What Maui wildfires and Beijing floods can teach Hong Kong

Second, the significance of topography emerged as a common factor in both instances. In Beijing, the city’s susceptibility to flooding was influenced by its physical layout. Low-lying areas faced heightened risks as water naturally flowed into valleys, poorly drained basins and other urban depressions.

In Hawaii, the complex interplay of wind and terrain played a pivotal role in fuelling the wildfire. As wind cascaded over the mountains, the air dried out, becoming the ideal catalyst for igniting and spreading fires. Narrow canyons accelerated the wind, intensifying the spread of fires through hot embers.

04:36

Why were the Maui wildfires so devastating?

Why were the Maui wildfires so devastating?

The removal of natural habitat and urbanisation are also shared factors. In Beijing, urbanised regions faced a greater likelihood of flooding because of impermeable surfaces and inadequate drainage systems. The built environment exacerbated flooding during intense rainfall, making densely populated areas more susceptible to the ravages of water.

Advertisement

The alteration of Hawaii’s landscape over time, including building over wetlands and transforming native habitats, drastically changed the natural balance. Non-native grasses now cover a significant portion of the land while more than 90 per cent of Hawaii’s native dry forests have been eliminated, illustrating the loss of vital ecological systems.

Hong Kong faces similar challenges. We experience urbanisation and more extreme weather patterns, often with housing complexes located near mountains. As climate change is expected to bring more severe weather, it’s imperative for Hong Kong to invest in building resilient infrastructure to better prepare for these changes.
To strengthen Hong Kong’s climate adaptation and resilience, we must first mainstream nature-based solutions. Natural habitats such as wetlands can contribute to the absorption of floodwater.
Visitors touring the Nam Sang Wai wetlands in Hong Kong’s Yuen Long district take a photo on January 19 last year. Photo: Jonathan Wong
Within urban areas, the incorporation of the sponge city concept and blue-green infrastructure that combines bodies of water and landscapes can fortify defences against flooding. These strategies can enhance climate resilience and public spaces, thereby improving overall liveability.

Hong Kong can draw inspiration from Shenzhen, its neighbour from across the bay which serves as a prime example of China’s “sponge city” programme. In a span of five years, Shenzhen has successfully completed 26 sponge city plans and 1,361 projects, covering a total of 276 sq km of urban area.

What are ‘sponge cities’? How China is leading fight against urban flooding

In Hong Kong, the Drainage Services Department has gained momentum in implementing nature-based solutions, as demonstrated by its efforts in revitalising the Tung Chung River and Jordan Valley Channel. To further this effort, the government must conduct a holistic environmental assessment to pinpoint sites suitable for implementing nature-based solutions.

Advertisement

It’s worth noting that safeguarding nature holds an additional benefit of mitigating climate change, given that nature operates as a carbon sink.

Second, strengthening the city’s ability to withstand extreme weather necessitates security risk assessments and formulating robust contingency plans. Hong Kong’s unique urban-wildland interface is prone to human-induced wildfires.

09:22

Central under water in 80 years? Hong Kong’s coming climate crisis

Central under water in 80 years? Hong Kong’s coming climate crisis

As climate change exacerbates this risk, the government should conduct research to understand the wildlife risk in Hong Kong, investigate the intricate links between climate patterns and wildfires, build future hill fire management strategies and establish a comprehensive centralised database on hill fires.

Advertisement

Third, the establishment of a collaborative disaster management centre across the Greater Bay Area presents a strategic approach as typhoons are not confined to Hong Kong but pose risks to the entire region. To address this shared challenge, establishing a joint regional disaster management centre is needed. By pooling resources, expertise and data, such a centre can enhance climate preparation and modelling, enabling more effective disaster response and mitigation strategies that benefit the entire region.

With Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu’s latest policy address approaching, his government must take this opportunity to incorporate these lessons and recommendations. To transform Hong Kong into a more liveable city, improve citizens’ lives and enhance the vibrancy of the city, we must take the climate crisis more seriously than ever.

Urgent action is needed now if we are to reach the goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 as targeted. By navigating the challenges presented by climate change, the city can turn them into an opportunity to build a more resilient and adaptable urban landscape for our future generations.

Kitty Tam Tsz-ching is programme lead at Civic Exchange think tank

Lawrence Iu is executive director of Civic Exchange, specialising in climate change modelling and carbon neutrality policies

Advertisement

Logo-favicon

Sign up to receive the latest local, national & international Criminal Justice News in your inbox, everyday.

We don’t spam! Read our [link]privacy policy[/link] for more info.

Sign up today to receive the latest local, national & international Criminal Justice News in your inbox, everyday.

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

This post was originally published on this site