Hong Kong: A Structural Problem, and A Lot to Lose

Two articles at China Dialogue discuss environmental issues facing Hong Kong. The first argues that the city must broaden its heavily technology-based approach to storm and flood defense, while the second urges a greening of its building sector.

The flooding this summer served as a reminder that the government’s heavy engineering-led approach to managing the risks needs revamping.

So far, the DSD [Drainage Services Department] has invested over 20 billion HKD (US$2.6 billion) in improving flood infrastructure, and engineering technological solutions. But, as Typhoon Chanthu has shown, this engineering-led approach is inadequate. Sustainable flood risk management, using concepts such as “living with floods” or “making space for water”, being applied in countries including the United Kingdom, offers more options for achieving a win-win strategy on flood mitigation, socio-economic development and the environment. These strategies may provide Hong Kong and the wider Pearl River Delta with useful insights.

Hong Kong, often dubbed Asia’s world city, is one of the most important global financial centres. In 2009, its per capita GDP was US$42,800 – the fifteenth largest in the world. It was also ranked as the fifth most expensive big city on the planet in 2008. But this high-value property faces increasing risks. About 424,000 people and 100 billion HKD (US$12.9 billion) are currently vulnerable to storms in Hong Kong – the seventh highest economic exposure level to such weather events in the world, according to the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED).

In densely stacked Hong Kong, where seven million residents live on top of each other within a space of approximately 1,000 square kilometres, buildings account for 89% of electricity consumption and 70% of greenhouse-gas emissions. On the surface, these numbers are encouraging. The property sector, studies reveal, has the capacity to significantly reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions at little, no or negative cost with existing technology.

While new-build properties have the biggest opportunity to slash their emissions – with potential carbon savings of as much as 80% – the rest of the real-estate sector should not be dismissed. Existing buildings, which comprise the majority of Hong Kong’s building stock, still offer possible reductions of 20% to 30%. Measures available to achieve this include low-cost, small-scale energy efficiency improvements in heating, cooling, ventilation, air-conditioning, water heating, lighting and the use of more efficient appliances.

It sounds straightforward enough. But despite the sound economic logic, movement towards a greener building sector in Hong Kong has been stilted at best.


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