Natalie Chung Sum Yue - Co-founder & Director V'Air Hong Kong (2015-Present)
My inspiration and how I first got involved in climate advocacy work
My spark of inspiration for climate advocacy was a school project in Primary Five. (I prefer to use "advocacy" instead of "activism" because the scale and impact of my work cannot be compared with a lot of outstanding climate activists around the world. I am more focused on policy advocacy and bottom-up education around climate change.) My school sent me and several students to compete in a project contest on the topic of "Climate Change - What can we do?". We conducted an expert interview with the first woman polar explorer in Hong Kong - Dr. Rebecca Lee. “Imagine the Earth is trapped in an oven with escalating temperature, on the verge of explosion”, explained Dr. Lee, while she showcased photographs of melting glaciers. The first time I learned about climate change as a primary school student, this vivid oven analogy by Dr Lee put me into deep thought and planted a seed in my heart.
Growing up with the intimidating thought of living in an oven, I have been particularly aware of my footprints on the environment. Simple consciousness gradually blossomed into a sense of responsibility and mission. I felt the urge to preserve our fragile yet stunningly beautiful Blue Marble. To gain a holistic perspective on environmental problems, I progressed to study geography. Among all, climate change remains my chief concern. Complex causes and far-reaching consequences render it the greatest environmental crisis confronting humanity. Research broadens my understanding of climate phenomena, propelling me to create multi-level innovative solutions. As such, I undertook MPhil in Environmental Change and Management at the University of Oxford, with full funding from the Esther Yewpick Lee Millennium Scholarship. Through conducting research at the Environmental Change Institute on energy decarbonisation pathways for Beijing and Hong Kong, I seek to explore how carbon neutrality can be achieved most effectively and what factors influence the process.
Background information about V’air Hong Kong, the social enterprise I co-founded in 2015
V’air Hong Kong is an environmental social enterprise with the aim of promoting climate education, sustainable tourism and the SDGs among secondary and university students in Hong Kong. V’air was established in 2015, when our team captured the championship at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) Hong Kong Tertiary Schools COP21 Challenge co-organised by the French Consulate. “V’air” is a homophone to “Vert” in French, which stands for the colour green. The vision of V’air is to build a green movement in Hong Kong by influencing behavioural change towards a low-carbon lifestyle. V’air strives to deliver four core missions, which are local travel, public education, youth empowerment and policy advocacy. We believe in the power of experiential learning, therefore we have created the impact model that achieves empowerment through nature exploration. Here is the link to our fifth anniversary video that demonstrates our work since establishment.
Role of V’air in enhancing carbon literacy of Hong Kong citizens
V’air takes the role of exploring local attractions, organizing local tours and education workshops to encourage Hong Kong people to travel locally, with the aim of reducing carbon footprint per capita. “V’air” is a homophone to “Vert” in French, which stands for the colour green. It displays our mission of making the earth a greener planet. “Air” represents air-travelling. Combining “vert” with “air” means incorporating the elements of green and travel. This can be achieved through offering local tours, which resembles the experience of air-travelling.
At present, V’air achieves our mission of combating climate change through three main channels - organizing local tours, public education events and content creation. For local tours, we have organized eco-tours for secondary school and university students. This can raise their environmental awareness and promote local tourism as an alternate leisure option. In terms of public education, V’air has held booths at environment-related events and carnivals. For content creation, V’air focuses on operating Facebook page (www.facebook.com/vairhk) and webpage (www.vairhk.com). On these platforms, V’air recommends Hong Kong travel locations and itineraries with ecological information. We also spread green messages and ecological knowledge to the audience in order to promote awareness on environmental protection. In October, 2017, V’air published a book named “Low Carbon Tourism (低碳。好行)” by Wan Li Books Ltd. The book records 39 itineraries in rural and urban areas of Hong Kong with knowledge on environmental conservation.
Beginning with doubts in our value created, an episode struck me when a participant thanked us for bringing her to see the spectacular views on Lung Fu Shan (as shown on a photo) that she would never have gone by herself. I realized what I deem easily achievable could be a challenge to the others. Local tours empower individuals through connecting them with nature, as they take ownership to enjoy, and then to protect the environment. From the evaluation surveys distributed to the tour and workshop participants, over 80% of them enjoyed the local tourism experience provided by us and >85% indicated increased awareness on carbon emission related to transboundary mobility and consumption.
Local, regional and global impact of V’air
The impact model of V’air starts from experiential learning, we organise local tours for the public for nature exploration, in order to achieve our goals to public education, enlightenment and eventually empowerment of youth, planting seeds in hearts of many to spread the importance of sustainability. We encourage modal shift away from aviation, which generates significant carbon emission. V'air has published a book on sustainable local tourism, entitled "Low Carbon Tours" , which introduces nature trails in Hong Kong and educates readers on ecological and geological value of our tiny yet extremely diverse and abundant natural environment.
At the international level, V'air has established close partnerships with environmental groups from around the world to exchange ideas on decarbonisation at the city level, drawing on best practices elsewhere. The group has been invited to present at numerous conferences and seminars, including the International Conference on Sustainable Tourism, BRICS Youth Energy Summit to showcase our sustainable tourism model and how aviation influences climate change.
Importance of youth engagement and empowerment in the climate space
The pathway towards net zero must be a collaborative, inclusive and iterative process across different nationalities, ages and backgrounds. Youth engagement is a core component to ensure a just transition in mitigating climate change. Youth voices are integral to generate discussions and innovative ideas to tackle the climate crisis. Seeing successes of youth climate movements worldwide, it is disappointing that the Hong Kong government has not been highly receptive of youths in their policy formulation process, seeing youths as nuisance rather than collaborative partners. Regardless, I took the opportunity to self nominate for the youth member role at the Council for Sustainable Development of the HKSAR Government, hoping to steer changes from within the bureaucratic institutional set up. Among the board of senior members, I took the leap of faith to organise a youth forum to gauge their opinions on the 2050 decarbonisation plan of Hong Kong in 2019. It was the first time to have a forum dedicated to consolidate young people's visions on the city's future. I am glad that the outcomes contributed towards the final 2050 carbon neutrality pledge of the government.
When I attended COY15 and COP25 in Madrid, I remembered clearly the statement made by UN Secretary General António Guterres at the closing ceremony of COY, "Our message must not be a message of despair, but a message of hope. Things can be done, the resources exist, what is still missing is political will, that is where youth initiative is extremely important." I wish to share this stream of hope to youths in Hong Kong and everywhere else in the world, just as the youth movement that Greta is leading. Striving to empower youths in climate advocacy, V’air has been organising annual internship programmes since 2018 to train next-generation sustainability leaders. With the mission of enhancing carbon literacy and capability of the public through local tourism, we rely on enthusiastic individuals to enrich our work and bring in innovative ideas. The programme aims to nurture personal growth of secondary and tertiary school students. We offer precious opportunities for students to plan and execute environmental education projects, acquire skills on digital marketing and public relations, and strengthen knowledge on environmental policy research.