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“InnoFriday” Talk #7 Review: How Transformative is COP21?

The recent United Nations Climate Change Conference (known as COP21) held in France ended with the historic Paris Agreement signed by 196 parties, aiming to limit global greenhouse gases emissions. What are the implications for businesses and civil societies around the world and in Hong Kong? In this Inno-Friday Talk captioned ‘How Transformative is COP21?’ and held on 18 December, CarbonCare InnoLab advisors Ir Albert Lai and Mr Chong Chan Yau, who led the Hong Kong NGO Delegation to COP21, were invited to give a debriefing on the UN summit and the Paris Agreement, as well as to explore and discuss with the participants on the many opportunities for further civil society actions.

Ir Albert Lai, leader of the Hong Kong NGO Delegation to COP21, began the talk with a slideshow of photos to give participants an idea of the process of inter-governmental negotiations in Paris and the various fascinating exhibitions and activities held by businesses, NGOs and civil societies from all corners of the world. Commenting on the Paris Agreement, Albert gave credit to its clearer and more ambitious goals on climate change mitigation, compared with previous conventions. For example, the Paris Agreement clearly states its aim as to ‘hold the increase in the global average temperature well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels’, and for the first time, to ‘pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C. Moreover, it sets out that from 2020 onwards, developed countries are obliged to inject no less than 10 billion US dollars annually to help developing countries reduce greenhouse gases emissions. Albert considered the success of reaching this agreement as the result of  adopting the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) from different countries, thereby allowing individual countries to set up their own emissions reduction targets after taking domestic circumstances into consideration. Yet, Albert stressed that these reduction contributions submitted for the Agreement alone are far from sufficient to hold the global temperature rise within target. In conclusion, Albert pointed out that apart from state governments, non-state actors including cities, business corporations, investment funds and civil societies around the world, should also share the responsibility of combating climate change to make the Paris Agreement a real success.  

Mr Chong Chan Yau, another CCIL advisor who joined the COP21 Delegation, also shared his observations and views after what he experienced in Paris. Chan Yau told participants he was very impressed by the active involvement of so many global businesses, NGOs and city governments around the world. They raised many innovative ideas to help solve the carbon emissions problem and made positive pledges to build a low-carbon society. Hong Kong, an international metropolis, however, is lagging far behind. During the talk, Chan Yau shared his experience of meeting Mr Wong Kam-sing, Secretary for the Environment at the China Pavilion in Paris. Chan Yau tried to put forward to Mr Wong several innovative and feasible carbon reduction solutions for Hong Kong, including more widespread use of solar power, urban cycling and rooftop farming. Yet Mr Wong has refused to give serious consideration to these ideas.

In the sharing session that followed, guest speakers and participants joined together to examine the implications brought by COP21. Participants raised suggestions on how civil society could contribute to climate change mitigation. These include urging local power companies to develop more clean energy, launching campaigns on fossil fuel divestment and designing education programmes for schools to raise climate change awareness among the younger generation. Finally, Albert introduced four InnoTeams from the Jockey Club COIL programme, whose aim is to nurture and execute innovative solutions to help Hong Kong achieve sustainable development. These four InnoTeams cover urban cycling, tree conservation, rooftop farming and responsible consumption. What they are doing proves that civil society is capable of bringing changes to climate change response in Hong Kong. We welcome anyone who has got innovative ideas to join us as an InnoTeam member and contribute to further discussions. Those interested please leave your personal particulars here. Let’s work together to make Hong Kong more sustainable and climate friendly.