Super Typhoon Mangkhut, which has caused extensive damage to the city, should serve as a wake-up call for the people of Hong Kong who are now facing a grave and imminent challenge posed by the accelerating climate change and increasingly frequent extreme weather conditions.
At the same time, Mangkhut should also serve as a timely reminder for our government about the importance of planning well ahead of natural disasters and devising measures to meet the threat posed by extreme weather.
Studies have shown that climate change would result in rising sea temperature and sea levels, which would in turn provide the rocket fuel for more powerful and destructive typhoons.
Some of Hong Kong’s coastal and low-lying areas such as Tai O, Lei Yue Mun and Heng Fa Chuen have taken the brunt of the ferocious storm surges driven by Mangkhut and last year’s Hato.
Since climate change is an issue that has such profound implications for society, I suggest that the government promptly coordinate efforts among the various policy bureaus and formulate a thorough and comprehensive plan to tackle and alleviate the impact of extreme weather conditions.
The administration should also carry out a full-scale evaluation of the potential safety risks posed by extreme weather.
Take Mangkhut as an example. The day after the super typhoon ravaged Hong Kong, road traffic across our city was virtually paralyzed by tens of thousands of fallen trees and other debris, while many of our public leisure facilities were turned into rubble.
The government must learn this painful lesson and substantially enhance our shoreline defense infrastructure, as well as improve the management of urban tree plantations and slopes.
On the other hand, the Task Force on Land Supply has put forward 18 land supply options for public consultation.
Among these options is a proposal to develop the East Lantau Metropolis, under which five potential locations have been identified for large-scale land reclamation projects, namely Lung Kwu Tan in Tuen Mun, Siu Ho Wan and Sunny Bay in North Lantau, Ma Liu Shui in Sha Tin, and Tsing Yi Southwest.
Apart from these suggested sites, there is also a proposal to build artificial islands in the waters between Lantau and Hong Kong Island.
These potential sites for land reclamation are known as the “5 plus 1” reclamation sites.
However, from the perspective of climate change, building huge man-made islands for housing development could carry huge safety risks for the public.
According to projections made by the Hong Kong Observatory, our city might witness a rise of up to 50 centimeters in the annual mean sea level by 2050.
Meanwhile, tropical cyclones around the globe are likely to become more frequent and ferocious as a result of rising greenhouse gas concentrations, which means coastal and low-lying areas in Hong Kong are also likely to become increasingly prone to typhoon-driven floods in the days ahead.
Earlier this month, Super Typhoon Jebi swept across Japan, and resulted in massive flooding and devastation of the Kansai International Airport in Osaka, which is located five kilometers away from the coast.
The disaster that struck the Kansai airport reflects the potential danger and vulnerability of man-made islands.
The incident underscores the urgent need for our government to reassess the “5 plus 1” reclamation option, apart from regularly reviewing the effectiveness of the current policies on climate change.
In particular, the administration should carry out extensive risk evaluation and carefully study the impact of storm surges on artificial islands.
Simply put, the government must avoid any form of blind obsession with boosting land supply and pursuing population growth even at the expense of public safety.
Meanwhile, like what I have been pushing for over the years, Hong Kong should step up its efforts at promoting the use of renewable energy and reducing its reliance on fossil fuels in the long run, while the government should roll out policies to alleviate climate change, so as to achieve low carbon emissions and do our bit in easing global climate change.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept 20
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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