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IPCC Report Issues Final Warning to Global Leaders: Immediate Action Must Be Taken to Prevent Further Disasters

Last night (20 March), a group of climate change experts gathered in the Swiss town of Interlaken to release the final Synthesis Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report (AR6). The report summarizes the three Working Group reports published since August 2021, covering the physical science of climate change, climate impacts, adaptation and vulnerability, and climate mitigation. The most significant aspect of AR6 is that it integrates contributions from 700 climate experts worldwide, which carry a dual meaning. On the one hand, the report affirms the important role of climate science in climate policy, while on the other hand, it issues a final warning to global political and business leaders.

In other words, the technical and policy solutions to the current climate crisis already exist and are effective. Only by accelerating investment in renewable energy facilities and improving energy efficiency around the world, and scaling up policies and planning for climate adaptation and resilience, can we avoid an average global temperature rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. However, our time is running out, and action cannot be delayed any longer.

In fact, Professor Hoesung Lee, the IPCC chair and professor from South Korea, made it clear at a press conference that the AR6 report is significantly different from the AR5 report. It contains more practical and feasible solutions, more discussion of economic paradigms, and policy recommendations, rather than a simple scientific report. This is because climate change is an indisputable fact caused by human activities, and almost half of the world's population has been affected by it in different ways.

Climate mitigation and adaptation technologies are mature, and the capital market is not lacking. What is needed is leadership and effective strategies

An increasing number of climate science research is shifting from confirming the relationship between climate change and human activity to developing a Climate Resilient Development paradigm. In other words, we need to explore whether economic development under the new normal of climate change conforms to the low-carbon development path within 1.5 degrees, and how to demonstrate the cost-effectiveness of climate action and integrate feasible solutions for climate mitigation and adaptation. For example, we need to consider how renewable energy and energy-saving technologies can improve air quality and human health, and how electrification of energy, walking, cycling, and public transportation can improve air quality, improve health, and provide job opportunities. The government and the financial sector also need to guide us in deep decarbonisation and achieve a just transition.

The IPCC report proposes several important policy recommendations. First, we must achieve cutting carbon emission by half and carbon neutrality by 2030 and 2050 respectively, and continue to make significant investments to increase the proportion of renewable energy and establish carbon reduction targets in major sectors. Second, effective climate adaptation actions must be planned and implemented in all sectors. The report emphasizes the need to prioritize lowering climate risks for low-income and vulnerable communities and doubling financial support for climate action to bring maximum benefits to society. Finally, we need funding to achieve climate mitigation and adaptation goals. The government can guide investors through public finance and send clear policy signals to them, and investors, central banks, and financial regulatory agencies can also play a role. Increasing climate investment is crucial to achieving global climate goals.

Hong Kong must scale up investment and accelerate the development of renewable energy

Looking at the latest version of the "Hong Kong Climate Action Plan 2050," we find that Hong Kong still needs to catch up with the requirements of the international community and the spirit of the central government in terms of carbon reduction.

Firstly, Hong Kong has committed to carbon reduction by 50% by 2035, but it is lagging behind IPCC's recommendation by at least 5 years. To achieve carbon reduction and neutrality, we must significantly increase the proportion of renewable energy. For now, the proportion of locally generated renewable energy can only reach 7.5%-10% before 2035, which is far behind the 50% target of competitors like Tokyo and Seoul. Hong Kong must significantly increase its renewable energy targets and use the existing feed-in tariff scheme to send the correct policy signals to the market, attract more renewable energy investment, and the government should also rethink how to remove land restrictions and produce more local renewable energy, such as by installing solar panels on water reservoirs.

In addition to power generation, Hong Kong's carbon emissions mainly come from buildings, transportation, and waste disposal. We should set realistic carbon reduction targets for these sectors, like Tokyo and Seoul, rather than just some energy-saving indicators, to demonstrate the government's ambition to save energy and reduce carbon emissions.

We also observe that Hong Kong's climate adaptation actions, as described in the IPCC report, are stumbling and fragmented. Climate adaptation actions require a holistic planning perspective. In addition to the sea level rise research funded last year and the regular disaster prevention work, Hong Kong needs to strengthen its preparedness for more severe climate disasters, including stronger typhoons, heavy rain, and the rising sea level.

Climate action must adhere to the principles of equality, justice, and inclusiveness

Moreover, despite the Labour and Welfare Bureau's plan to enhance the "Guidelines on Prevention of Heatstroke during Work," the increasing number of hot weather days in recent years is only the tip of the iceberg. Vulnerable communities, including outdoor workers, subdivided flat residents, elderly and long-term patients, persons with disabilities, and mental illness, require an overall strategy and financial support on how to cope with extreme weather conditions, regardless of the Climate Action Plan, the recent Policy Address, or the Budget.

Finally, the latest budget of the SAR government focuses on developing green finance and related ecosystems, as well as investing in green bonds, which is a good start. We hope that Hong Kong can have a more concrete and long-term vision and plan in developing global and Mainland China's green finance systems, to help countries, especially developing countries, invest more financial resources in climate mitigation and adaptation actions.

- By Kevin Li, Researcher, CarbonCare InnoLab

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