Climate Change

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What does climate change mean to you? How much do you know or understand about this term? Though many scientists and environmentalists have warned the world of the potential danger and irreversible consequences of climate change, such as the increasingly rapid retreat of glaciers, most people still pay little attention or simply don’t care enough to adjust the way they live to protect the earth, especially those living in areas where no imminent climate impacts and risks have been felt, yet.

Although there are different opinions and attitudes held towards climate change, one indisputable fact is that eventually, every person will be affected and no one can escape from it. It is only a matter of when and how hard it will hit you. Therefore, it will be wise for us to learn more about this topic and see what we can do to save our earth and live more sustainably!

What

According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), climate change refers to a change of climate that is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and that is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time period.

Climate change: How do we know?

  1. Sea level rise
  2. The two major causes of global sea level rise are thermal expansion of the oceans (water expands as it warms) and additional water flows into the oceans from ice that melts on land.

    The rise has happened more rapidly in the past few decades. According to NASA, between 1993 and 2013, sea levels rose by 1.7 mm per year - almost twice the long term average.

  3. Global warming
  4. According to the UN’s World Meteorological Organisation, 13 of the 14 warmest years on record occurred in the 21st century. In the Northern Hemisphere, where most of Earth's land mass is located, the three decades from 1983 to 2012 were likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 1,400 years.

  5. Extreme weather events
  6. Climate change has increased the likelihood of severe weather events such as storms, flooding, heat waves, and droughts, which are among the key risks of global warming that poses the greatest threat to humans in the near future.

  7. Melting of glaciers and ice sheets
  8. Glaciers are retreating almost everywhere around the world. A recent study by NASA has found that rapid retreat of ice in the Amundsen sea sector of West Antarctica is unstoppable. Its disappearance will likely trigger the collapse of the rest of the West Antarctic ice sheet, which comes with a sea level rise of between three and five metres. Such an event will displace millions of people worldwide.

The El Niño Phenomenon

About 400 years ago, El Niño phenomenon was first recognised by a group of fishermen in Latin America when they experienced unusually warm water in the Pacific Ocean. El Niño is a warming of the central to eastern Pacific Ocean, raising sea surface temperatures by 0.5-1.5°C or more, that occurs every three to seven years.

El Niño affects weather conditions where some places experience increased rainfall while others experience drought, leading to extreme weather around the globe (UNOCHA). The frequency and intensity of El Niño have increased by global warming caused by greenhouse-gas emissions in recent years.

What is the impact of El Niño?

Impact of El Niño is worldwide which include:

  • Asia Pacific Region: Drought and forest fire
  • Latin America: Flash flood causing decrease in fishery and crop failure
  • Africa: Drought and erratic rainfall leading to crop failure and food shortage. Africa is the region facing the most extreme risk as it is the one that can least afford the impact of El Niño
  • Find out more about impact of El Niño on global food security.

Climate change in Hong Kong

Hong Kong has been called the “fortunate land” (福地) because in the past 50 years or so, we have not experienced any natural disaster that result in widespread casualties and damages, unlike some of our neighbours in China who suffer terrible floods, droughts or earthquakes.

However, does it mean we are free from the impacts of climate change and global warming?

On March 30, 2014, Hong Kong and Southern China were hit by torrential rain and hail storm. Although we have had black rainstorm warning before, this one had caused some of the worst property damage and floodings in the street, shops and MTR stations.

“Over a period of 3 to 4 hours, more than 100 millimetres of rainfall were recorded in Kowloon and the New Territories…The hourly rainfall of 56 millimetres recorded at the Hong Kong Observatory between 9 and 10 p.m. on 30 March was the highest in March since record began in 1884. The Black Rainstorm Warning was issued at 8:40 p.m., the first time in March since the Rainstorm Warning System commenced operation in 1992.”The Weather of March 2014, Hong Kong Observatory

The rainstorm had taken many by surprise as they never imagined seeing a “waterfall” inside a mall. It has also led some to think more seriously about the reasons behind the increasingly severe rainfall in Hong Kong in recent years, and what future rainstorms or typhoons might look like.

In fact, climate change has been happening more rapidly in the past few decades, even without us noticing. Rising temperature, mean sea level rise and more extreme weather events including heavy rainfall and strong typhoons have been observed in Hong Kong. You can find more relevant information and statistics from the Hong Kong Observatory’s website.

Apart from the already mentioned impacts of climate change, the following issues also worth our attention:

  1. Flooding
  2. With heavier precipitations, overstrained drainage systems and groundwater pollution could lead to possible disease, damage to property, soil degradation and personal injury.

  3. Heat Waves
  4. Heat waves and dangerously hot days with the potential to cause death and severe health problems are likely to bring an increase in heat-related deaths, particularly among the elderly and the outdoor workers.

  5. Health Impacts
  6. Increase in health problems associated with heat exhaustion, respiratory problems and air pollution. In Hong Kong, if temperature were to rise by 3°C, the likelihood of an increase in the epidemic potential of malaria would rise by nearly 20%, according to a report by Environmental Protection.

  7. Depletion of Natural Resources
  8. Hong Kong has the 15th largest per capita ecological footprint in the world, also number one in Asia according to a WWF. It is estimated that the planet needs 1 year to regenerate the natural resources we use in a single year. If we continue to maintain our over-spending consumption patterns, we are only exacerbating the imbalance between human needs and the finite resources of the world.

Impact

Impacts of Climate Change and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

At the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit on 25 September 2015, world leaders adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and tackle climate change by 2030 (UNDP 2015).

In the last decade, the MDGs succeeded in mobilising support for development and led to some success in the fight against hunger, diseases and illiteracy. However, despite these achievements, climate crises have posed an increasingly serious threat to international development efforts.

Often, the poorest and most vulnerable suffer the most from the consequences of climate change, including natural disasters.

Goal 13 of SDGs: “Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts”, directly responds to the issue of climate change.


Summary of Goal 13: Climate Action

  • Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries
  • Integrate climate change measures into national policies, strategies and planning
  • Improve education, awareness-raising and international capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction and early warning
  • Implement the commitment undertaken by developed-country parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to address the needs of developing countries in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation
  • Strengthen capacity for effective planning and management in least developed countries and small islands, including focusing on women, youth and local and marginalised communities

Climate change affects everyone everywhere

In the previous section, we look at some of the direct results of climate change such as sea level rise and temperature increase. The above table, however, shows us some of the indirect impacts of climate change, ranging from food and water shortage to public health issues.

A 2014 report from the UN’s climate science panel also connected climate change to rising food prices and political instability. Overall speaking, climate change has become more relevant to communities because they are directly affecting people, not just the natural environment any more.

Although climate change tends to affect the poor in developing countries the most, no one can choose to stay out of its reach. In developed countries, such as Hong Kong, we also feel the direct and indirect impact of global warming, much fuelled by the emissions of greenhouse gases.

Why

Increased burning of fossil fuel

Most climate scientists agree that the main cause of the current global warming trend is human expansion of the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse gases act like a blanket that keeps the earth warm and shields it from the cold of universe. They trap a good amount of heat required for life on earth.

However, too much of a good thing can have a negative impact. Human activities on earth are changing the delicate balance of this natural greenhouse. As humans try to satisfy the endless hunger for energy through the unlimited burning of fossil fuels, the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) has increased by a third since the Industrial Revolution began.

Along with the increase of other greenhouse gases, this “thickened layer” of thermal blanket is trapping more heat and energy than needed, resulting in a rise in temperature of the Earth.

Increasing deforestation

On the other hand, climate change is also driven by increasing deforestation, which is cutting trees and clearing forests on a massive scale. People cut down forests for different reasons but the biggest driver of deforestation has been agriculture. Many small farmers lack the knowledge and technologies to plant crops or graze livestock in more sustainable ways.

Growing urban sprawl, and logging operations, which provide the world’s wood and paper products, also cut countless trees each year.

Excessive deforestation has a negative impact on our environment because trees play a critical role in absorbing the greenhouse gases that fuel global warming. With fewer forests, larger amounts of greenhouse gases will be trapped in the atmosphere.

In conclusion, human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some climate extremes.

How We Help

Why is World Vision, as a development agency that primarily focuses on poverty alleviation, involved in climate change related programmes?

When people think about the primary needs of poor and hungry children, the most straight forward answers would be food, water, education and healthcare, seldom would they think of areas such as sustainable reforestation or efficient energy projects.

However, it has been increasingly evident and obvious that the impacts of climate change (e.g. extreme weather events) will hit vulnerable populations hardest because they often lack the resources and capacity to cope with an increasingly unpredictable envronment. Research and studies have also shown that patterns of persisting poverty coincide with areas of high climatic vulnerability.

On the other hand, communities in developing countries tend to rely on agriculture as their main source of food and income. With only increasingly degraded natural resources to work with, subsistence farmers are particularly vulnerable to climate change.

Our approach

World Vision works with vulnerable communities to increase their resilience to climate change. In doing so, we support communities in climate change through two major approaches:

  1. Mitigation: Avoid the unmanageable
    This approach involves reducing carbon dioxide gas emissions and stopping the problem of climate change from growing. This means burning less fossil fuel (coal, oil and natural gas) and introducing clean energy and energy-efficient approaches.
    Another way to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is reforestation and the conservation of existing forests that helps absorbing carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, in the atmosphere.
  2. Adaptation: Manage the unavoidable
    Adaptation involves learning how to live with existing climate change and protecting ourselves from the future effects of climate change. For example, this includes farmers growing drought resistant crops and learning new ways in ‘climate-smart’ agricultural interventions and sustainable land management practices.
    World Vision Australia has a dedicated Food Security and Climate Change team that develop and oversee a pipeline of global development projects with communities, governments and world-class partners across Africa, South America, South Asia and the Pacific region. For more details, please visit their information hub which includes a wealth of knowledge and project information in this area.

World Vision Australia's Natural Resource Management Advisor, Tony Rinaudo, pioneered FMNR in Niger during the 1983 famine and is regarded as the leading expert in FMNR worldwide.

What is Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR)?

Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) is a low-cost land restoration technique used to combat poverty and hunger amongst poor subsistence farmers by increasing food and timber production and resilience to climate extremes.

In practice, FMNR involves the systematic regrowth and management of trees and shrubs from felled tree stumps, sprouting root systems or seeds. The regrown trees and shrubs – integrated into crops and grazing pastures – help restore soil structure and fertility, inhibit erosion and soil moisture evaporation, rehabilitate springs and the water table, and increase biodiversity. Some tree species also impart nutrients such as nitrogen into the soil.

As a result, FMNR can double crop yields, provide building timber and firewood, fodder and shade for livestock, wild foods for nutrition and medication, and increased incomes and living standards for farming families and their communities.


Continuous grazing, cutting for firewood and clearing and burning of land for cultivation leads to deforestation. However, many tree species have the ability to sprout from stumps and roots after they are cut down.

FMNR Steps - The basic method of FMNR is simple


  1. Protect and allow plants and tree stumps to grow on your farm.
  2. Survey your farm and see how many and what species of trees are present; then select the better stems which will be pruned and cut off the excess stems.
  3. A good farmer will return every 2-6 months for a touch up pruning that stimulates growth and produces straighter stems.

Benefits – FMNR contributes directly to:


  1. Plenty firewood and improved welfare of women and children
  2. Fodder for animals
  3. Improved crop yield through soil enrichment
  4. Improved local economy through sale of harvest and non-timber forest products
  5. Improved water infiltration and hence groundwater recharge
  6. Cost effective and large scale land reclamation and forest regeneration

In response to extreme weather events, what does World Vision do?

World Vision acts: before, during and after disasters strike.

To be able to help communities affected by disasters, World Vision needs to ensure readiness before the emergency strikes.

Most regions where World Vision works maintain their own stockpiles of relief items, such as tarpaulins, household kits and water carriers, plus reliable access to emergency food supplies. In addition to this, World Vision’s strategically located disaster response warehouses are pre-stocked with relief supplies, allowing the organisation to ship vital aid supplies – water purification tablets, shelter materials, cooking utensils and blankets, for example – without delay.

Disaster teams in each country work with communities on disaster preparedness, including risk recognition, evacuations and early warning systems. Click here for more updates and details of our relief work.

Floods explained

Tsunami explained

Hurricanes, typhoons and
cyclones explained

How can you respond?

  1. Adjust your lifestyle to minimise carbon emission
    WEAR low carbon:Purchase durable clothes. Buy only what you need and what you will wear for years. Remember that producing new clothes consumes energy and resources.
    EAT low carbon: Eating more vegetable and less red meat is good for both your health and the environment. Choose seasonal food and support local produce will also help reduce energy consumption and carbon emission due to shorter transport distance. In addition, excessive chemicals and packaging can be avoided with simple fresh keeping procedures.
    LIVE low carbon: Choose energy-efficient appliances. In Hong Kong, air conditioner is the number one electricity-consuming household appliance. By keeping a reasonable temperature (e.g. 25℃) or use it alternately with fans, less heat and carbon will be released.
    TRAVEL low carbon: If your destination is within walking distance, allow yourself enough time to go by foot. Otherwise, public transport in Hong Kong is plentiful and convenient, make good use of it! If you must drive, consider the followings to lower carbon emissions:
    - Keep your tires fully inflated can save up to 460kg of carbon dioxide per year (WWF)
    - Go hybrid. Hybrid or low-emission cars are less polluting.
    - Give your friends a ride. A full car is more efficient!

  2. Sponsor a child and empower poor communities
    As climate change persists, poor communities are likely to encounter more challenges in their living. Through Child Sponsorship, sponsored children will receive nourishment in different areas, including nutrition, education and health. Your donation will not only help your sponsored child, but also the community he/she lives in. In disaster prone areas, World Vision will incorporate disaster preparedness and risk reduction elements into the projects to build up community’s resilience to natural disasters.

Ways you can help: