By Judy Ho, Livelihoods Technical Advisor
For the past few months, we have experienced drastic changes resulting from the global economic lockdown. However, there are some bright sides to it – cleaner air, less traffic congestion, and – for the first time – CO2 emissions have dropped 17% by early April compared to 2019 levels. The reluctant but unavoidable shutdown of the global economy is only a short-term response. It will not be a realistic solution to curb rising CO2 emissions when activities resume. Countries are already striving to have their economies up and running in the next few months. This “global reset” or “second chance”, as one may call it, is an invaluable time to act and protect the environment we live in.
Land-use change, loss of biodiversity, exploitation of plants and animals, pollution and climate change are some of the key contributing factors to the emergence of zoonotic diseases, including the deadly Covid-19. In fact, according to the UN Environment Programme, 75 per cent of all emerging infectious diseases in humans are zoonotic, and on average, one new infectious disease is emerging in human every four months. These are exceptional times in which nature is sending us a message: To care for ourselves we must care for nature.
As a metropolitan hub in Asia Pacific, Hong Kong runs a high-energy and carbon-intensive economy. If everyone consumes at the rate of an average Hongkonger, it would take 4.2 Earths to feed the demand while on average, humanity would need the regenerative capacity of 1.7 Earths to provide what we need from nature. In the wake of Covid-19, people are even expanding on their takeaway habits as we practice social distancing. The volume of single-use plastics given out for take-outs has grown 2.2 times, with more than 100 million pieces of disposable cutlery and plastics disposed of every week according to an environmental local NGO.
Over the years working for World Vision, I have witnessed how, even in developing countries, communities are willing to take part in making a positive impact on the environment. Across Asia and Africa, World Vision has been promoting Farmers Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) in communities to restore vegetation on degraded land. The farmers, on the verge of starvation, are willing to set aside some of their land for trees growing when the land could have been used to grow more food crops to satisfy their immediate need. Today, the results of the reforested landscape are even visible to satellite imagery taken from space. In Ethiopia alone, FMNR has reduced over 276,000 metric tons of CO2, which is equivalent to taking nearly 60,000 vehicles off the road for one year.
In Hong Kong, even though we don’t have the luxury of land to grow trees, we can surely chip in by adapting to a low carbon lifestyle. Under the Paris Agreement, Hong Kong has pledged to lower our carbon footprint by half – from 6.2 tonnes in 2014 to 3.8 tonnes by 2030 – that is in 10 years’ time. With such an ambitious target, it requires each of us to take concrete actions – we can choose to be more resource-efficient, use less energy and water, and reduce our overall level of waste.
The next time we head for take-out, bring along reusable containers to reduce plastic wastes. How about think of recipes to use up the leftover soup ingredients from Double-stewed Soup (老火湯) to reduce food waste, as every family make soup at least a few times a week, if not daily. Instead of turning on the air-con 24/7, make use of the thermostat or timer function to be more energy efficient – the good old fans are excellent ways to circulate cooler air throughout the flat. There are ample choices we can make on a daily basis to make a positive impact on the environment.
Hongkongers have been a forerunner of combating infectious disease in the international arena as shown in our early actions to deter the spread of COVID-19. In the same way, we certainly can take the same aggressive approach of timely action to curb environmental damage. As we commemorate World Environment Day on June 5, perhaps we could be inspired in adopting a low carbon lifestyle.