We mean business in climate action

 

By Simon Ng

Several weeks ago, Typhoon Mangkhut whirled past Hong Kong and left a lasting impression to the city and its people. Typhoon Mangkhut did not hit Hong Kong head-on, and it is quite scary to imagine how much worse the impact could be if it was otherwise.

Still, the city was smashed with fallen trees, broken windows, flooded premises, ripped-up seawalls. The experience was a new, horrid and eye-opening experience for those too young to remember Typhoon Wanda in 1962 or Typhoon Ellen in 1983.

In the aftermath, people called for better emergence and recovery support, as well as plans to prepare Hong Kong for climate adaptation and resilience in the long term. It was a stark warning that, no matter how developed and advanced your city is, we all are vulnerable to extreme weather events which are quickly becoming the norm, rather than the exception.

It is estimated that human activities have caused approximately 1.0°C of global warming now – one could only imagine the sober outlook if we continue with a further warming to 1.5°C, 2°C, or more.

A second wake-up call arrived soon after Typhoon Mangkhut. A special report published by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that global average warming, at the current rate, will probably reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052. It also informs policymakers that limiting global warming to 1.5°C, rather than 2°C, could significantly reduce the severity of impacts such as loss of ecosystems, extreme weather, significant sea level rise, and the risk associated with long-lasting or irreversible changes.

The report prefers a “stabilization” pathway rather than an “overshoot” pathway as the means to keep global warming to stay at or below 1.5°C in 2100, as the risk of having severe impacts is much higher with the “overshoot” scenario. In any case, limiting global warming to 1.5°C or below would require rapid and far-reaching transitions and transformations across countries, economies and sectors.

Doing our part

In response to the Paris Agreement, the Hong Kong Government set out a target to reduce carbon intensity by 65% to 70% by 2030 using 2005 as the baseline. Among other measures, plans were agreed with the power companies to increase the use of natural gas and renewable energy in place of coal for electricity generation. A voluntary 4Ts (Target, Timeline, Transparency and Together) partnership framework was agreed with the building sector to reduce electricity consumption and to enhance energy efficiency.

Public transport, electric vehicles and walking and cycling were promoted to reduce carbon emissions from the transport sector. Early this year, the Council for Sustainable Development has been tasked by the Government to prepare and roll out a public consultation on Hong Kong’s long-term decarbonisation strategy up to 2050.

Business on board

Business commitment and support to carbon actions are integral to Hong Kong’s success in meeting its decarbonisation targets. In the past years, forward-thinking leaders in the business sector have already taken solid steps in climate mitigation and adaptation through different means. Some companies took on board climate risk as a key consideration in their long-term business strategy. Others are investing in technologies and research and development in order to come up with innovative decarbonisation solutions.

There is also growing awareness and concern about the risk of climate change to businesses, both in terms of the risk of physical damage to infrastructure and other assets, as well as the risk related to transition, such as policy change and new standards.

More recently, several leading businesses based in Hong Kong are proactively looking into climate-related financial disclosure and carbon reduction target setting under different global initiatives and programmes – so far, 5 Hong Kong companies have committed or set science-based targets, 4 are official supporters of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures, and 25 have signed up to the Principles for Responsible Investment.

Business: More is needed

Yet, in light of the recent warnings, we need more businesses to take even more climate action sooner rather than later. We need to mobilise all parties along every value chain, both the supply side and demand side for power, as a multi-pronged approach will be needed for Hong Kong and Hong Kong’s business community to step up to the challenge. We also have to be able to track progress and quantify how individual business actions contribute collectively to achieving Hong Kong’s overall targets. We may even want to suggest interim targets in order to tell with confidence where we stand at a certain milestone.

To expedite and broaden climate actions from business and to relate business actions to city targets, new partnerships were formed recently in different places between city governments and the business sector. There are models that Hong Kong can learn from moving forward, as we look to scale up climate action from business and to discuss sectoral target setting, working in collaboration with the Government.

Examples from abroad

For example in the United Kingdom, a new London Business Climate Leaders group was set up in summer this year, spearheaded by the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan. This group looks to accelerate London businesses’ and the city’s progress in meeting London’s ambitious zero carbon target by 2050. An initial leadership group with 11 leading businesses was formed in the first phase, and the wider business community in London will be involved in the second phase so as to achieve impact at scale.

Elsewhere in New Zealand and Japan, similar coalitions were established recently to facilitate coordinated actions and knowledge sharing among business leaders and city officials.

To date, many climate actions in Hong Kong were taken on a best-effort basis. But more is needed to make real progress in Hong Kong, let alone contributing to the 1.5°C global warming max limit. As a must, we should push for collective effort from different sectors in society with specific, quantifiable targets and action items, supported by clear government policiy, and, where appropriate, mandatory requirements. The business sector is ready to step up and to inspire more of their peers into taking solid climate actions that count.

The author is Advisor – Policy & Research at the Business Environment Council (BEC). BEC is organising a conference “The Making of a Low Carbon Hong Kong: Business Leadership and Best Practices” on 23 November to showcase business commitment to decarbonisation through strategies, innovation, technologies, investment, integrated solutions, partnership and sectoral target-setting. https://bec.org.hk/events-current/bec-enviroseries-conference-2018-november

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