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Following the latest IPCC report published in March, warning that we are running out of time to limit global warming to 1.5C, the climate crisis is clearly accelerating at a pace like never before. From deforestation to plastic pollution, there are several factors that are causing the exacerbation of climate change. As part of Earth.Org’s ‘Environmental Issues’ series, here are some of the biggest ones Hong Kong faces in 2023. 

Biggest Environmental Issues in Hong Kong

1. Outdoor Air Pollution

One of the top environmental issues in Hong Kong is air pollution. According to a study of global mortality and pollution levels published in The Lancet Planetary Health journal, 9 million people around the world die from outdoor air pollution every year. Long-term exposure to severe air pollution also poses serious health problems ranging from chronic respiratory infections and diseases to increased risk of cancer. 

Based on Hong Kong Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) records, street-level air pollution in densely populated areas including Causeway Bay, Central and Mong Kok often exceed WHO guidelines, reflecting a sizeable number of Hong Kong residents breathing in air that contains high levels of pollutants every day.  

Causes of air pollution in Hong Kong derive from sources like fossil fuel motor vehicles and regional smog, which is caused by pollutants from marine vessels and industrial power plants within the city and from mainland China. 

Though the Hong Kong government has announced plans to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, the current rate of carbon emissions shows no signs of slowing down. As for 2021, the number of private motor vehicles registered in Hong Kong reaches up to 657,000, nearly 30,000 more vehicles compared to the previous year. Despite being home to one of the best public transportation systems in the world, Hong Kong residents still heavily rely on private cars when commuting in the city and that proportion continues to grow with each passing year. Within the past decade, the volume of private cars has increased by almost a third, contributing massive amounts of carbon emissions in the city. 

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While the government has made efforts to regulate emissions from industrial power plants and marine vessels that pass through our waters, smog from the Pearl River Delta region has proven difficult to control. Collaboration efforts with Guangdong authorities have been made in improving air quality in the Great Bay Area region, but improvements in air quality have yet to be seen. 

hong kong landfill waste

One of three strategic landfill sites in Tuen Mun, Hong Kong. Photo: Edwin Lee/Flickr.

2. Landfill Waste

One of the most glaring environmental issues Hong Kong currently faces is landfill waste. Every year, about 4.17 million tonnes of solid waste make its way to our landfills, and during to the coronavirus pandemic, local waste has exponentially grown thanks to the increased use of food takeout boxes, plastic cutleries and single-use masks. Landfill gases, which are emissions from landfills decompose organic waste, will continue to surge as a result and contribute towards global warming, especially when you consider 40-60% of landfill emissions are methane gases, and have 10 times the warming potential than carbon dioxide. 

As one of the most densely populated cities in the world with a population of almost 7.5 million people, Hong Kong is in an immensely difficult position to create new dedicated landfills sites. Reducing and recycling waste is the only viable long term solution in dealing with the city’s insurmountable landfill waste problem. And while the Waste Charging Scheme passed by the Legislative Council in late 2021 – 16 years after it was first proposed – is a good first step, much more is needed to tackle the issue.

3. Plastic Pollution 

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, Hong Kong generate about 3.9 billion disposable food and drink containers every year. This amounts to 170 takeaway meals and 180 disposal drinks for every Hongkonger. As restaurants limit opening hours and seating capacities during the pandemic, people rely on takeaway options and the amount of plastic containers and cutleries used and disposed of has only soared. In 2020, plastics made up 21% of the city’s total municipal solid waste (MSW), accounting for the third-largest share of MSW after food waste and paper. The city’s beaches and waterways are drowning in plastic, and microplastic levels in the sea are 40% higher than the global average. According to estimates,  more than 5,000 pieces of microplastic can be found in every square metre of sea.

Some F&B companies have made the effort to adopt biodegradable and even compostable takeaway packaging and utensils, but a majority of local restaurants and small businesses still opt for low-cost materials like styrofoam. 

The lack of an efficient recycling infrastructure is a major contributing factor in the plastic crisis in Hong Kong. In 2019, less than 20% of plastic packaging waste was recycled due to the lack of adequate recycling facilities. Prior to China’s Waste Ban, where the country placed a ban on importing unprocessed materials, Hong Kong used to offload the city’s rubbish to the mainland for recycling. Since the policy implementation, Hong Kong has yet developed enough recycling plants to compensate. While some government interventions such as the Plastic Recycling Pilot Scheme seem to be working, as Hong Kong experienced a 27% increase in locally recycled plastics in 2020, plastic problem is still haunting the city.

You might also like: China’s Refusal to Take Back Food Containers Exposes Hong Kong’s Broken Plastic Waste Management System

4. Food Waste

Known as an international food paradise, Hong Kong has a reputation for affordable and a stunning variety of international cuisines. Consequently, this means that food waste is equally high in the city and without a doubt one of the biggest environmental issues that Hong Kong faces. 

Food waste in Hong Kong accounts for about 30% of municipal solid waste that goes straight to landfills. In 2019, a recorded 1,067 tonnes of food waste were produced from commercial and industrial sources such as restaurants, hotels and wet markets. The amount of food waste has also been on the rise especially in the F&B industry where it grew from 800 tonnes per day in 2012 to 1,000 tonnes of waste generated per day in 2019. 

While the government has introduced educational initiatives and an operating organic waste recovery center OPARK, over 3,600 tonnes of food waste are still being sent to Hong Kong’s landfills each day, contributing to over hundred thousand tonnes of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. 

environmental issues, hong kong land reclamation

Land reclamation site for Central piers, Hong Kong. Photo: Piqsels.

5. Biodiversity Loss

Hong Kong has surprisingly rich biodiversity thanks to its large natural terrain and coastal waters. In fact, 40% of the city’s land belongs to country parks and protected areas, which supports more than 3,300 species of vascular plants, 57 species of terrestrial mammals, and more than 540 species of birds. Our waters also support over 1,000 species of fishes, too. 

However, in order to make space for the city’s already dense and growing population, Hong Kong has devoted much effort in urbanisation and land reclamation. Land development, be it deforestation or illegal waste dumping, is one of the growing environmental issues be in Hong Kong, and has led to significant impacts to the local biodiversity and habits. 

The pink dolphin, also known as the Chinese white dolphin, is a prime example of how local species are threatened by continued land development. The waters surrounding Hong Kong have been part of the dolphins’ habitat for centuries, with recorded sightings going back to the Tang Dynasty. The number of pink dolphins that frequent Hong Kong coastlines has dropped to about 300 in recent years due to heavy vessel traffic and most importantly, its shrinking habitat. The development of the Chek Lap Kok island, which is home to the Hong Kong International Airport, and the associated land reclamation have reduced the amount of fish dolphins can eat while dredging has unearthed pollution from the seafloor causing water pollution. A massive 1,700 hectares land reclamation plan near the easter waters of Lantau Island that was proposed in 2018 will further deteriorate the dolphin habitat as well as increase vulnerabilities to rising sea levels. 

You might also like: Why Are Hong Kong’s Rare Pink Dolphins Disappearing?

Another serious threat to Hong Kong biodiversity is illegal wildlife trafficking. The city is home to one of the largest hubs for the illegal wildlife trafficking industry thanks to its free ports, geographical location in the Greater Bay Area and accessibility to other Asian countries. Every year, the city sees millions of live animals and their derivatives pass through its ports. In 2019 alone, more than 7,000 endangered animals were illegally traded in the city, including pangolins and live turtles. However a landmark bill was passed in August 2021 which will treat illegal wildlife trading and seizures as a serious crime while placing greater attention on organised criminals and networks instead of carriers and mules. The passage of the amendment aims to deter smuggling operations and supply networks in the city. 

6. Water Pollution 

Hong Kong is a unique city surrounded by the South China Sea, where marine waters cover about 1700 km² and home to a wide range of different marine environments. In the early 1970s and 80s, most of the city’s sewage and wastewater were discharged into the sea, with little to no treatment. As a result, Hong Kong waters experienced a surge in organic and inorganic pollutants, a reduction of oxygen content, and increased bacteria levels. By 2005, Hong Kong generated about 2 million tonnes of wastewater as well as industrial effluents every day, making it one of the main sources of water pollution in Hong Kong. 

Marine pollution has also been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic as an additional 4,680 to 6,240 metric tonnes of marine plastic waste made its way into the Hong Kong waters. An estimated 1.56 billion face masks were dumped into the ocean during this period, which experts have said will take as long as 450 years to break down. Microplastics from single-use masks are also incredibly harmful to marine life and the ecosystem, potentially killing up to 100,000 marine mammals and turtles, and over a million seabirds. 

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“I’ll admit that veggie burgers haven’t always tasted great, but eating a meat substitute just once or twice a week will cut down on the emissions you’re responsible for,” says Bill Gates in his recent bestseller ‘How to Avoid a Climate Disaster’. Gates suggests consuming less livestock as one major action individuals can take to help avoid climate disaster. Animal agriculture contributes to at least 14.5% of the worldwide greenhouse gases emissions. The impacts of climate change will be catastrophic if we do not bring global carbon emissions down to net-zero, and meat substitutes can play an important role in reducing the carbon footprint of the agriculture sector. However, could plant-based meat like Impossible Foods be fundamentally healthy for Hong Kong consumers and the environment?

Sector by sector: where do global greenhouse gas emissions come from?

Sector by sector: where do global greenhouse gas emissions come from? Image: Our World in Data.

What Is Impossible Foods?

Impossible Foods, also known as Impossible, is one of the world’s leading plant-based food and meat providers. The company employs advanced biotechnology to create nutritious food from plants, and was one of the first to accurately replace meat products. Eminent scientists and chefs were hired to recreate the sensory experiences of real meat and precisely determined how plant based meat should be cooked, tasted and handled in production.

Impossible is targeting planet-based and vegan markets, but is also aiming to eradicate the negative health impacts from digesting real meat, and to limit the impacts of livestock products on ecosystems.

The Impossible Burger generates 89% fewer greenhouse gases, and 87% less water than a traditional burger. Impossible has received financial backing from Google Ventures, The Union Bank of Switzerland, Bill Gates and 43 other investors with a sum of USD $1.4B funding for the firm.

Environmental Life Cycle Analysis: Impossible Burger 2.0. Image: K. Sofi.

However, haematologist – Dr. Shireen Kassam from King’s College Hospital has criticised plant-based meat products, condemning them as “ultra-processed junk food” with “too much sodium” that can lead to health conditions including stroke, and high blood pressure. What’s more, the anti-GMO community and anti-GMO Center for Food Safety have crusaded against Impossible Foods for adopting GMO soybeans, as GMO soy has huge amounts of herbicide glyphosate that is proven to be the cradle of cancer after digesting.

Impossible Foods in Hong Kong

Currently, there are roughly 200 retail stores and 170 restaurants in Hong Kong where Impossible Foods products are readily available for purchasing and ordering, and commuters see daily Impossible Foods advertisements in MTR stations. Impossible Burgers, in particularly,  have been incredibly popular. However, we should delve into the underlying drawbacks and potentials of Impossible before it becomes mainstream, right?

The aforementioned health issues related to Impossible notwithstanding, there is more bad news: Impossible products are heavily processed and therefore, high in saturated fat. To reduce chances of suffering from heart disease, the American Heart Association suggests lowering our saturated fats’ intaketo no more than 5-6% of our daily calories.

To elucidate, Hong Kong people are suggested to absorb 1,588 calories a day, which indicates no more than 95.28 calories should come from saturated fat. And that is merely about 10.6 grams of saturated fat that is allowed per day as referred to a Cornell-China-Oxford project on nutrient, health and environment researched by scientists

Conversely, Impossible meat is among the meat substitutes with the highest saturated fat per 4oz according to a health research conducted in Harvard. Thus, if a consumer is very busy with workload or school work, and lacks regular cardiovascular exercise, meatless burgers should not be included in their daily diet.

But why? For a simple calculation, 8oz of meat is normally cooked per burger or found in an Impossible patties package, which is equivalent to a 8g of saturated fat* 2 = 16 grams of saturated fat just for one meal. By exceeding the recommended daily intake frequency, it might possibly give rise to smaller ventricles, poorer heart function and stiffer arteries and more.   

impossible and Beyond Meat

Harvard Health Publishing: Impossible and Beyond: How healthy are these meatless burgers? Image: G, Emily (2019).

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What Is So Special About Impossible Foods?

Nonetheless, this is not the whole picture, Impossible products in particular are very rich in protein, vitamins and minerals. Derived from the root of soy plants, heme, also known as soy leghaemoglobin, was created to make Impossible meat taste exceptionally similar to normal beef. Heme is utilised as colour and flavour addictive, which allow Impossible’s meatless meat to taste and ‘bleed’ exactly like red meat. 

To put it simply, Impossible meat contains approximately 19grams of protein while containing zero cholesterol. Too much cholesterol in our diet can lead to blocked blood vessels and be a breeding ground for stroke and heart problems.

Significantly, Impossible products also contain nutrients such as vitamin B12 and zinc amounts equivalent to or greater than those found in red meat and poultry. This would be ideal for vegetarians since barely relying on their normal diets from plants, vegetarians would find it much harder to receive the same amount of nutrients needed. 

impossible meat patties

Impossible rolls out plant-based burger patties to more Hong Kong grocery stores. Photo: Impossible Meat.

Impossible Foods’ Environmental Impact 

Although plant-based meat invented by Impossible relies on GMO soy, industrial farming processes including tillage and use of agriculture chemicals can devastate fertile soil and cause it to secrete stored carbon. “Approximately 30% of the one trillion tons of atmospheric carbon originated from destruction of soil,” according to Dr. Mark Hyman in his book “Food Fix: How to Save Our Health, Our Economy, Our Environment, and our Communities.”

Despite the environmental impact of soybean farming, Impossible products have a substantially lower carbon footprint than an equivalent beef burger. An Impossible burger accounts for 15 times fewer GHG emissions, 50 times less fresh water usage and about 18 times less land use. To this end, an estimated 32% of worldwide carbon emission that comes from livestock can be drastically decreased; whereas one-third of fresh water that is supposed to be used for animal production can be used elsewhere, for instance – solving the water scarcity crisis in Qatar

Ideally, the environmental impacts from livestock can only be reduced when more people consume plant-based meat instead of red meat. Since only when the demand of meat drops, suppliers will then slaughter fewer poultry. A study conducted by University of Oxford has proclaimed that when all people diverting from red meat to plant based meat, approximately three quarters of food-related emissions can be brought down, along with the acidifying and eutrophying emissions that could degrade terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems 

Most food in Hong Kong is imported from abroad, and in particular red meat products are responsible for 57% of individual carbon footprints for people in daily Hong Kong’s imports. In 2017, Brazil supplied 30% of Hong Kong’s red meat products, followed by the US with roughly 20% and 5% coming from Australia. 

While it might sound fantastic that our Free Trade Agreement allows us to eliminate tariffs, and give Hongkongers access to so many superior meat choices from countries such as Brazil. But all these comforts make it easy to ignore that we are perpetrating the Amazon’s deforestation, as we make up for one-quarter of 1.64 million tonnes of beef shipping from Brazil according to the Brazil’s Secretariat of Foreign Trade.

Transitioning to a plant-based meat diet may not 100% make us healthier, but it is undeniable that opting for Impossible meat can clamp down on deforestation and global emissions. Since the production of beef-less alternatives has been proven to significantly reduce the use of freshwater, land and GHG emissions, Impossible would be one of the brands that could safeguard our ecosystems from climate change disruption.

With Impossible Foods announcing a 26% reduction in retail prices in Hong Kong, why not go ahead and give it a try next time when you decide to eat meat.

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This year’s most sustainable companies according to Corporate Knights has been released in January. The  annual ranking, now in its 19th year, is based on an assessment of more than 6,000 public companies that report more than US$1 billion in revenues. In the 2023 list, one-fifth of the most sustainable corporations are based in the US and 11% in Canada. Europe still leads the way with 44%, while 22% are located in the Asia Pacific region. 

50 of the World’s Most Sustainable Companies in 2023

  1. Schnitzer Steel Industries Inc (US) – A+
  2. Vestas Wind Systems A/S (Denmark) – A
  3. Brambles Ltd (Australia) – A
  4. Brookfield Renewable Partners LP (Bermuda) – A
  5. Autodesk Inc (US) – A
  6. Evoqua Water Technologies Corp (US) – A
  7. Stantec Inc (Canada) – A-
  8. Schneider Electric SE (France) – A-
  9. Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy SA (Spain) – A-
  10. Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp (Taiwan) – A-
  11. Dassault Systemes SE (France) – A-
  12. Xinyi Solar Holdings Ltd (China) – A-
  13. Orsted A/S (Denmark) – A-
  14. Sims Ltd (Australia) – A-
  15. Banco do Brasil SA (Brazil) – A-
  16. Rockwool A/S (Denmark) – A-
  17. Johnson Controls International PLC (Ireland) – A-
  18. Chr Hansen Holding A/S (Denmark) – B+
  19. Kone Oyj (Finland) – B+
  20. Cascades Inc (Canada) – B+
  21. Atlantica Sustainable Infrastructure PLC (UK) – B+
  22. McCormick & Company Inc (US) – B+
  23. Novozymes A/S (Denmark) – B+
  24. Iberdrola SA (Spain) – B+
  25. BT Group PLC (UK) – B+
  26. Alphabet Inc (US) – B+
  27. Vitasoy International Holdings Ltd (Hong Kong) – B+
  28. City Developments Ltd (Singapore) – B+
  29. Neste Oyj (Finland) – B+
  30. Ecolab Inc (US) – B+
  31. Kering SA (France) – B
  32. Beijing Enterprises Water Group Ltd (Hong Kong) – B
  33. ASM International NV (Netherlands) – B
  34. StarHub Ltd (Singapore) – B
  35. SunPower Corp (US) – B
  36. Xerox Holdings Corp (US) – B
  37. Telus Corp (Canada) – B
  38. Unilever PLC (UK) – B
  39. HP Inc (US) – B
  40. VMware Inc (US) – B
  41. SAP SE (Germany) – B
  42. BCE Inc (Canada) – B
  43. Coloplast A/S (Denmark) – B
  44. Koninklijke KPN NV (Netherlands) – B
  45. Cogeco Communications Inc (Canada) – B
  46. First Solar Inc (US) – B-
  47. Puma SE (Germany) – B-
  48. Cisco Systems Inc (US) – B-
  49. Atea ASA (Norway) – B-
  50. Konica Minolta Inc (Japan) – B-

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‘Green building’ is an emerging buzzword on the green vernacular list. They drive key energy efficiencies through the integration of green technologies that reduce carbon emissions while simultaneously lowering operational and energy costs in the long-run. With this objective in mind, the hope is that more green buildings will be implemented across Hong Kong in order to facilitate the city’s sustainable development. But does this green dream truly exist, or is it yet another instance of greenwashing, distracting us from our climate reality?

Green buildings have been around for some time now. First conceptualised in the 1960s by American architect Paul Soleri, they were initially romanticised as a combination between architecture and ecology (known as arcology) within a hyper-dense city that would maximise access to shared, cost-effective infrastructural services and reduce waste and environmental pollution. While the concept of arcology has been considered overly idealistic and remains largely hypothetical, the notion of energy-efficient buildings became an appealing concept that allowed the contemporary green building movement to flourish during the 1970s.
With the 1970s energy crisis – caused by the peaking of oil production across major industrial nations (United States, Canada, Germany, etc.) and embargoes from other producers – the Western world faced substantial petroleum shortages and elevated oil prices, generating a worldwide need to be more energy efficient and eco-friendly. One such way was through the reshaping of building practices that would reduce energy output in the long run, a practice that has become increasingly pivotal in our renewed goal towards reducing carbon emissions. Buildings have a huge impact on the environmentaccounting for 39% of global energy emissions, 50% of global material use and the annual use of 42.4 billion tonnes of materials.

Green Buildings in Hong Kong

Take Hong Kong for example. The bustling metropolitan – with over 42,000 private buildings and more than 8,000 government buildings sprawled across the urban landscape – has created a demand for sustainable energy consumption. In Hong Kong, buildings are responsible for consuming a large portion of energy, electricity, water and materials consumption, claiming as much as 90% of the total electricity consumption as well as about 60% of the total carbon dioxide emissions each year. In addition, with a current rate of construction of between 300 and 500 new buildings per year, between 60% and 80% of the buildings that will be in existence in 2050 have already been built. Therefore, addressing the total emissions of both new and existing buildings is therefore critical in the process of decarbonising the building sector.

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In response to this, as part of Hong Kong Environment Bureau’s Climate Action Plan 2030+ – setting a carbon intensity reduction target of 65-70% by 2030 compared to the 2005 level – the city has introduced a set of strict green certification standards designed by the Hong Kong Green Building Council (HKGBC) called BEAM Plus. To attain a BEAM Plus certification (currently owned by more than 1,600 buildings and developmental projects in Hong Kong), building developers must meet a comprehensive set of performance criteria for various sustainability issues ranging from planning and construction to the operation and maintenance of the building. By tackling a building’s overall performance across its entire life cycle, this facilitates a fair and objective assessment that provides wide-ranging transparency.
The standard’s long range of performance criteria also facilitates high versatility and effectiveness, as it is able to capture various aspects of a building’s carbon emissions that are not accounted for in other green building standards. For instance, embodied carbon makes up 30-40% of buildings’ total lifecycle emissions, with the majority emitted during the construction process. For buildings that have not yet been built, all carbon emissions can be identified and possibly reduced. For existing buildings, the opportunity to significantly influence embodied carbon has been lost but the operational carbon emissions can still be minimised through retro-commissioning and retrofitting. Through this criteria, green buildings in Hong Kong are able to tackle many sources of carbon emissions at once.
Critics skeptical towards the standard’s credentials should know that its certification is not limited to Hong Kong alone. Besides the fact it closely resembles the United States’ own set of ratings systems for green buildings known as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, BEAM Plus has already extended to many key geographical regions across the Greater Bay Area, including Macau, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing. Through this ratings tool, it is estimated that 710 850MWh of electricity is being saved each year – roughly the average annual electricity consumption of 146 000 Hong Kong households – and 15.7 billion litres of fresh and seawater consumption is being avoided annually in Hong Kong. The result is that total estimated yearly carbon emissions will be reduced by 506,350 tonnes, the equivalent of planting 22 million trees.

Examples of Green Buildings in Hong Kong

The prime example of this green certification can be found in Hong Kong’s K11 Atelier King’s Road – part of a string of Hong Kong’s latest urban office redevelopments – located in North Point on Hong Kong Island. Spanning 45,300 square metres of GFA (Gross Floor Area), the greenery-covered exterior comes with 28 floors and exhibition space, as well as an assortment of cafes and other F&B outlets. However, the main attraction of the building is its achievement of being the first building in the world to have achieved all Platinum levels of the WELL Building Standard Pre-certification, Hong Kong BEAM Plus Provisional Certification and the U.S LEED Pre-certification, with reference to relevant United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. To meet the standards of all three is no easy feat.
To achieve this milestone, the K11 building made certain to integrate over 70 sustainability features upon its completion. For instance, the building is adorned with greenery that extends around the building and across the podium of the office block. Combined with the roof, the total greenery spans an area of 6 700m2, which is more than twice the total site area. Through its greenscape, the building is able to sequester 4 tonnes of CO2 per year whilst also reducing the urban heat island effect in the hot and compacted city.
In addition, the K11 building incorporates green technologies that further enhance its sustainability features. For example, the use of low e-glazing – microscopically thin coating that is transparent and reflects heat – within the building provides solar control and good daylight availability, whilst the building’s LED lighting system is connected to daylight sensors – solar-powered detector that is activated only by sunlight – to facilitate further energy saving and ideal circadian lighting. Most notably, K11 Atelier is equipped with Hong Kong’s first and Asia’s largest commercial hybrid 83 kW solar photovoltaic and thermal (PVT) installation on the rooftop (spanning 220 square metres). Through its 138 PVT panels, the building’s PVT system successfully generates electricity for the building’s lift lobby lighting as well as hot water for the showers on certain floors of the building.
What differentiates this from more conventional photovoltaic systems is its overall higher energy efficiency, with an annual renewable energy generation estimated to be 77 000 kWh, which accounts for 1.3% of the total energy use of the K11 Atelier building. As a result of these features, the project achieves over 30% energy savings against the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Standard – a recognised American-based standards for ventilation system design and acceptable indoor air quality – through its various utilisations of green technology.

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The Downsides of Green Buildings

So are green buildings worth endorsing? While the standard itself may be quite stringent prior to the building’s construction, Hong Kong has yet to develop follow-up requirements for businesses and industry sectors. For example, while Hong Kong does possess a carbon reduction target, there are no mandatory follow-up requirements for businesses or even by sectors to achieve this overall goal. New World Development – property-owner of K11 – has tried to maintain these sustainable goals through the introduction of its voluntary Sustainable Tenancy Pledge, with K11 encouraging sustainable corporate behaviour with a reward-based system. For instance, as part of CLP Power Hong Kong Ltd.’s Renewable Energy Feed-in Tariff (FiT) scheme, K11 provides free smart metres for store employees to measure their energy consumption within their office space. K11, under New World Development, has also participated in the “New World Sustainability Academy” to provide sustainability-related training and site visits to all business units and employees. Through the academy, employees learn to identify and manage climate-related risks, particularly in key internal departments such as Project Management and Property Management.
However, this voluntary scheme may not be similarly adopted by other real-estate developers, as it would require significant effort to maintain a sustainable pledge and the lack of structure will most likely lead to inconsistency in the quality of sustainability upheld by respective companies.
Furthermore, a study in 2017 conducted by the University of Hong Kong indicated that, when comparing with conventional building projects, there is a 34.06% increase in capital cost in green building projects on average, and the values of green building projects are higher in terms of price, rental cost and premium in market valuation (by 6-8%). This significant price increase may disincentivise real-estate developers from investing in green buildings not only due to already-pre existing high barriers to entry and exorbitant real-estate prices across Hong Kong, but also as a result of the debilitating economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, despite the comparatively higher capital cost of green buildings, they can still be profitable through various cost-reduction methods on the operation and construction side. One way to achieve this is through the use of green construction methods such as prefabrication. Prefabrication facilitates the reduction of material use, reduction of construction waste as well as increased savings in commissioning and minor repair costs (which can be as high as 2% of the total building cost in a traditional project), and so on (Lawson et al., 2012). More importantly, prefabrication accelerates up the construction process, which can reduce the financial charge borne by the client (can be 2 to 3% of over the shorter building cycle), increase clients’ profit by starting the business or rental income earlier, and reduce disruption to the locality or existing business that will ultimately contribute to further reduction in costs.
However, precast construction is not a linear process. It is important to further investigate the impact of different levels and approaches of precast construction on time and cost of green projects. Therefore, further investigation is required on various green construction methods and life cycle costing.
In addition, we must continue to examine the long-term environmental and economic benefits as a result of the use of green IoT technology and infrastructure in the long run. As it stands, the development and recognition of green buildings has gained considerable momentum over the last decade: Between 2010 and 2019, more than 1,600 buildings and development projects in Hong Kong were BEAM-certified, bringing the total number of certifications since 1996 to over 3,000.
Prominent existing buildings with a Platinum rating include Hysan Place in Causeway Bay (2013), the Standard Chartered Building in Central (2016), Festival Walk in Kowloon Tong (2017), Taikoo Place in Quarry Bay (2018), as well as the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge Port at Chek Lap Kok (2019, provisional). Platinum ratings were also awarded to ongoing West Kowloon Cultural District (2016) and Kai Tak Sports Park (2020) developments, respectively. It is also noteworthy that K11 Atelier was funded by the first green loan in Hong Kong under New World Group’s Green Finance Framework, referencing the Green Bond Principles 2018 and Green Loan Principles 2018.
This successful green loan, which received the ‘Green Finance Certificate’ (Pre-issuance) from Hong Kong Quality Assurance Agency (HKQAA), provides an indicator of a strong potential green financing market in real-estate development that will hopefully continue gain traction as investors start to recognise the economic benefits of green buildings.

How to Encourage Wider Adoption of Green Buildings

Ultimately, it is also the government’s responsibility to create a systemic structure in which sustainability standards are consistently upheld post-development. The large number of government-owned properties shows that the government has a large influence on the building sector, with the power to impose requirements on the buildings it controls. These include educational and health facilities, public housing, government offices, and other community buildings.
Addressing carbon emissions from these buildings would make a significant contribution. Only then, will green buildings in Hong Kong be a highly desired form of investment that will be beneficial to the city’s sustainable future in the long-run.

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“The lack of a visible and salient problem when it comes to water is where the city’s problem lies,” write Dr Lina Vyas and Dr Stuti Rawat on World Water Day 2023.

By Dr Lina Vyas and Dr Stuti Rawat

On Wednesday, World Water Day, the United Nations 2023 Water Conference will take place in New York City, 46 years after the first UN Water Conference was held. During this time, Hong Kong has made significant progress in its water sector.

Shing Mun Reservoir, in Hong Kong’s New Territories.

Shing Mun Reservoir, in Hong Kong’s New Territories. File photo: GovHK.

In 1977, Hong Kong residents had less than 91 days of full water supply and until the early 1980s they faced water shortages and water rationing. Today, water in Hong Kong is safe, available around the clock, easily accessible and priced cheaper than comparable cities in the world.

In contrast to the fact that globally 2 billion people are still not able to access safely managed drinking water services, using the phrase “water woes” in conjunction with Hong Kong seems quite a misnomer. However, the lack of a visible and salient problem when it comes to water is where the city’s problem lies.

Although Hong Kong is water insecure in the sense that’s naturally available resources are not adequate for the city’s needs, this is not immediately evident to the city’s residents as Hong Kong has not experienced water scarcity in the last four decades; largely due to the water supply agreements which allow Hong Kong to import close to 60% of its water from the Dongjiang in Guangdong province.

The rest comes from rainwater from local catchments and sea water – which is used for toilet flushing. The lack of water scarcity in Hong Kong creates an “illusion of plenty” and influences consumption. Studies have shown that individuals from regions experiencing water scarcity are much more likely to participate in and support water conserving behaviour as compared to those from non-water scarce contexts.

In addition to context, price also influences consumption. Water in Hong Kong is supplied to residents at tariff rates that have remained unchanged since 1995, even as the cost of water production has more than doubled since then. It is thus hardly surprising that per capita water consumption in Hong Kong has been increasing steadily. In 2020, domestic per capita fresh-water consumption stood at 152.6 litres per day.

handwashing; sanitation

Photo by Burst on Pexels.com.

One consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic is expected to be greater increases in domestic water consumption because of changes in habits such as more frequent hand washing, showering and cleaning.

This has been observed in Singapore, which prior to the pandemic saw per capita water use steadily declining from 151 litres in 2015 to 141 litres in 2019. This subsequently increased during the pandemic to 154 litres in 2020 and 158 litres in 2021.

So why is Hong Kong’s rising domestic water consumption a matter of concern? Three reasons.

Firstly, it is not sustainable. Climate change is already beginning to impact the spatial and temporal distribution of water resources.  In May 2021, because of the hot weather and deficient rainfall, the water level of many reservoirs in Hong Kong dropped, with only nine out of 17 containing more than half of total storage at that time.

The Dongjiang basin on which Hong Kong is dependent for its water supply, is already considered to be an area of water scarcity and facing competition for its water resources. As climate change induced extreme weather events increase in the future, honouring Hong Kong’s water allocation as per the terms outlined in the Dongjiang water agreement could present challenges.

Dongjiang water pipes in Sheung Shui. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Dongjiang water pipes in Sheung Shui. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Secondly, Hong Kong’s rising water use against the low water tariffs it charges – research shows water prices in Hong Kong are less than a seventh of the true water production cost – is also problematic in terms of the fiscal sustainability of its utilities. It is estimated that that the revenue-expenditure gap of the Hong Kong Water Supplies Department for 2002-2012 was HK$41.7 billion.

In addition to this, are the losses accruing from water leakages. Close to a third of Hong Kong’s freshwater is lost through leaks in government mains, private pipes and theft, and estimated to be equivalent to HK$1.35 billion in revenue in 2013. Losses such as these impact the cost-effectiveness of the utility and impinge on its ability to become carbon neutral in terms of capital investments and operational activities in the future.

Thirdly, Hong Kong is confronting practical challenges when it comes to its existing programmes and lagging in developing alternative sources of water supply. For example, Hong Kong has been using sea water for toilet flushing since the 1950s. This has, however, contributed to higher maintenance requirements due to pipe corrosion caused by the high salt content.

With respect to seawater desalination, although feasibility studies were conducted in 2002 and 2007, the construction of a desalination plant at Tseung Kwan O did not commence until 2019. It is expected to be completed this year. However, desalination is extremely energy intensive and the process produces condensed brine, which if released back into the sea would raise salinity, with a potential negative impact on marine ecology.

And while guidelines on the implementation of rainwater harvesting and grey water recycling systems have been formulated and incorporated since 2015, these have been restricted to government buildings.

Compare this with the remarkable progress made by Singapore in developing alternative water sources and its continuous drive to leverage smart technologies to strengthen operations and meet future needs; it is clear that Hong Kong is lagging behind.

Although Hong Kong’s Water Supplies Department (WSD) has scaled up its water conservation campaigns and measures in recent years, take-up of these measures among the public remains low. According to a survey on domestic water consumption undertaken by the WSD in 2015-2016, over 95% of households did not participate in the WSD’s “Let’s Save 10L Water” campaign that had been initiated the previous year.

Only about 32% of households indicated using water saving devices or products from the voluntary Water Efficiency Labelling Scheme (WELS) and only 42% of households had heard about WELS. All of this suggests that educational campaigns and voluntary measures may not be sufficient to change the water-use habits of Hong Kong residents.

As long as the city’s non-water scarce context and price-signalling do not offer people a reason to change their water-use behaviour, per capita water consumption is likely to grow unabated, and Hong Kong’s water woes are going to be glaringly apparent sooner rather than later.

In light of World Water Day it is important to discuss Hong Kong’s “hidden” water problem. Over the last four decades Hong Kong has moved towards more unsustainable consumption patterns, while maintaining a sheltered exterior of plentiful supply. Current measures targeting water supply and water demand, are not enough. It is essential these be reviewed for the sake of Hong Kong’s future.

This article first appeared on Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) and is republished here as part of an editorial partnership with Earth.Org.

About the authors:

Dr Lina Vyas is an associate professor in the Department of Asian and Policy Studies at the Education University of Hong Kong, specialising in public policy and management.

Dr Stuti Rawat is a research assistant professor at the Department of Asian and Policy Studies at the Education University of Hong Kong, specialising in sustainability and public policy.

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Vertical farming is a modern farming technology that uses environmentally controlled agricultural technology to make the most of indoor farming techniques and many describe it as “future farming”. This is especially true given that by 2050, a major portion of the world’s population will have moved to cities. In such a setting and with an ever-expanding population, the desire for local food that is both organic and natural will grow, too. Here are 7 vertical farming companies that are paving the way for an agricultural revolution. 

Why Do We Need Vertical Farming?

Vertical farming is an innovative agricultural practice that has the potential of solving the impending food crisis. Instead of growing our crops horizontally, produce is grown in stacked vertical layers. By doing so, crops require less or even no soil at all, and water efficiency is increased at the same time. Vertical farming can guarantee regular produce output and boost crop yields based on its controlled environment including temperature, light, humidity, and artificial intelligence.

This green technology can easily be built into buildings, cities and even shipping containers. It can also produce food closer to its consumers, reducing transportation costs and emissions.

Yet, vertical farming is still a relatively new technology. Maintenance costs of automation and watering processes are sky high, and most farms are limited to leafy greens, salad leaves and herbs based on these costs. Here are some vertical farming companies that are leading the way and helping the sector to expand globally.

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Top 7 Vertical Farming Companies

1. Futurae Farms (US)

Yaheya Heikal and Erin James – co-founders of Futurae Farms, a vertical farming company founded in 2021 and based in Los Angeles – are on a mission to find solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems through the use of urban vertical farms. These farms will bring more nutritious and sustainably made fresh foods to people around the world (mainly in urban centres) while helping lower global emissions. After traveling abroad and experiencing first hand the difference in quality of grown vegetables outside the US, Yaheya and Erin saw and tasted the difference in food that had less time from farm to table. The next-generation farming and technology company is now working to create food that is more accessible and nutritious, without sacrificing the environment. “We’re using vertical farms to reduce supply chain issues and mitigate the effects of climate change while ensuring we can feed future generations.” – the founders said. “Climate change is increasingly affecting our ability to produce food using traditional farming methods due to events including flooding, warming climate, wildfires, soil degradation, and desertification. We need to find large-scale alternatives to help supplement food supply.”

2. CubicFarms (Canada)

The origin of the company dates back to 2008, when Jack Benne and his son Leo Benne, both farmers, committed to developing indoor growing technologies to grow fresh produce while minimising their impact on the environment. One such technology is the HydroGreen Grow System, which can grow up to 25 million pounds (11.3 million kilogrammes) of fresh livestock feed every year using just one-tenth of the water needed in traditional livestock feed grown in irrigated fields. This way, they managed to save over 500 million gallons (1.8 billion litres) of fresh water per year – enough to give one glass to every person on the planet. The Canadian company also uses 54% to 62% less energy than typical vertical farms by moving plants according to the light rather than having dedicated lights for each one. 

3. AeroFarms (United Arab Emirates)

Since 2004, AeroFarms implements the latest breakthroughs in indoor vertical farming, artificial intelligence and plant biology to fix our broken food system and improve the way fresh produce is grown and distributed locally and globally. As a sector leader and owner of the world’s largest vertical farm for research and development – located in the Abu Dhabi and completed in the first quarter of 2022, AeroFarms was awarded the inaugural Global SDG Awards celebrating private-sector leadership in the advancement of the United Nations 2030 Agenda. The company partnered up – among others – with US retail giants Whole Foods and Walmart to sell its leafy greens, from baby bok choy and arugula to spinach and micro broccoli.

4. InFarm (Germany)

Founded in Berlin in 2013 by Osnat Michaeli and the brothers Erez and Guy Galonska, InFarm is one of the largest vertical farming companies in Europe. The company uses an innovative technique known as cloud farming – a network of high capacity, self-learning growing centres that improve plant yield, taste, and nutritional value constantly, while further reducing the use of natural resources. With over 1,200 farms in stores and distribution centres, InFarm has partnered with more than 30 major food retailers including German Aldi Süd, Kaufland, and Edeka as well as Amazon Fresh, Marks & Spencer, and Whole Foods Market in Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, the United States and Switzerland.

5. Spread (Japan)

One of Asia’s leading vertical farming companies is Spread. Established in 2006 with the vision of “creating a sustainable society where future generations can attain peace of mind”, Spread is commitment to facilitate the mutually beneficial coexistence between conventional agriculture and local communities while reducing food waste and improving productivity. The company is known for its crispy and soft lettuce as well as its sweet strawberries, both of which are sold in more than 4,500 grocery stores across Japan. The innovative vertical farming technique implemented by the company ensures high quality and yield year-round, regardless of weather conditions. Moreover, this method only requires 1% of the water needed to grow food with conventional farming techniques and 30% less food is lost during production.

6. Farm66 (Hong Kong)

Sixth on our list of vertical farming companies is Farm66, one of Hong Kong’s largest state-of-the-art indoor aquaponics farms and in 2016, it was awarded the Technological Achievement Certificate of Merit (HKAI). Since its establishment in 2013, the company has been developing and practising the concept of urban farming. Inside its indoor aquaponics farming eco-system, free of weather impact, birds’ problems, pests and bacteria and huge space requirements, Farm66 grows products such as leafy greens, herbs (basil, dill) and fruits. These are then sold by many local retailers including CitySuper Hong Kong, SOGO and Pacific Coffee. Given its limited space and extremely dense population, Hong Kong is almost totally dependent on imports for its food supply. “Vertical farming is a good solution because vegetables can be planted in cities,” said Gordon Tam – co-founder and CEO – in an interview with Forbes. “We can grow vegetables ourselves so that we don’t have to rely on imports.”

7. iFarm (Finland)

Last but not least on our list of vertical farming companies is the award-winning iFarm, founded in 2017 in Helsinki, Finland. Vertical farms built with the iFarm technology use 90% less water, 75% less fertilisers and zero pesticides. They also save huge amounts of energy by optimising technology and reducing the ‘human factor’ and labor costs. All this allows to grow crops in a sustainable and economic manner all year round. iFarm products, such as leafy greens and different types of vegetables but also fruit such as strawberries, are sold worldwide, from Switzerland and France to Saudi Arabia and India. In 2019, the company was awarded the “Best Social Impact Startup” in Nordic Startup Awards and in 2020, it was named Europe’s Hottest AgFood Tech startup by The Europas.

Research for this article was conducted by Earth.Org research contributor Chloe Lam

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The World Economic Forum has said the climate adaptation market could be worth US$2 trillion per year by 2026 – a great opportunity for the private sector, writes Judy Cheung.

By Judy Cheung

The latest UN climate change conference was meant to focus on translating promises into action – reducing emissions, adapting to global warming, financing such programmes and compensating vulnerable nations for loss and damage.

But world leaders at the 2022 Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27) could not figure out how to achieve all three elements – mitigation, adaptation and finance – even though the conclusion was delayed to the morning of November 20.

Key actions to achieve peak carbon emissions were missing from the final version of the text, as were clear commitments to phase out the use of fossil fuels. Even key provisions for Article 6.4 of the Paris Agreement on a carbon market were removed.

On the other hand, COP27 did advance some areas – a loss and damage fund has been agreed upon to compensate developing countries suffering from climate change. However, the details of how it will work remain vague. Unless these are agreed, it could be reminiscent of the broken promise of US$100-billion climate finance by 2020 made at COP15 in Copenhagen.

Another key outcome of COP27 is the progress made on Article 6.2 of the Paris Agreement to enable bilateral deals on the international transfer of emission units with less oversight from the United Nations. Various countries, including Japan and China, welcomed such a move and expressed interest in taking part in a carbon market under Article 6, besides their domestic offset markets.

Nevertheless, decisions on Article 6.4 about the implementation of an open international emission credit trading market, with the public and private sector taking part, have been deferred to next year. This hinders private investment in carbon-related projects due to the uncertainty about key rules and fewer investment options.

Opportunities for Private Sector

There were more voices at COP27 asking the private sector to step up in areas of technology, innovation and finance. The private sector offers more flexibility and resources in various climate-related projects, while the market has huge potential to channel financing and investments. All the key outcomes set during COP27 come with opportunities for the private sector.

The need for more public-private partnerships to speed up climate-related projects was highlighted during discussions. Policymakers in various jurisdictions are already trying to create investable markets. The US government has announced the Energy Transition Accelerator as a new public-private effort to catalyse private capital to speed up the transition to clean energy in developing countries.

The Africa Carbon Market Initiative was also inaugurated at COP27 to fund African carbon credit projects with high integrity.

Closer to home, in October 2022 the Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing launched Core Climate, an international voluntary carbon marketplace to connect private capital with climate-related products for carbon credit trading.

It is a sign of a growing regulatory interest in voluntary carbon market development, which provides opportunities for investment in low-carbon projects and for private companies to buy offset credits.

With more funding for climate-related projects, especially those focusing on scaling up adaptation efforts, investors expect adaptation – including the upgrading of electrical grids and weather-resistant building materials – will soon be profitable.

The adaptation industry also covers flood protection infrastructure, nature-based solutions and cyclone early warning systems, as well as financial technology, supply chains, and insurance.

The World Economic Forum has said the adaptation market could be worth US$2 trillion per year by 2026 – a great opportunity for the private sector in terms of business innovation, engagement, financing and investment.

Challenges to Private Sector

With developments come not only new opportunities, but also increasing challenges and risks, particularly greenwashing and climate-related risks of which the private sector should be mindful.

With more and more companies setting a net-zero emission target and labelling themselves as green businesses to attract investors, one of the key messages of COP27 is zero tolerance for net-zero greenwashing. The UN Secretary General set up a High-Level Expert Group to make 10 recommendations on clear standards and criteria, highlighting the importance of integrity, transparency and accountability to avoid any form of greenwashing.

The recommendations include net-zero pledges with stepping-stone targets and concrete plans, public disclosure of data and information on net-zero transition in a way that allows comparison with peers, and establishing credibility through plans based on science and third-party accountability.

The expert group also stresses that city, regional, finance and business net-zero plans must not support a new supply of fossil fuels, and, by 2025, must not contribute to deforestation through their operations and supply chains. Stricter rules and standards are called for to avoid greenwashing and to ensure high-quality credits in the carbon market – which leaves the private sector with plenty to do.

Another challenge to the private sector are the risks posed by extreme weather and the failure to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Hong Kong climate advocate Judy Cheung at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in November 2022.

Hong Kong climate advocate Judy Cheung at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in November 2022. Photo: Judy Cheung.

Policymakers in jurisdictions such as the European Union and the United States are tightening up rules on climate-related disclosure, requiring more details and wider data coverage, including scope 3 carbon emissions. This creates momentum for stakeholders in embedding such information into decision-making by assessing climate-related risks and companies’ climate resilience.

That indirectly encourages and at the same time challenges the private sector, in enhancing their practices in managing climate-related risks.

This article first appeared on Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) and is republished here as part of an editorial partnership with Earth.Org.

About the Author:

Judy Cheung is a consultant providing climate change and sustainability-related services to financial institutions. She is also one of the co-founders of Climate Sense, which is a local advocacy group focusing on climate change education. She is focused on green and sustainable finance, sustainable cities and energy transition, which she believes are indispensable for moving towards a low-carbon economy. At the same time, she hopes to support more local young people to take part in climate action and mobilise the momentum of local climate advocacy.

“Experiencing even the ‘tip of the iceberg’ of the consequences brought by the climate crisis may be exactly what global leaders and negotiators need to accelerate the climate agenda,” writes Chin Chin Lam.

By Chin Chin Lam

It is vital to reflect on the progress made at the 2022 Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27), which was hosted in Egypt last November.

COP27 carried an important agenda to actualise previously made climate pledges and to deliver solutions to developing countries on climate adaptation and loss and damage. A historic deal was reached to create a loss and damage fund to offer compensation to the countries most vulnerable to climate change.

But apart from this, the progress made in climate negotiations and actions was disappointing and, frankly, quite underwhelming.

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The COP27 venue in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh generated controversial headlines itself, with some people calling it a simulation for participants to experience the real-life situation of food and water scarcity caused by the climate crisis. Others were discontent with some of the very much non-soundproof negotiation rooms, and the poor arrangements of transportation to the venue.

Chin Chin Lam at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in November 2022

Chin Chin Lam at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in November 2022. Photo: Supplied.

As someone who attended the conference last year, I unfortunately agree with the sentiments above, in addition to the lack of general hygiene and quantity of washrooms, especially in the Covid-19 era. However, the difficulties of holding one of the largest two-week international conferences in a developing country must be recognised.

When compared with COP26 host Glasgow, Scotland, the disparities between a developed and developing country host are clear. One must be reminded that the reason for such disparity in hosting the annual COP event extends to why developing countries are suffering so heavily from climate injustices.

Developed countries have contributed the most to the current climate crisis through mass industrialisation, which grew their economies, while developing countries suffer the effects of global industrialisation and stolen resources through historic colonialism. Experiencing even the “tip of the iceberg” of the consequences brought by the climate crisis may be exactly what global leaders and negotiators need to accelerate the climate agenda.

The COPs are two-week conferences where global leaders, delegates and civil society from around the world meet and push forward the Paris Agreement, an international treaty negotiated at COP21 that outlined a commitment to keep the mean global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius, and preferably limit the increase to 1.5 degrees, thus reducing the effects of the climate crisis.

An example of parties at COP negotiations going through texts and debating on the wording chosen. Some discussions on a few words can take hours. Photo: Supplied.

An example of parties at COP negotiations going through texts and debating on the wording chosen. Some discussions on a few words can take hours. Photo: Supplied.

Often at negotiations – where some rooms are quiet and comfortable – parties can debate for hours on a single word or phrase to be included in a decision text. The irrelevant, minute details are so focused on, the party representatives can lose their focus of the bigger picture and the real critical demands beyond the walls of their meeting rooms.

Progress is slow, and there is a clear [dis]connection to the outside world and a lack of urgency to help countries which are already suffering devastating impacts due to the climate crisis.

(I am writing “[dis]connection” in the format negotiators use when deciding on how to word agreement texts).

Apart from the lack of urgency, there is also a [dis]connection between the narratives portrayed in the pavilions and through the protests of civil society and those discussed in the negotiation rooms.

At the Pakistan Pavilion – in mourning after devastating floods in August caused the deaths of over 1,700 people and impacted 33 million – the simple yet powerful texts of “The Lost and The Damaged – Pakistan’s Climate Catastrophe” and “What goes on in Pakistan Won’t Stay in Pakistan” provoked grief and heartbreak among many participants of COP.

The Pakistan Pavilion at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in November 2022. Photo: Chin Chin Lam.

The Pakistan Pavilion at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in November 2022. Photo: Chin Chin Lam.

Through various protests and demonstrations at COP27, the cries of civil society echoed throughout the venue. The voices of marginalised indigenous communities, whose livelihoods and cultures are deeply connected to and dependent on nature, were among the loudest last year.

The demands from the next generation were equally roaring, greatly enabled by the first-ever Children and Youth Pavilion at COP27. Yet the urgency of those calls for rapid climate action was not reflected in the negotiation rooms.

As witnessed at COP27 last year – and from personal experience – people are more likely to take real ambitious action while experiencing the impact of the climate crisis first-hand. The plethora of youth climate leaders I met at COP27, including Marciely Ayap Tupari from the Brazilian indigenous community of the Amazon Forest, and Salote Nasalo of Fiji, were determined to lead climate action after witnessing their own homes severely affected by the crisis.

I am also reminded of the record-breaking extreme heat Hong Kong witnessed last summer, sitting in my room without an air-conditioner (to reduce my carbon footprint) suffering from heat exhaustion, and determined to advocate for more temporary heat shelters in Sham Shui Po.

All the while feeling frustrated with the lack of climate adaptation and resilience policy and action in Hong Kong, further amplifying the risks for vulnerable groups – such as residents of subdivided units, the elderly, people experiencing homelessness, or outdoor workers – who are already suffering from the consequences of extreme heat caused by climate change.

Street cleaner in hong kong

A street cleaner. File photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

Therefore, it is crucial to amplify the voices of civil society at COP, and enable them to have a greater say in high-level negotiations at the conference. This is important to bridge the gap between the currently [dis]connected negotiations and the people who are beyond the walls of the meeting rooms, in hopes of forming more ambitious climate actions and decisions.

There is great power in empathy, a core value of the design-thinking process which is essential to identify the best solutions.

Empathy can be gained through experiencing the consequences of climate change through storytelling, strong imagery or words, and demands echoed by civil society from around the world. It is something that the Pakistan Pavilion, countless protests and youth leaders successfully delivered at COP27, despite most not having a seat at the negotiation tables. The power of people and their efforts must be continued for COP28 next year.

COP28 will be held in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, and will conclude the first global stocktake of the Paris Agreement. The global stocktake is a two-year process that happens every five years, and is essential to assess, collectively, the progress of the implementation of the Paris Agreement and address opportunities for enhanced action. COP28 is assumed to be more mitigation focused, as countries review their carbon reduction progress.

Global Day of Action Protest at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on November 12, 2022. Photo: Chin Chin Lam.

Global Day of Action Protest at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on November 12, 2022. Photo: Chin Chin Lam.

Civil society will continue to share stories, make voices heard, and demand global leaders and negotiators not only to better represent marginalised communities already suffering from the climate crisis, but also, to apply pressure for faster and bolder action.

With the success of the first-ever Children and Youth Pavilion at COP27, COP28 should expect the voices of the next generation who are protecting their future to be even louder. This was also reflected by the Minister of Climate Change and Environment of the United Arab Emirates, Ms Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri, who expressed her desire to expand youth participation in the COP proceedings.

To also bridge the gap between the [dis]connection of Hong Kong to the international climate conference, it is hoped that Hong Kong will officially send delegates, especially youth delegates to participate in next year’s COP28.

Furthermore, it is hoped the city will take much more ambitious climate action to keep the goal of the Paris Agreement – 1.5 degrees – alive, and to ensure that citizens and local communities have the capacity and adequate infrastructure to adapt to the extreme weather events and climate disasters that are already happening.

Featured image by UN (Flickr)

This article first appeared on Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) and is republished here as part of an editorial partnership with Earth.Org.

About the Author:

Chin Chin Lam is an urban planner and a youth climate advocate who is determined to transform Hong Kong and other cities worldwide into sustainable developments. Her passion extends outside of her professional work, and she is actively involved with several youth-led, professional, and non-governmental organisations such as YOUNGO, the Youth Constituency of the UNFCCC, Hong Kong Institute of Planners, WalkDVRC and CarbonCare InnoLab.

Chin Chin is also the founder of the Community Climate Resilience Concern Group, which advocates for better climate adaptation facilities for residents of inadequate housing, and the founder of social media platform Urban Acupuncture Hong Kong, which aims to push the agenda of sustainable urbanism to the next generation of city shapers.

River pollution in Hong Kong represents a huge threat to biodiversity and ecosystems. While water pollution levels are improving, the quality of some watercourses located in rural areas remains low. Examining heavily polluted rivers can help assess the effectiveness of current policies and further enhance the health of Hong Kong rivers. 

Criteria for Measuring River Quality

Despite not being as severe as it was in the past, river pollution in Hong Kong remains a threat to biodiversity and entire ecosystems. Agriculture and industrial activities contribute to the degradation of water bodies, with detrimental consequences on human health and the environment.

Several parameters dictate the pollution level of a water body, including pH, dissolved oxygen, E. coli bacteria, biochemical oxygen demand, suspended solids, phosphorus, and nitrogen. These parameters influence the Water Quality Index (WQI) and the Water Quality Objectives (WQO), both of which are used to quantitatively and qualitatively assess river health. 

river pollution in hong kong; River Water Quality Monitoring in Hong Kong River Water - Our Invaluable Asset In Hong Kong, there are hundreds of rivers, streams and open nullahs. They are finite resources having different beneficial uses: such as supply to reservoirs, irrigation, preservation of aquatic life, recreation and passage of storm water to the sea. The EPD has a comprehensive river water quality monitoring programme in Hong Kong since 1986, which covers 82 stations at 30 main rivers and streams running through urban areas. The monitoring involves conducting field measurements and collecting water samples for laboratory analyses of over 50 physico-chemical and biological parameters, including organics, nutrients, metals and E. coli bacteria, serving the following purposes: evaluate the pollution status of rivers; monitor long-term changes in river water quality; provide scientific basis for planning water pollution control strategies; assess compliance with the Water Quality Objectives (WQOs); and compile Water Quality Index (WQI) to reflect the overall state and trend of the health of rivers. River Water - Our Invaluable Asset Water Quality Index (WQI) for Rivers

Water Quality Index. Source: Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department (HKEPD)

river pollution in hong kong; Water Quality Objectives (WQOs) for marine waters of Hong Kong

Water Quality Objectives. Source: Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department (HKEPD 

The lower the WQO compliance rate (0-100%) and the worse the WQI grade (Very Bad to Excellent), the more contaminated the water body. Contaminated water can lead to prolific water-borne diseases including cholera, diarrhoea, and typhoid. In the latest Annual River Water Quality Report, issued in 2021, Hong Kong river quality was satisfactory, with a compliance rate of 86%. 81% of the river monitoring stations were graded as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ and only 9% were graded as ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’.

However, unorthodox parameters such as antibiotics and microplastics are often overlooked. Several studies, including Deng et al. (2018), Wu et al. (2020), and Tsang et al. (2020), claim that river antibiotic and microplastic levels are just as important to reduce bacterial-resistant populations and biomagnification. This could worsen as the demand for freshwater resources increases under growing population pressure and economic expansion.

To further improve river quality and keep pollution at a minimum, the government has implemented numerous policies. In this article, we evaluate current river pollution policies and suggest strategies to promote a more river-friendly culture and enhance antibiotic regulations and microplastic monitoring. 

Are Current Policies Effective In Tackling River Pollution in Hong Kong?

1. Expanding Sewage Infrastructure

The Environmental Protection Department (HKEPD) and the Hong Kong Drainage Services Department (HKDSD) have developed a sewage infrastructure system across the territory. Untreated human sewage contains numerous pathogens that cause water-borne diseases and is one of the primary sources of low river water quality. A total of 8 sewerage master plans – design plans of sewage systems – were implemented in 1995 and are regularly reviewed to ensure that the water quality isn’t further altered by increasing population and development. However, there are three key issues related to the sewage master plan. 

The first problem is that rural areas are not being prioritised enough. An example of this can be observed in Tuen Mun, Hong Kong’s westernmost district in the New Territories. Despite being reviewed under the sewerage master plan, there is evidence that rivers in that area still suffer from sewage discharges. In 2021, the monitoring station upstream of Tuen Mun River had a low WQI due to sewage from rural areas. Some might argue that the high urban population outweighs the need of the rural population. Nevertheless, due to rural communities being closer to and dependable on rivers, treatment and monitoring sewerage in rural areas should be prioritised.

Secondly, faulty sewage facilities can harm river systems. Gomes & Wai (2020) point out that, despite the presence of sewerages, rivers in Kam Tin – an area in Hong Kong’s New Territories – were polluted from sewer accidents and breaches. Causes for such breaches may include power outages, intrusion of tree roots in opened cracks, and outdated pipeline systems. This result is consistent with the HKEPD river report, which found that the overall WQO compliance rate in 2021 was 38%, as compared with 21% in 1991. As a result, constant maintenance should be conducted to decrease conduit problems. 

The third and final issue is the cost factor. In addition to the building and operating costs, sewage infrastructure may need additional maintenance and cleaning costs when grease and oil often coming from nearby restaurants in rural areas, enter the system. Such deposits may decrease the sewer’s capacity, resulting in a reduced flow of wastewater. Therefore, the HKEPD and HKDSD ought to cooperate with other stakeholders such as restaurants and country dwellers to reduce sewage at the source.

2. Controlling Livestock Waste

The Livestock Waste Control Scheme under the Waste Disposal Ordinance prohibits the discharge of untreated livestock waste and faeces and sets up prohibition areas for livestock rearing. These regulations could decrease foul odour, suspended solids, and eutrophication in river courses, which are important habitats for aquatic life. 

However, the malpractice of agricultural farmers could be a challenge. To reduce environmental adherence costs, pig and chicken farmers may illegally dump livestock waste into nearby rivers, despite the scheme providing sufficient treatment facilities. This claim is supported since rivers in North Districts and Yuen Long are among the worst in Hong Kong, likely due to the fact that most pig and chicken farms are in northwest New Territories. Livestock waste not only includes antibiotics, but also e. coli, ammonia and nitrogen, which makes illegal dumping detrimental to water quality particularly in individual sections of major watercourses. 

Apart from farmer malpractice, the livestock waste control scheme contains strict guidelines that may not always be feasible. For instance, the soakaway system – a series of channels, screens and pits designed to manage wastewater on-site – will often require long planning and financial investment from farmers, leading to hardships, especially for small-scale farms or family-owned businesses. While the strictness of the scheme can be considered necessary, farmers will likely continue to find loopholes if proper financial assistance and constant monitoring from the government are left unchecked. 

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Policy Suggestions to Reduce River Pollution

1. Promote A River-Friendly Culture

A river-friendly culture can contribute to wastewater reduction. The relatively new term refers to the public interaction with rivers for leisure, enjoyment, and connection with nature. Since the river pollution in Hong Kong is improving, there is a paradigm shift from avoiding to embracing natural rivers. Indeed, rivers can be thought of as a recreational and educational resource instead of a ‘no-go zone’. For successful implementation, it is worth considering various strategies for different rivers, including safety precautions for heavy rain and flooding as well as large-scale infrastructure projects such as the 2006 Yuen Long Bypass Floodway and the revitalisation of Tai Wai Nullah in Sha Tin, which is currently under planning and design. 

The revitalisation of waterways may help promote a more river-friendly culture. The Tsui Ping River in Hong Kong’s Kwun Tong district is a great example of this. Tsui Ping River is set to be revitalised with riverside walkways, footbridges, wetlands, and floating platforms by 2024. The project, which involves the cooperation of multiple government departments such as DSD, EPD, and the Buildings Department, is a great step forward in shaping a more sustainable city and provides an integrated and multi-faceted approach toward river-friendly cultures. Moreover, the proposed wetland and greenery could improve the thermal environment plagued by surrounding highways and skyscrapers.

2. Set a Consumption Standard for Livestock Antibiotics

Antibiotics are drugs that help prevent and treat infections caused by bacteria. It comes without saying that the fewer antibiotics are used on livestock, the fewer end up in rivers. 

Even though antibiotics decrease bacterial infections in livestock such as pigs and chickens, over-consumption causes them to lose their effectiveness over time, giving rise to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Residues may also run off into rivers through livestock wastewater, disrupting fluvial microbial ecosystems. 

The livestock waste control scheme only focuses on the overall control and treatment of livestock waste but does not specify the limit of antibiotics consumption. High levels of antibiotics such as sulfamethoxazole, sulfadimidine and ofloxacin were detected in some of the most polluted Hong Kong rivers, such as the Yuen Long River and the Kam Tin River. Therefore, similar to the WQO, the government should impose a standard use of antibiotics to reduce pollution at the source.

3. Introducing Microplastics as a WQO Parameter

Under review of the outdated WQO, microplastic concentration can be included as a parameter. With the mass use of single-use plastics in Hong Kong, the risk of microplastic contamination is apparent. 

Microplastics are microscopic fragments resulting from the breakdown of plastics. Common examples include materials such as glitter, microbeads and fragments from larger pieces of plastic debris, as well as from items of clothing. Not only do high concentrations of microplastics lead to biomagnification in aquatic life, ultimately risking public health, but they can also cause stress on wastewater treatment facilities as most are unable to effectively remove all microplastics from wastewater. Therefore, it is important to include parameters like microplastics in WQO to make the assessment of river pollution in Hong Kong more comprehensive and reliable.

An intelligent network management system can be used as a blueprint for introducing microplastics as a WQO parameter. This system focuses on data collection, analysing microplastic particles from water samples and prioritising rivers with high microplastic concentrations. An intelligent network could also use pressure management to reduce the use of non-biodegradable cleaning products, as well as the re-provisioning of water mains such as the upgrade of nearby wastewater treatment facilities that can treat microplastics. 

Although such measures are difficult and time-consuming to implement, finding ways to reduce microplastics in rivers could reduce the overall amount of microplastics transported to the ocean. 

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Final Thoughts

This article aims to raise awareness and provide new perspectives to the current river pollution problems in Hong Kong.

Undoubtedly, the policies and ordinances in place have significantly improved river pollution in Hong Kong. The government’s expansion of sewage infrastructure has reduced the amount of sewage and wastewater entering rivers and the Livestock Waste Control Scheme provides stringent guidelines for waste disposal in nearby rivers.

However, updated technology, a push to reduce farmer malpractice and illegal dumping, as well as the prioritisation of certain pollutants are equally necessary to maintain effective sewage systems. 

Policy suggestions include promoting a friendly river culture under revitalisation projects to integrate the public with the environment, setting a livestock consumption limit for antibiotics to reduce bacterial-resistant population, and including new parameters to the outdated WQO such as microplastics to safeguard wildlife and public health. 

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With fast fashion on the rise, discarded garments are filling landfills at an alarming rate. In 2018, more than 300 tons of textile waste were tossed out every day in Hong Kong landfills. Globally, the fashion industry accounts for 10% of annual carbon emissions. Fashion brands are now scrambling to promote sustainability and ethical practices in their operations. Here are 13 ethical and sustainable Hong Kong fashion brands. 

15 Sustainable and Ethical Fashion Brands in Hong Kong

1. Basics for Basics

Established by Kayla Wong, Basics for Basics is driven to minimise fashion’s carbon footprint, using surplus fabrics and organic cotton to create simple essentials ranging from graphic T-shirts, Sunday dresses and tank tops to hoodies and sweaters.

To ensure fair trade, the brand is also enhanced with a volunteer rewards program supported by Hands On Hong Kong.

2. Kitdo

Pioneered by Hong Kong-based stylist Denise Ho who has been in the sustainable fashion scene for the past 8 years, Kitdo aims to provide chic and functional solutions to restyle one’s existing wardrobe pieces, rather than participating in the cycle of waste creation and compulsive buying. The first restyling accessories label of its kind, Kitdo is an innovative and consciously-produced styling piece made with lightweight aluminium and strong magnet inserts. Plated with a waterless coating, namely PVD, the beautifully designed accessory is crafted individually with the CNC machine process.

sustainable fashion hong kong; kitdo; denise ho

Restyling a babydoll dress into the peek-a-boo top. Photo by: @kitdo_official

“The average person only wears 10-20% of their wardrobe,” explains Denise Ho, Kitdo Founder. “As a stylist, on set we use safety pins, tape and clips to get the right look out of the clothes on shoot, but these tools can easily ruin the fabric – particularly safety pins. It got me thinking about an alternative that also truly represents my ultimate vision of sustainable fashion. Kitdo expands your restyling options by creating new textures and shapes without putting holes in your clothes. It truly pushes the unlimited imagination of what’s possible with your wardrobe.”

3. Paper Shades

Launched by sibling entrepreneurs James and Madi Chu in 2018, Paper Shades is an eyewear label that designs and manufactures customisable sunglasses from durable and sturdy recycled paper. The UV 400 lenses are paired with biodegradable frames and adjustable arms, available in a variety of designs to suit all face shapes and occasions. 

paper shades

Photo by: Paper Shades

4. The R Collective

Born from Hong Kong-based charity Redress, The R Collective advocates for a circular fashion system and does so by upcycling waste materials- excess fibres, fabrics and fasteners- sourced from luxury fashion brands across the globe and then morphing them into versatile quality garments for women. Through rescuing fabrics, the brand has potentially reduced the emission of over 34 000 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent and 65 500 yards of fabric.

The collective donates 25% of its profits back to Redress as part of their engagement with environmental fundraising activities. 

5. Vestiaire Collective

The global resale platform Vestiaire Collective also champions the notion of circular fashion but in a different way. Through facilitating the buying and selling of second-hand designer brand items, the platform extends the average lifespan of clothing by nine months, reducing the carbon, waste and water footprint of each item by 20-30%. That way, consumers may give their wardrobe a second life by purchasing vintage luxury goods whilst simultaneously getting rid of their own items!

6. The Hula

With a similar mission to extend the life of well-crafted pieces, the online marketplace The Hula sells an edit of pre-owned authenticated designer clothing and accessories. According to founder Sarah Fung, a minimum of 5% of net profits go to partnered charities spanning environmental to human trafficking NGOs, and members are also given the chance to donate at time of purchase. The marketplace currently has a showroom in Wong Chuk Hang.

the hula

Photo by: The Hula

7. PYE

Helmed by Hong Kong businesswoman Dee Poon, dress shirt specialist PYE produces classic men apparel with a sustainable fashion seed-to-shirt philosophy. From farming their own cotton in Xinjiang, spinning the yarn with Extra Long Staple cotton, to cutting and sewing their patterns, the brand offers an eco-conscious alternative to typical formal attire. Without compromising on aesthetics, PYE has reduced its water and energy consumption by 57 and 43% respectively over the last decade.

8. Angus Tsui

Dedicated to bridging high fashion with environmental sustainability, the eponymous fashion brand Angus Tsui is known for its futuristic and experimental designs. Many of its collections upcycle textile waste while applying zero-waste and eco-printing techniques. The designer has previously joined hands with H&M to create upcycled uniforms and accessories using sustainable processes.

9. Classics Anew

If you’re looking for vintage clothing, Classics Anew is your cup of tea. Founded in 2014, the brand gives the traditional Qipao a contemporary twist by blending materials such as organic cotton, linen and denim materials with classic Chinese elements like mandarin collars and buttons. Apart from their retail store in Central, qipao-making workshops are regularly held at their showroom in Hung Hom. 

classics anew

Photo by: Classics Anew

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10. Net Sustain

Curated by Net-a-Porter, Net Sustain allows one to purchase clothing, shoes and jewellery products that support human, animal and environmental well-being.  Every item on the platform aligns with at least one of their eight key attributes: locally made, craft and community, considered materials, considered processes, considered ingredients, reducing waste, animal welfare, and vegan. 

11. Holenga

Traversing beyond the apparel landscape, Holenga crafts cruelty-free lifestyle accessories, including passport holders, luggage tags and customisable mugs. To curb waste, the company prints-to-order as customers purchase their wares. In particular, their award-winning signature ECO Can Plus- made of corn with zero plastic yielded- is biodegradable and heat-resistant. 

12. Good Days Activewear

Good Days was born during the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020 and centres itself around sustainable practices and values- be that the materials that go into the products or the labour that goes into producing the goods. It uses a range of recycled fabrics, including recycled polyester, nylon and cotton blends. It also creates fabrics using recycled plastic bottles, fishing nets and nylon carpets, all of which would otherwise end up in a landfill.

sustainable fashion brands hong kong

Photo by: Good Days Activewear

By collectively turning the spotlight on ethical businesses, we challenge the status quo of manufacturing practices. These Hong Kong sustainable and ethical fashion brands are changing the industry for the better; hopefully, the demand from consumers will drive a global industry-wide push to become more mindful of their practices. 

13. Vipop

Launched by Venezuelan natives Lenia Pérez and Fabiana González, Vipop sources conscious resort-wear and swimwear from small label and well-known designers in Latin America and Europe. They strictly only work with brands that have eco-friendliness and fair trade at the forefront.

From vegan materials and carbon-neutral manufacturing to supporting local hand makers and seamstresses in the countries the clothes are made in, their ethically made vibrant evening gowns, bikinis, and coord sets make you look like you just stepped off a sunbathed cobblestone street in Colombia. Vipop’s boutique Artezano is in the Soho district located right on the famous Graham Street which also houses an adorable café and Mediterranean grocery store.

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