COP27: What should Hong Kong take note of?
In October last year the 27th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27) took place in Sharm-el Sheikh, Egypt. Here are some reflections from outcomes of the COP as to where government, businesses, and local communities could act, covering thoughts on climate justice and net-zero commitments.
Climate justice addresses the unequally distributed impacts of climate change. In Hong Kong, the topic of climate justice is barely addressed despite increasing discussion on climate action. Contrary to the belief that climate justice is most relevant to developing countries, impacts will be felt by each and every community.
The key ‘win’ of this year’s COP, widely broadcast in an abundance of articles, was the historic agreement to set up a “Loss and Damage” fund for vulnerable countries most devastated by adverse climate change impacts.
The fund, which is not immediately financially material, will require a series of deliberations by the system before implementation is possible, meaning it could take years before money actually flows into the countries in need. Despite this, the decision signifies solid acknowledgement towards the impacts of the climate crisis and a step towards addressing climate justice.
Although the “loss and damage” fund is not directly related to Hong Kong, it nudges us to consider the most vulnerable in our community. Those who are disproportionately affected from the stronger, more frequent, climate-change induced extreme weather events that our city is already experiencing. For example, the homeless, those in inadequate housing and outdoor workers are groups that are exposed and vulnerable to extreme heat and rainfall. It brings the question, what can our government, businesses, and local community do to safeguard the livelihoods of these vulnerable groups?
Alongside climate justice, “just transition” was another prominent theme at COP27. In short, the world needs to transition to a net-zero future and businesses must feel the pressure to transition to a sustainable business model. The transition, however, must be carried out in a just manner, i.e. a socially equitable manner. Not overlooking the importance of those impacted by, involved in or bearing the results of the transition. Otherwise, governments and businesses may trigger resistance which could ultimately limit progress. Essentially, a “just transition” would ensure a smoother, faster transition.
On an international scale, a “just transition” means bringing least developed countries and developing countries along. In a local context, a fair and equitable transition could mean bringing small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) along. Even large corporations carry uncertainty in setting and achieving targets, let alone SMEs, who have less capacity to secure the suitable expertise. The government should not slow down the pace of transition to accommodate SMEs, but devise ways to support them and bring them up-to-speed with transitions.
A just transition is underpinned by social dialogue and stakeholder engagement. When devising a transition plan, be it the government or businesses, leaders must engage parties across different sectors and up and down the value chain to understand different people’s needs and align values as much as possible.
In terms of the ultimate quest of climate change mitigation, there was little progress from COP27 negotiations. Ambition to phase out fossil fuels and to progress commitments to limit global temperature rise faltered against a global energy crisis. According to the 2022 Emissions Gap Report, implementation of national carbon reduction pledges as they stand will result in a global temperature rise of 2.5°C by the end of the century, far from the 1.5°C Paris Agreement goal.
In Hong Kong, some businesses, financial institutions, and the government itself have pledged net-zero emissions by 2050. Yet as seen from the national pledges, a pledge does not mean reality. The UN Secretary General’s High Level Expert Group on Net Zero commitments released a report that proposes ten recommendations to guide non-state actors to be accountable for their net-zero pledges. The ten recommendations, summarised, include:
- First and foremost is to make a net zero pledge
- Outline stepping stone targets and concrete ways to reach the pledge
- Prioritise deep value chain emission reduction before using high integrity carbon credits
- Create a plan for the transition to meet all targets, align governance and incentive structures, capital expenditures, research and development, skills and human resource development to attain the net zero goal
- Do not supply new supply of fossil fuels
- Align lobbying and advocacy for positive climate action
- Protect nature – do not contribute to deforestation, peatland loss and the destruction of remaining natural ecosystems
- Publish annual assured reports on progress, including greenhouse gas data
- Ensure a just transition – a new deal is needed to assist developing countries
- Create regulations and standards to provide a level playing field for achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement
The above list of actions is a concrete guide for non-state actors to carry through their net-zero commitments. Businesses, financial institutions, and the government of Hong Kong should review their net zero commitments against the recommendations to see how they compare. Hong Kong’s Climate Action Plan 2050, for example, already includes sector-specific targets and key action areas. However, the plan must be further enhanced to outline the detailed, concrete ways to deliver on its targets. This will require cooperation across sectors to work out the details on what specific actions will be required and how exactly to implement the plan.
The government should also utilise its authority to create a level playing field for business entities and accelerate transition. For example, setting a legal threshold for building energy intensity. This would place all property owners under the same rule of measurement and help the move towards highly efficient buildings. Areas of regulation and standardisation could cover transition plans, procurement, product standards and disclosure.
This year’s COP was coined the “African COP”. It was an opportunity to highlight the needs and opportunities of the global South in face of climate change. Coming from a highly developed city like Hong Kong, spending two weeks in Sharm-el Sheikh, Egypt made me empathise more with the global South – with full awareness that I’ve only had the slightest glimpse of what life is like in less developed regions.
For example, tap water not being safe to drink and the absence of pedestrian crossings and traffic lights at busy roads. I was also caught by surprise by a power outage. These experiences made me better understand the realities of the global South and how the hurdles are much higher for developing economies to become net-zero. I reflected on how it is quite demanding for less developed regions to reduce plastic use, switch to walking or biking, and adopt more renewable energy when basic needs like clean tap water, safe roads, and reliable electricity were not yet met.
Despite abundant capital and sophisticated physical and organisational infrastructures to respond to crises, Hong Kong is also vulnerable to climate change, from rising sea levels to extreme weather events. Capital and infrastructure must not make us complacent, or the view that other regions are more at risk. We cannot be complacent in the face of climate change, and we must play our part in advancing to a net-zero future. The window to limiting the 1.5°C global temperature rise by the end of the century is fast closing. We need all hands on deck to avoid reaching an irreversible tipping point, and those who have the capacity to do so, must advance their efforts.
Leave a Comment