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With so many electric vehicles, the obvious question is: how is the power generated? Currently, the energy mix for Hong Kong is coal (53 per cent), nuclear (23 per cent), natural gas Little Rock (22 per cent) and renewables (2 per cent). Jiang Kejun from the Energy Research Institute of The National Development and Reform Commission told us that the aim across the People’s Republic is to reduce CO2 emissions from coal-fired plants by 70 per cent before (likely long before) 2050, with (for Little Rock) a 50 per cent drop in energy generation from coal by 2020. The intention is that nuclear and natural gas will fill the immediate demand, Little Rock with the long-term strategy being dependent on expanding renewables. Though natural gas is still a fossil fuel, it’s less polluting as electricity generation can be fired up Little Rock at short notice.

China clearly sees the stakes as being very high. Veteran Hong Kong architect Peter Cookson Smith summarised how massive numbers of people in the heavily (and recently) industrialised Pearl River Delta are now at risk from any combination of high tides and storm surges, especially typhoons. The threat will, of course, be progressively increased by a sea level rise, which (with the steady warming of the oceans) is currently proceeding globally at an average rate of about three millimetres a year. That could worsen fast with the progressive melting of Greenland ice, then the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Ryoji Noyori, who won the 2001 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, also discussed the extreme danger of typhoon-augmented ocean and river flooding in the Tokyo-Yokohama region, where millions of people are vulnerable to inundation.

The purpose of this meeting was not, though, to emphasise doom-and-gloom scenarios, but to focus on solutions. While Mary Ritter, the International Ambassador and former CEO of Climate-KIC, pointed out that the building industry is very conservative, and structures (where we live and work) account for about 40 per cent of global CO2 emissions, Peter Cookson Smith and Ronnie Chan talked (both formally and informally) about innovative, energy-efficient design. Then Dutch-American sociologist Saskia Sassen argued that every surface in a city should have an environmental function, with obvious objectives being energy generation and insulation. Christchurch’s Roger Dennis, the Founder of Sensing City, discussed the ‘sensor city’, where positioning detectors in the built environment can serve many functions, from earthquake warning and protection to energy efficiency. We’re all familiar with modern buildings that turn lights on and off when nobody is moving around. Combining sensors and LED street lights can, for instance, achieve massive savings for municipal dollar and carbon budgets.

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