Dear Global Impact readers,
Hot, isn’t it?
Across the northern hemisphere, temperatures are soaring and wreaking havoc on daily lives.
It’s summer, so it’s supposed to be warmer, but what’s really going on?
In this issue, Eugene Tang, the SCMP’s business editor, recaps the recent run of hot weather that offers more evidence of climate change and looks at what can be done.
Deputy Editor, Political Economy
How to keep cool and stay green
The hottest day for the northern hemisphere in 2022 occurs this weekend, when the scorching sun’s awesome power is at its maximum as it moves to the celestial longitude of 120 degrees.
This annual day, known in Chinese as Dashu – or Great Heat – on the lunar calendar, has been foretold for millenia, observed by farmers over thousands of years to plan their planting and harvests.
In Hong Kong, the maximum daily temperature has already risen past 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit). So far, the city has had more than 10 “very hot days” since July 8, when the mercury soared to 33 degrees Celsius, and it is one of the longest streaks of extreme heat since records began in 1884. Another run of such scorchers has been forecast for next week.
This summer’s extreme heat has already wreaked havoc on the northern hemisphere, killing hundreds of people in Spain and Portugal, triggering forest fires in southwestern Europe and disrupting dozens of flights after part of the tarmac at London Luton Airport melted during an unusually hot day.
Half of China has been affected by the unusually hot spell over the past month. The Yangtze River basin – encompassing megacities from Shanghai on the coast to Chongqing in the interior – has been hit by a week-long heatwave. Chongqing, China’s biggest municipality, had four straight days of 40-plus degrees Celsius, and forecasters believe this trend will continue.
All of these episodes – combined with violent storms, super typhoons and tornadoes in unusual places – offer more evidence of climate change and serve as dire warnings to political leaders, businesses and individuals that they must act now to cut back on the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
Greenhouse gases blanket the planet, trapping heat close to the Earth’s surface and causing temperatures to rise. Emissions jumped by 6 per cent last year to a record 36.3 billion tonnes, as factories cranked up their post-coronavirus production after a lull in 2020. Particularly worrying was the heavy reliance on coal-fired power plants amid spiralling prices of natural gas.
Over the past three decades, Hong Kong has grown warmer at the rate of 0.24 degrees Celsius every 10 years – twice the pace of the previous decade. The city has become warmer at a rate of around 1.3 degrees Celsius every century, and the average temperature is projected to rise by 1.5 to 3 degrees Celsius by 2100.
Hong Kong and Macau are among the least-prepared cities within China’s Greater Bay Area for any storm surges during bouts of extreme weather. The risks to the region’s combined population of 86 million people will only increase, as typhoons become more intense, and sea levels rise with worsening climate change.
Four in every 10 of Macau’s population of 700,000 residents live less than five metres (16.4 feet) above sea level, as do around 10 per cent of Hong Kong’s 7.5 million people, according to the World Bank. That leaves a lot of people in harm’s way, as global sea levels may rise 10-25cm (3.9-9.8 inches) by 2050, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Still, humanity appears to be unprepared. The demand for air conditioning is such that China’s maximum power load hit an all-time high of 1.2 billion kilowatts one day last week.
Amid the scorching heat, it is admittedly hard to fight the urge to reach for the air conditioner. Still, keeping the thermostat just 1 degree warmer in summer, and leaving it 1 degree cooler in winter, translates to tremendous savings in the fight to avert climate change.
Every 1 degree Celsius difference in temperature for a space of 3,000 sq ft (279 square metres) in Hong Kong translates to 750 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity usage, or HK$1,100 (US$140) in annual power bills, according to CLP Power. In environmental terms, that translates to 292kg (644lbs) of carbon emissions, based on CLP’s 2021 greenhouse gas emission footprint of 0.39kg for every kWh of electricity produced.
But is it realistic to resist the air conditioners, at least for those who have them, when it’s a blistering 35 degrees Celsius outside? In Hong Kong, residents of the city’s notorious subdivided flats bear the brunt of the heat, forcing them to seek refuge at parks and in stairwells.
Japan has shown it can be done. Former environment minister Yuriko Koike introduced a campaign in 2005 for office workers to liberalise their dress codes – shed the suit and tie, and wear short-sleeved shirts – in summer so they can keep the thermostat at 28 degrees Celsius. The campaign, called CoolBiz, was embraced by the private sector, with a line of fashion to match. In winter, the campaign turned to WarmBiz, where offices and homes were encouraged to adjust the heater’s thermostat 1 degree Celsius lower to save electricity.
The upshot of the CoolBiz campaign was it helped Japan cut 460,000 tonnes of carbon emissions in 2005, the equivalent of emissions by 1 million households for a month. The campaign was even more successful in 2006, resulting in an estimated reduction of 1.14 million tonnes, or the emissions by 2.5 million households for a month.
The campaign, which has been promoted every year since 2005, has been adopted in South Korea. Hong Kong is following in kind, if not in name. Everbright Securities, Bank of China Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, the Securities and Futures Commission, and developers including Hongkong Land, Sun Hung Kai Properties, Hang Lung Properties, Sino Land, Swire Properties and Link Reit are among the entities working to fight climate change.
Hong Kong's de facto central bank and the Securities and Futures Commission are among the entities relaxing dress codes to cut back on air conditioning, while the major property developers are deploying a variety of tactics, including digital technology, to slash office-energy use.
In all our different ways, we can act to keep cool and stay green to do our bit to avert climate change.