November 28, 2019

Report: Hong Kong faces extreme heat challenges as climate change takes hold

Over the last 100 years, the annual number of hot nights in Hong Kong has increased 35 times, according to a report by global law firm Clyde & Co, which analyses the challenge of extreme heat faced by the region and the measures being taken to address this problem.

"Resilience to climate change in Hong Kong will be critical for insurers, banks and property owners, who all have an incentive to mitigate future losses arising from climate change."

The report is the second in a global series from Clyde & Co looking at how vulnerable cities around the world are responding to climate change, urbanisation and globalisation, as part of the firm's Resilience campaign. Currently, approximately 55% of the world’s population live in urban areas and this number is expected to increase to 68% by 2050. As a result, businesses worldwide are facing an increasingly complex and interconnected risk landscape, and how they respond can be business critical. The Resilience campaign examines many of these issues, helping businesses understand the latest thinking on risk management, the regulatory landscape and what the future may hold.

In Hong Kong, rising sea surface temperatures are expected to intensify the frequency and intensity of tropical cyclones – with the report finding super typhoons were more common now than before.

Simon McConnell, Hong Kong Managing Partner, Clyde & Co, says: "Resilience to climate change in Hong Kong will be critical for insurers, banks and property owners, who all have an incentive to mitigate future losses arising from climate change.  Despite the size of the challenge, Hong Kong is well equipped to address carbon pollution and adopt greater energy efficiency."

Mr McConnell said Hong Kong was more proactive than many cities, with major policies in place to counter global-warming. 

"There are ambitious plans underway as part of the Greater Bay Area (GBA) to curb air pollution and waste, as well as fostering low carbon initiatives, environmental technology and green buildings."

The report found about 70% of Hong Kong’s carbon emissions come from electricity generation – but it is estimated that a shift towards natural gas this will result in a 20% reduction of carbon emissions.

The first Waste-to-Energy generator in Hong Kong, T-Park, which captures energy generated from sewage sludge treatment, became operational in 2016, with more generators planned.

Measures have also been taken to regulate emissions by marine vessels in Hong Kong – targetting harmful sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxides and particulate matter.

"Both the government and private sector have been taking active steps to mitigate the adverse impact brought about by rising temperatures. While the Greater Bay Initiative will increase economic activity in the region, there will be greater cooperation on environmental issues," Mr McConnell said.

"Contrary to what is often claimed, China is taking significant and material steps towards greater sustainability," he added.

The report found that with housing at a premium, subdivided flats are the norm. However, these flats suffer higher temperatures than outside. For example, a 100 square foot subdivided flat in Kwun Tong recorded a temperature of 35.7 degrees, while the outside temperature recorded by the Observatory was 30.7 degrees.

This stifling environment also comes at a cost to mental wellbeing – with studies by Red Cross Hong Kong and Hong Kong University, finding the elderly at particular risk.

"A sustainable environment is vitally important to achieving both a successful economy and community," Mr McConnell added.

Commenting on the report, Wynne Lawrence, Senior Associate, says: "With rapid urbanisation there is an increasing amount of power and responsibility in cities and an ever-greater need for city planners and local governments to address the challenges of a changing climate. Clyde & Co's Climate Change Risk and Resilience initiative is looking at the challenges and opportunities for businesses in building a more sustainable and resilient future."

"Our resilient cities series has previously explored the legal and regulatory issues around Air Pollution as a result of urbanisation in New Delhi. This report on Extreme Heat in Hong Kong casts a spotlight on another crucial aspect of urban resilience. Our cross-disciplinary and global team is interested in engaging with clients and others on this important topic."