An intelligent species would protect the Earth. So why are we destroying it?

Climate change is all around us, from severe flooding causing huge economic damage to deadly wildfires pumping out more greenhouse gases
Hong Kong needs to raise energy efficiency standards, decarbonise the economy and promote green investment to get to carbon zero by 2050
(22 Aug 2021 SCMP) When I was in primary school, teachers often said that humankind was the most intelligent of all species. I accepted this until I realised how many human acts are actually detrimental to nature. If humankind is so intelligent, why do we keep messing up our only home?
Though we may not intend to damage the environment, unexamined consequences can have a profound effect over time. The depletion of the ozone layer discovered in the mid-1980s and today’s climate crisis are prime examples.
The latest assessment report released this month by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that there is an undeniable connection between human-caused warming and extreme weather. It reminds the world that we will have to confront harsh, irreversible consequences such as a continuous sea-level rise, wildfires and more frequent floods and droughts.
The atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration has risen from 316.9 parts per million to 417 parts per million since 1960. This rapid increase has led to global temperature rises; the past six years have been the hottest years on record. The Earth is likely to warm beyond the 1.5 degree Celsius threshold by the early 2030s, much sooner than the IPCC had predicted.
The panel also predicts that, in the worst-case scenario, the Earth will be around 3.3 degrees hotter than pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. Only immediate, deep cuts to greenhouse gas emissions can prevent global temperatures from crossing the 1.5 degree threshold within the next 20 years.
Last month brought severe floods in Zhengzhou and some European countries, resulting in hundreds of deaths and huge economic losses. At the same time, deadly wildfires burned across countries in Europe, North America and Siberia, pumping out still more greenhouse gases to warm the planet.
The Environment Bureau is expected to release a road map for the city’s 2050 carbon neutrality commitment in a few months. It should treat the IPCC report as a reference point as it charts a meaningful course for the city reach its goal and be resilient against stronger and unexpected climate situations.
Mainland China has introduced the concept of “sponge cities” to address the problem of flooding in urban areas by collecting and recycling rain water. However, Zhengzhou, one of 30 such designated cities, still suffered severe flooding in its subway system and along highways after record rainfall.
Hong Kong’s MTR system could also be at risk in a similar scenario and the government must ensure it is safe for the millions of commuters who use it every day.
Buildings account for 90 per cent of Hong Kong’s electricity consumption while power generation accounts for more than 60 per cent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions. These must therefore be the main focus if the city is to achieve deep carbon cuts and the government should set an aggressive timeline for phasing out fossil fuels and replacing them with zero-carbon renewables.
The existing Buildings Energy Efficiency Ordinance must be overhauled to cover new and existing buildings simultaneously. In addition, efficiency standards should be more stringent.
The transport sector accounts for 18 per cent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions. Technology is available to cut the carbon emissions of commercial and private vehicles. We need a much bolder lead from the government to drive their uptake.
Realising these green goals requires huge investment. The city’s billionaires and investment institutions have a role to play by boldly investing in climate-saving projects for future generations.
Why not set up a special climate bond to encourage the business sector to match the government’s contributions? Instead of reserving HK$624 billion (US$80.1 billion), the estimated cost for the Lantau Tomorrow Vision project, it would be far more sustainable to put that money into the bond, to make a sizeable investment towards green economic recovery.
If Hong Kong’s supplies of water, food or fuel are disrupted by extreme weather, the city would grind to a halt. That would be worse than Covid-19 lockdowns. Whether wealthy or poor, CEOs or street cleaners, no one will be immune from the impact of climate change.
If we really are an intelligent species, we should act immediately.
Edwin Lau
Executive Director, The Green Earth
22 Aug 2021 SCMP