26 April 2016

Results of “Hong Kong People’s Carbon-Reduction Behaviours and Health”



A recent territory-wide large scale study by the Collaborating Centre for Oxford University and CUHK for Disaster and Medical Humanitarian Response (CCOUC) found that

  • Higher proportion of people of older age groups frequently practise carbon-reduction behaviours, in contrast to the general impression that younger generations adopt environmental-friendly behaviours more readily.
  • Lower proportion of male and unmarried single frequently practise carbon-reduction behaviours.

 Study finds varied results of carbon-reduction policies and campaigns

In order to understand the adoption among the local community of some behaviours that can reduce carbon emission and benefit health, CCOUC has recently launched a large-scale study entitled “Hong Kong People’s Carbon-Reduction Behaviours and Health”, which is the first of its kind. A territory-wide randomised telephone survey was conducted between January and February 2016. A representational sample of 1,017 Cantonese-speaking local residents of 15 years old or above was selected based on the distribution of Hong Kong population in terms of age, gender and district. 

The study found that using less packing and disposable bags is the carbon-reduction behaviour practiced by the highest proportion of respondents (70.1%), which is consistent with the government’s plastic shopping bag (PSB) charging scheme fully implemented to all retail outlets from 1 April 2015. However, almost half (48.8%) of the respondents have never considered showering less than 5 minutes per day despite of an earlier campaign (Shorten each shower time by 1 minute, save 10L water). 

About 61.7% of the respondents practise household waste separation at least once a week. The proportion is higher among those living in subsidised self-own housing (70.5%) than those living in private housing (61.5%) and public housing (55.8%); and the proportion is lowest among respondents in Wan Chai District (42.8%). The former may be related to better waste separation mechanisms in subsidised self-own housing, while the latter reflected the relatively few large-scale private housing estates in Wan Chai, which may have more systematic waste separation mechanism. Both are worthy of further investigation by government and relevant parties, so as to help people reduce household waste volume before the implementation of the municipal solid waste charging scheme.

Besides, only 3.5% of the respondents are vegetarians, while almost half (49%) of non-vegetarians have never thought of having at least one vegetarian meal per week, male in particular. Regarding the habit of bringing utensils when eating outside, as high as 70.3% of the respondents have never considered, in particular among the elderly above 65 years old. In terms of health benefits, this behaviour can reduce the health risk of food contamination by unclean utensils. In case disposable utensils are employed by eateries to save manpower cost, this habit can help reduce waste at the same time (See the attached graphs for details). 

Enhancement of awareness by promotion

The research findings suggest that more can be done by the government environmental protection and health authorities as well as non-governmental organisations in terms of promoting carbon-reduction behaviours that are also beneficial to health. This includes highlighting the health benefits of these habits, which may increase people’s incentive to adopt carbon-reduction behaviours. CCOUC is working to enhance the knowledge and understanding of climate change among the youth, including health co-benefits of carbon-reduction behaviours, by providing training to school teachers. A Professional Development Programme (PDP) for Secondary School Teachers entitled “Impact of Globalisation on Climate Change and Human Health” will be held on 10 May and in June. Details of the programme can be found in the website of CCOUC: http://ccouc.org 

At the same time, to enhance people’s knowledge of climate change’s health impacts so as to encourage them to adopt relevant preparations and practise climate change mitigating behaviours, CCOUC has developed an online course “Climate Change and Health”, which is open for people around the world via the platform of Hong Kong Jockey Club Disaster Preparedness and Response Institute. This course targets particularly those involved in research or professionals in healthcare, policy, education and humanitarian sectors, including civil servants, health care professionals, frontline disaster responders or undergraduate or postgraduate students of relevant disciplines. It aims to let students understand health-related issues of climate change from a public health perspective, how to handle health outcomes of climate change and how to promote community preparedness, response, policy making and policy implementation. Details of the course and enrollment procedures can be found here: www.ccouc.org/climate-change-and-health 

Starting from individuals and households

Many carbon-reduction behaviours can be beneficial to human health at the same time, i.e., generating health co-benefits (see the table below). Since the adoption of behaviours reducing carbon footprint like using less plastic packaging and disposable shopping bags or using more expensive non-fossil fuels may bring inconvenience or increase financial burden, merely appealing to the abstract idea of mitigating climate change may not be enough to pursue people to take action. However, if people can understand the health co-benefits of these behaviours, they may be encouraged to practise these carbon-reduction behaviours. 

Health co-benefits of carbon-reducing behaviours

Carbon-reducing Behaviours

Impacts

Health Co-benefits

Using less packaging and disposable shopping bags

Reduce migration of chemicals from plastic packaging and bags to food; Reduce plastic waste

Reduce the risks of breast cancer and other disruptions to human reproductive functions potentially related to exposure to plastics; Reduce environmental health risks associated with plastic waste management (e.g. poisonous gas generated by incinerators)

Showering less than 5 minutes per day

Conserve limited water resources; Reduce electricity consumption for heating water for shower and processing sewage to alleviate air pollution from fossil fuels (i.e. coal, petroleum and natural gas) power plants

Secure the availability of clean water for drinking, cooking and personal hygiene to reduce the risks of infectious diseases transmitted by water, food and contact; Reduce the risks of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer and chronic lower respiratory diseases related to air pollution

Household waste separation

Reduce waste

Reduce environmental health risks associated with waste management (e.g. poisonous gas generated by incinerators)

Consuming less meat

Reduce over-consumption of red meat which usually contains more saturated fats; Reduce greenhouse gas produced by ruminant livestock (e.g. cows)

Reduce the risks of colorectal cancer, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes; Reduce the risks of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases associated with high temperature

Collaborating Centre for Oxford University and CUHK for Disaster and Medical Humanitarian Response (CCOUC) has been established by the joint effort of Oxford University and The Chinese University of Hong Kong as a non-profit research centre to carry out research, training and community knowledge transfer in the area of disaster and medical humanitarian response in Greater China and the Asia-Pacific Region since April 2011. CCOUC aims to minimise the negative health impact of disasters experienced by vulnerable populations in the region by serving as a platform for research, education, and community knowledge transfer in the areas of disaster and medical humanitarian crisis policy development, planning, and response.

Professor Emily Ying Yang Chan, Director of CCOUC (left), Dr Susan Shuxin Wang, Research Associate of CCOUC (right), and Mr Kevin Sida Liu, Assistant Lecturer at JC School of Public Health and Primary Care at Jockey Club Museum of Climate Change, The Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Professor Emily Ying Yang Chan, Director of CCOUC (left), Dr Susan Shuxin Wang, Research Associate of CCOUC (right), and Mr Kevin Sida Liu, Assistant Lecturer at JC School of Public Health and Primary Care at Jockey Club Museum of Climate Change, The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Professor Emily Ying Yang Chan, Director of CCOUC (right), Dr Susan Shuxin Wang, Research Associate of CCOUC (left), and Mr Kevin Sida Liu, Assistant Lecturer at JC School of Public Health and Primary Care in the press conference at Jockey Club Museum of Climate Change, The Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Professor Emily Ying Yang Chan, Director of CCOUC (right), Dr Susan Shuxin Wang, Research Associate of CCOUC (left), and Mr Kevin Sida Liu, Assistant Lecturer at JC School of Public Health and Primary Care in the press conference at Jockey Club Museum of Climate Change, The Chinese University of Hong Kong.