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Opinion | How Hong Kong can best build urban climate resilience


To construct a more climate-resilient urban environment, Hong Kong must review and improve its approach to addressing extreme weather events. The most significant deficiency in Hong Kong society, as revealed by recent extreme events, lies in its lack of robustness, and a forward-thinking and reflective mindset.

Robustness refers to the capacity of infrastructure and people to withstand the impact of extreme circumstances. During the black rainstorm earlier this month, some MTR stations, malls and streets were flooded for an extended period. This shows the inadequacies of our infrastructure design and drainage systems.

We should upgrade them, and consider preventive measures such as floodgates in our subways, and innovations such as permeable pavements and other nature-based solutions.

While accurately predicting extreme rainfall events remains challenging even with the latest science, we can improve the dissemination of information to local communities once flooding is evident. Many in the community itself don’t have the necessary knowledge and skills to cope with flooding. This resulted in at least one person being swept away by the rapid flows during the recent storm.

The government should issue guidelines to educate people on how to protect themselves in extreme weather and establish statutory orders to safeguard workers’ safety. Technologies should be used to disseminate information and track the situation in real time.

Being forward-thinking entails having plans in place that can cope with changing conditions. Relying solely on observations from historical climatic data is no longer sufficient.

A government official described this month’s rainstorm as a “once-in-500-years” event. However, this statement may mislead residents into believing that such an event will only occur again in 500 years. The truth is that the climate is changing, and the next 500 years will be vastly different from the previous 500.
We cannot base our predictions on the same assumptions. The next extreme event could occur at any time. Thus, it is crucial to thoroughly assess the feasibility of reclamation works like the Kau Yi Chau Artificial Islands project in Lantau, considering the climate risks posed by extreme events.
People visit the Civil Engineering and Development Department’s exhibition on the proposed Kau Yi Chau Artificial Islands project, on February 9. Photo: K.Y. Cheng
Regarding reflective capacity, while Hong Kong has learned lessons from previous extreme events, primarily typhoons, to develop emergency response systems and protocols to protect utilities and major critical facilities, community responses have been complacent. For instance, during Super Typhoon Mangkhut, there was significant damage to high-rise buildings, including shattered windows. Yet, when Super Typhoon Saola hit four years later, similar damage occurred.

The government should review the building codes of existing and new buildings, ensuring they can withstand more extreme weather. But, as users of infrastructure and technologies, people are at the heart of the issue. Climate resilience should be part of compulsory education, covering action to take during extreme events and ways to minimise damage, as well as addressing the cause of climate change by reducing individual carbon footprints.

And rather than wait for government workers to clear branches blocking roads, perhaps we could collaborate with neighbours to move the obstructions where possible.

Finally, Hong Kong should ensure sufficient funds for its climate mitigation and adaptation measures. In the chief executive’s policy address in 2021, the government pledged to spend HK$240 billion over the next 15-20 years on these measures. But there have been few updates since then.

In contrast, Singapore, an island nation, regularly reviews and strengthens its adaptation measures, with funding allocated to cope with projected sea-level rises. This month, it launched a research facility to find long-term solutions to protect it from the “existential threat” posed by rising sea levels.
Singapore hopes its new research centre will bring in expertise and innovation to head off what officials describe as the “existential threat” posed by rising sea levels. Photo: Reuters

In New York City, meanwhile, maps showcasing stormwater flooding scenarios under the impact of future sea level rises are made available to the public for awareness and action.

Living in cities often leads to a disconnection from nature, resulting in a lack of awareness of the urban landscape’s vulnerability to natural disasters. Technology alone cannot solve all challenges, as the variability of natural systems and processes cannot be accurately forecast even with advanced climate science.

Therefore, our emphasis should be on building urban climate resilience by enhancing robustness, reflecting on past experiences, and adopting a forward-thinking approach.

Natalie Chung Sum Yue is a member of the Council for Carbon Neutrality and Sustainable Development



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