?
Power plants should be the priority target for GHG emission reduction. Power plants in Hong Kong rely heavily on coal burning as the source of electricity generation, emitting over 70% of the total CO2 emission in Hong Kong – the single largest source of CO2 emission without excuse.
Due to the uncontrolled emission of power plants, the current level of CO2 emission in Hong Kong already exceeded that in 1990, the baseline year for Kyoto Protocol. However, the reduction progress simply is not optimistic, as the Government is not implementing any measure to restrict emission from power plants
5. What is climate change? What are its causes?
The earth receives energy from the sun in the form of radiation and the earth surface reflects part of the heat back to space. In the atmosphere, greenhouse gas (GHG), including CO2, CH4, N2O and CFCs, functions to trap the heat reflected from the earth surface. The earth is warmed up in this way by greenhouse gas. This warming mechanism is therefore called “greenhouse effect”. The earth would become inhabitable without greenhouse effect. Temperature can get to as low as -18 degree Celsius when there is no GHG retaining heat for the earth.
This thermal equilibrium experienced a fundamental change since the industrial revolution in the 18th century. The increase in industrial consumption of fossil fuels such as coal and oil leads to a tremendous increase in concentration of GHG. The greenhouse effect was inevitably accelerated. The IPCC has already pointed out that an increase in 0.6 degree Celsius on the earth surface was recorded over the 20th century and a further increase of 1.4 to 5.8 degree Celsius was estimated for the 21st century. The speed is unprecedented in history, and the consequence is a disturbed climate system, which will in turn destabilize the ecosystem. The fight back by the ecosystem is expected to be even more ruthless and disastrous.
6. What are the impacts of climate change?
Extreme weather events
Climate change increases the frequency of extreme hot weather and heat wave, asserted IPCC. Evidences can be found in Europe and the US, which are continuously attacked by heat wave in the last few years. Sichuan and Chong Qing were also exposed to extreme high temperature this year; measurements of temperature above 40 degree Celsius were repeatedly recorded, with a historical high of 62 degree Celsius recorded in Chong Qing. The most serious drought in the recent 50 years also attacked the two regions, causing dramatic decline in agricultural production. Financial loss amounted to approximately 15 billion RMB and 18 million of people were deprived of fresh water supply.
Glacier retreat, sea level rise
As the Earth warms, its ice melts. Within 100 years, Himalayas, where the highest glacier locates, is predicted to disappear. Glacier retreat is not merely loss of ice but it leads to rise in sea level and thus threaten low-lying regions.
In 2001, Tuvalu (consist of 9 low-lying coral atolls, east of Solomon Islands in south Pacific) became the first country ever in history to be submerged. The country was above sea level by 2 meters only, and was announced inhabitable due to exceptionally strong typhoons and rise in sea level. In fact, the submergence does not only threaten resort island countries in the south Pacific. Cities such as London, New York and Bangkok will all face possible danger of submergence and become low-lying region if the trend persists.
Global warming strengthens tropical cyclone and rainfall in some regions. Take for instance, the frequency of windstorm reached a historical high of 27 (compared to an average of 10 per annum) in Atlantic last year. A more well-known case is Katrina which swept across Louisiana and Mississippi in August 2005. It took away lives of 1600 people and drove 270,000 people homeless and total economic loss amounted to 55 billion US dollars. Due to its particular location in low-lying region, New Orleans suffered the harshest devastation and up to 100,000 people are still staying away from their homes.
Climate change disturbs ecosystem and endangers biodiversity. 19 renowned biologists predicted in Nature magazine in 2004 that 18% to 35% of animal and plant species will become extinct by 2050. The earth, literally, is going to lose one-fifth of its biodiversity, which amounts to about 1 million species.
7. What is the solution to climate change?
Renewable energy is the solution. Especially for developing countries whose increased demand for energy consumption is inevitable, renewable energy provides a safe, clean and sustainable alternative. Solar, tidal, wind, biomass and small scale hydro power do not emit any pollutant. In fact, millions of population around the world have already been benefiting from renewable energy, as power generated from renewable source has already accounted for 14% of the total energy consumption, according to the “United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change”. By generating 14% of total energy from renewable source, 3 billion tones of CO2 emission per year is effectively reduced.
(Information complied by Greenpeace China)