Appendix 2: Climate Change and Hong Kong

Press release - 2006-10-10

1. Why is climate change hazardous to health of elders?

The normal body temperature is 37.5 degree Celsius and the body sweats to balance body heat when the environment temperature exceeds the limit. However, when the environment temperature gets too high, the body will become unable to release heat, causing health hazards such as dizziness, shortness of breath, heat stroke or even death. Since the sweating mechanism and regulation of body fluid become worse when one gets old, or due to the chronic disease, hot weather easily endangers life of the elderly.

Survey by the Neighbourhood and Workers’ Service Centre (NWSC) and Greenpeace revealed over 90% of the elderly respondents felt Hong Kong is getting hotter. 30% of interviewees experienced dizziness and shortness of breath because of the high temperature. 24% complained that their sleeping quality had been affected and 21% experienced increased heart beats and chest tightness. Besides, 28% of respondents need to take regular medication because of chronic diseases, within which 62% had exacerbation because of the hot weather. As a matter of fact, every time the Hong Kong Observatory issues hot weather warnings, the number of elderly seeking help through personal emergency link greatly increases. (Table 1)

The Hong Kong Observatory confirms that global warming is directly leading to the rising temperature. It predicts that by the end of this century, global warming will further pushes up the average temperature in Hong Kong by 3.5 degree Celsius. Perception of hotter weather by the elders echoes the trend of global warming which is endangering their health.

Table 1: the number of elderly seeking help through personal emergency link

Dates of issues of hot weather warnings

Number seeking help through personal emergency link

Numbers of elders sent to hospital

(age 65 or above)

2006/07/12

884

78 (72)

2006/07/13

859

70 (66)

2006/07/24

906

69 (67)

2006/07/25

903

66 (61)

2006/06/23

970

70 (68)

2006/06/24

941

62 (60)

2006/06/25

758

59 (56)

*700-800 times on a monthly average basis

Information from Senior Citizen Home Safety Association

2. 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, closely resembles the trend of global climate change. We are no exception.

Table 2: Seven hottest years in Hong Kong and its annual average temperature

Years

Annual average temperature (Degree Celsius)

1.

1998

24

2.

2002

23.9

3.

1966

23.8

4.

1999

23.8

5.

1994

23.6

6.

2001

23.6

7.

2003

23.6




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.

(Information complied by Greenpeace China)

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