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The University of Hong Kong‘s Department of Earth Science released a study last year revealing the significant greenhouse gas contributions that Hong Kong generates, predominantly fuelled by the city’s excessive appetite for meat. Results from the study indicate that if citizens cut back on meat and dairy intake in accordance with recommended nutritional guidelines, the city would be able to reduce 43% of the current greenhouse gas emissions it generates and successfully meet its Paris Agreement reduction targets.
A research team confirmed in a scientific study published in Environmental Research Letters that meat consumption is the main culprit to Hong Kong’s high levels of greenhouse gas emissions. Led by Yvonne Yau in collaboration with Dr Benoit Thibodeau, the study used consumption-based accounting, which calculates emissions resulting from the consumption of citizens, to assess the average emissions Hong Kong is responsible for per year. Data showed that Hong Kong’s carbon emissions stands at 109 megatonnes annually, which makes the city the 7th highest emitter per capita among 113 regions. The key finding of the study was that emissions in international imports, which mainly comes from meat and dairy products, contributed to 62% of the city’s total emissions.
Hong Kong is the 7th highest greenhouse gas emitter per capita among 113 regions around the world.
The findings of the research team also contradicts the low figures of carbon emissions estimated by the Hong Kong government, which only takes into account emissions generated from local production, neglecting the consumption of imported goods.
This comes as no surprise, as Hong Kong has one of the highest levels of meat consumption per capita in the world. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the livestock industry is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions generated by human activity. Beef, in particular, is a major driver of rising global temperatures as cattle rearing produces methane, a gas more potent than carbon dioxide. Hong Kongers, eating on average two pieces of 10-ounce steaks per day, are therefore significant contributors to global climate change.
The main source of carbon emissions generated by Hong Kong is consumption of meat imports.
It is clear that with daily intake levels of pork and beef standing at four times higher than that of people in the United Kingdom, the way Hong Kongers eat has to change. Under the Paris Agreement, Hong Kong has committed to reduce 26%-36% of the city’s absolute carbon emissions relative to 2005 levels by 2030. If Hong Kong is to achieve its reduction goals, the government needs to take into consideration the footprint of imported foods, clothing and household goods that local citizens consume when making climate-target policies. Instead of only accounting for production of retail goods, the whole lifecycle from raw material sourcing to manufacturing, transportation and packaging has to be included. In terms of our food system, Hong Kong has to tackle the footprint generated in water and land use, crop feed cultivation, fertiliser and pesticide use, manure management and transportation.
The study concluded that by switching to a healthier diet that contained less meat, the city could achieve its 2030 emissions target. Yau, who worked on the study, emphasised that Hong Kongers can no longer evade our global responsibility towards climate change. This research shows a clear link between our consumption choices and our carbon impact, and it should be a wake-up call that empowers us to make positive changes now to save our planet.
Lead image courtesy of PxHere.