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Speech of Mr C Y Lam, Director of Hong Kong Observatory

12 March 2008

The World Meteorological Day falls on the 23rd of March every year. This year, the theme is "Observing our Planet for a Better Future".

Man-induced climate change is currently an issue of global concern. It is closely linked to the very existence of humankind and other living beings on Earth. More than thirty years ago, the United Nations World Meteorological Organization issued the first statement to appeal to all governments to watch out for the possibility of anthropogenic climate change. It was based on the weather observation records accumulated by the various national meteorological services through long years of effort.

Thirty years have gone by, more and more tools are now available to observe our planet. The most notable addition is the artificial satellite which puts the entire globe under close scrutiny at all time. With this new wealth of information, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirmed last year that climate change was undisputable, and such changes are very likely due to the increase in the release of carbon dioxide from the burning of coal, petroleum and natural gas by human beings.

To many people, repeatedly measuring temperature, rainfall, etc. day after day is a boring job. But this is the only way to reveal a slowly evolving phenomenon like climate change which results from incremental changes accumulated over many years. The theme of the World Meteorological Day this year marks the respect we pay to front-line scientists who persevere with their work of observing our planet.

I would like to take the opportunity to report on some developments in the Observatory. First of all, let me introduce my Assistant Directors. They are:

(1) Dr WONG Ming-chung, responsible for climate, geophysics, etc.
(2) Dr LEE Boon-ying, responsible for instrumentation, radiation monitoring, etc.
(3) Mr WAI Hon-gor, responsible for public weather services
(4) Mr Shun Chi-ming, responsible for aeronautical weather services

In the past year, the Observatory has made good progress in weather observation. Two new stations were established under the "One District One Station" initiative viz. Hong Kong Park in Central and Western District and the Museum of Coastal Defense in Eastern District. The Hong Kong Community Weather Information Network established through the joint effort of the Observatory, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University and the Hong Kong Joint-school Meteorological Association was launched. The area of coverage of the lightning location system was expanded by over 40 percent. A new meteorological satellite reception system was put into operation. The Observatory website was enhanced with new observational information such as visibility, grass temperature, etc. The world's first dual-LIDAR windshear alerting system began operation at the airport. Not only are we collecting more data, we also enrich the contents of our services. Our press releases and the periodic publication "Weather on Wings" have covered these items, so I am not going to dwell on the details.

There were other noteworthy events last year. The chairmen of all three working groups of the IPCC accepted our invitation to participate in the International Conference on Climate Change in Hong Kong. The Director of the Hong Kong Observatory was appointed to chair part of the sessions of the Congress of United Nations World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Congress, which is held once in four years. The WMO and International Civil Aviation Organization separately invited the Observatory to set up two dedicated websites on aviation weather. These events reflect in one way or the other the recognition of the international meteorological and aviation community of the good work of the Observatory's meteorological staff.

In the coming year, our focus is to provide the best possible weather service in support of the Olympic Games. Firstly, we shall provide weather observation information, weather forecast and warnings in respect of the equestrian competition venues in Hong Kong. Secondly, we shall operate a nowcasting system to support our Beijing counterparts in serving the Beijing Olympics. Thirdly, we shall provide a tailor-made weather information service to support Hong Kong's windsurfing team competing in Qingdao. In order to accomplish these missions, my colleagues have been working in the past few years to enhance our technological capability. The spin-off of such enhancement is expected to become part of our meteorological service in Hong Kong after the Olympics.

There are other new developments in the coming year. For example, the "One District One Station" project will continue to expand, the next new station will be set up in Kowloon City. A lightning alerting service centred around user-specified locations will be launched in our website. Internet website service for mobile communication platforms will be enhanced, so that people may get the weather information they need wherever they are.

This year is the 125th anniversary of the Hong Kong Observatory. We wish to take a break from our daily hustle, to take a look at our history and social responsibility, so as to be clear about our future direction of development. From a simple observatory established in 1883, we have evolved into an organization which exploits complex modern-day technology to provide a wide range of services. Through the years, we have moved forward step by step, and have evolved responding to changes in our society. Because of the limitation of time today, I would not dwell on this much further. We plan to organize a special exhibition in the Hong Kong Museum of History to show the development history of the Observatory, tentatively in July this year. We are also inviting our past and present colleagues to contribute articles, to form a collection which will illustrate the evolution of the Hong Kong Observatory from a human angle.

Besides our history, let me also review Hong Kong's climate. Hong Kong has not been spared the impacts of global climate change. Our previous work showed that in the 20th century, the rise of temperature at the Hong Kong Observatory was roughly double that of the global average. The additional rise in temperature was related to urbanization in Hong Kong. Based on the latest IPCC assessment of global climate change published last year, we have updated our projection for the temperature trend in Hong Kong in the 21st century. The results are given in the Appendix. I shall explain below.

To make a projection of future climate, it requires as an input the scenario of future socio-economic development, such as economic model, application of technology, composition of fuel, international cooperation, demography, etc. For this purpose, the IPCC developed a series of reference scenarios.

In addition, the extent of urbanization in Hong Kong has to be considered. We have adopted two urbanization scenarios, that is, a "lower-bound" in which urbanization is frozen at the current level, and an "upper-bound" in which the established rate of urbanization persists up to the end of the century.

In the following discussion, I shall use "high-end" to designate a situation in which high greenhouse gas emission scenario is coupled with continued urbanization. Similarly, "low-end" designates a situation in which low greenhouse gas emission scenario is coupled with frozen urbanization. The term "middle-of-the-road" signifies the average of computation results based on all combinations of emission scenarios as well as frozen and continued urbanization. Also, "end of last century" means the period 1980 - 1999, following IPCC. The "end of this century" means the period "2090 - 2099".

Our latest computation shows that by the end of this century, the temperature rise compared with the end of the last century is 4.8oC for the "middle-of-the-road", 3.0oC for the "low-end" and 6.8oC for the "high-end".

The average annual number of hot nights in summer (minimum temperature at or above 28oC) will increase. At the end of the last century, the number was 15. By the end of this century, the "middle-of-the-road" figure is 41. The "low-end" figure is 30 and the "high end" figure is 54.

The average annual number of very hot days in summer (daily maximum temperature at or above 33oC) will increase. At the end of the last century, the number was 7. By the end of this century, the "middle-of-the-road" figure is 15. The "low-end" figure is 12 and the "high end" figure is 19.

Another significant change is the decrease in the number of cold days in winter (daily minimum temperature of 12oC or below). At the end of the last century, the number was 14. The "middle-of-the-road" projection is that by 2030 - 2039, it will be less than one per year, meaning that for some winters, there will not be any cold days at all. The "low-end" projection is for this to occur during 2040 - 2049, whereas for the "high-end", this will occur in 2020 - 2029. All of us here in this room will have the chance to witness the disappearance of winter in Hong Kong.

"Long summer, no winter" will be what I would conclude in brief for the future climate of Hong Kong. Now let me talk about the weather of 2008.

The La Niña which started in the latter part of 2007 is expected to continue into the spring of 2008. On this basis, the most likely number of tropical cyclones coming within 500 kilometres of Hong Kong in 2008 is 6 to 8. In the past 30 years, the average number was six. The annual rainfall this year is expected to be near normal.

Finally, please help us convey the following to the public. The Hong Kong Observatory will be open to the public this Saturday and Sunday (15 and 16 March). All are welcome.

I shall stop here. My assistant directors and myself will be happy to answer your questions.

Thank you.