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HKBU study finds that secondary students worry about the impacts of climate change but lack engagement in low-carbon living

05 Feb 2013

Professor Kenneth Wong (right) and Mr. Alan Tse release the survey results
Professor Kenneth Wong (right) and Mr. Alan Tse release the survey results

A study by HKBU finds that secondary school students in Hong Kong worry and are concerned about climate change. They think that the problem of climate change is serious, and believe that human activities are the primary cause of climate change problems. More than three-quarters of students agree to adopt a proactive approach to solve the climate change problem, for instance, by changing their current lifestyle so as to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. Though 94% of students express a willingness to change their existing lifestyle, they lack a corresponding engagement in low-carbon living, particularly in the aspects of “green clothing choice” and “green eating habits”.

The study entitled “Global Climate Change and Low-carbon Living: Perceptions of Secondary School Students in Hong Kong” was conducted from January to June 2011 by Professor Kenneth Wong, Research Fellow of the Sino-Forest Applied Research Centre for Pearl River Delta Environment and Professor of Geography of HKBU, and Mr. Alan Tse, a Research Assistant of the Department of Geography, with the support of the Environment and Conservation Fund of the HKSAR Government. The survey was conducted by means of a questionnaire. The respondents were 6,190 Secondary 1 to Secondary 6 students from 46 secondary schools (equal to 10% of the secondary school in Hong Kong) covering five major school types, i.e., Aided, Direct Subsidy Scheme, Government, Caput, and International/English School Foundation (ESF) Schools.

The findings reveal that secondary school students in Hong Kong have pro-environment attitudes and a moderate level of environmental awareness.  Their awareness of the ecological crisis is also moderately high. Students also believe that climate change has a more discernible effect on the natural (ecological) environment and less effect on the human environment (e.g. politics, economy and population).

The findings show that students perform better in the areas of “green transport” and “green living habits”. For instance, most of the students take public transport, walk or cycle in their daily commutes; they also consciously take measures to conserve energy.

Moreover, female students hold stronger pro-environmental attitudes than males. They have relatively higher engagement in low-carbon behaviours (LCB). Junior graders are more willing to accept low-carbon living and their engagement level is relatively higher than senior graders. Students from International & ESF schools have relatively lower engagement in LCB.

The findings also reveal that students are not keen to participate in environmental activities. They are unfamiliar with many of the climate change activities and programmes launched by the Government and non-governmental organisations, including the Student Environmental Protection Ambassador Scheme in schools.

Students perceive social factors to be the main barrier to the changing of living habits, such as the prevalence of materialism as a dominant social value, lack of support from the business sector, Hong Kong being unready to engage in LCB, and lack of policy to support LCB. They consider the impact of the “individual factor” as a secondary barrier.

With reference to the survey findings, Professor Wong recommends that the Government review and update the “Guidelines on Environmental Education in Schools”, which has been used for more than a decade (1992/1999). He also indicates that presently issues relating to climate change are scattered throughout a limited number of subjects in schools without a coherent and comprehensive discussion on climate change.  Moreover, to align with the Climate Change Initiatives issued by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), he recommends that Climate Change Education should be one of the top priority educational programmes under the Education for Sustainable Development Theme of the Quality Education Fund of the HKSAR Government. Climate Change Education should fundamentally consist of four major themes: (1) education on sustainable development; (2) education on mitigation that necessitates behavioural changes to mitigate climate change problem; (3) education on adaptation to help people to deal with changes brought by climate change; and (4) education on disaster risk to prepare people for the worst.