Climate change to bring unique challenges to Greater Bay Area

Climate change is going to make the sub-tropical cities of southern China even warmer, Hong Kong’s former Under Secretary for the Environment warned at a talk held last week at the City University of Macau. But, she noted, the cities of the Greater Bay Area can take measures to enhance their resilience.

Christine Loh, who is currently the chief development strategist at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology’s Institute for the Environment, outlined a number of climate-related challenges that Macau, Hong Kong and the cities of the Greater Bay Area are likely to face in the near future.

The former official, who held the Under Secretary post between 2012 and 2017, said that extreme snaps of hot and cold weather, rising sea levels and a higher occurrence of rainfall- induced landslides presented region-specific challenges to the Greater Bay Area.

“Whether we like it or not, and no matter how hard we work on reducing carbon emissions, warming has come to a stage where severe climate events are happening and will continue to happen,” she said. “We live in a hot climate, but it’s going to get hotter.”

However, while temperatures in the years ahead are expected to climb, scientists also predict that there will be more frequent and intense cold snaps, which they say will endanger vulnerable groups such as the elderly and the poor.

“The mortality rate in Hong Kong for those very cold moments in the last two or three years has actually been higher [than in the exceptionally hot moments],” said Loh. “When it’s very cold and there’s no heating… this is actually a big problem.”

Though her research team is primarily concerned with the situation in neighboring Hong Kong, Loh believes that Macau and the other cities of the Greater Bay Area will face similar challenges.

For example, both Hong Kong and Macau are home to high-density residential tower blocks that were not designed with air ventilation in mind. On warmer days, the configuration of tower blocks threatens to trap hot air in insulated pockets known as microclimates.

The former government official also warns of a domino effect among the cities of the Greater Bay Area, highlighting the rapid pace of regional integration and the consequent risk of spillover when it comes to weather-related disasters.

“Our region, which we now call the Greater Bay Area, is more and more integrated,” said Loh. “In this particular region, we have investments in each other’s places – there are lots of people from Macau who have investments in southern China and Hong Kong. We are already connected. If something were to happen because of this [regional] infrastructure, it would affect the activities of many people.”

In Loh’s opinion, the key to weathering climate change is resilience and the ability to “adapt to a new culture of coping.”

That starts with education – both on a government and a community level. In fact, she said during last week’s talk, “when there is a severe climate emergency, it may be that your neighbor is more important to you than your government – because it may be your neighbor who saves you.”

The role of the community in preparing itself to resist climate phenomena is broad, but could cover early warning systems or drills organized by community leaders.

Other significant weather-related problems that are likely to arise from climate change include rising sea levels, more intense rainfall and severe landslides.

“Our prediction is that the overall rainfall on an annual basis will probably remain about the same, however it is going to come down in much bigger dumps, making flooding risks higher,” said Loh. She added that “the higher downpour of rain presents an added risk of more severe landslides” across the hilly landscape of Hong Kong.

With regards to sea level, Loh suggested that certain physical forces could cause an above average rise in the local area. About 67 million people live in the cluster cities of the Pearl River Delta estuary, most of whom reside within 50 kilometers of the coast.

“Because of the different gravitational pull and other physical forces – the sea level rise in our area will actually be higher [than the world average],” warned Loh.

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