Environmental and Conservation Policy
Since Governor Sir David (now Lord) Wilson's speech on 12 October 1988, there has been a marked increase in environmental awareness in Hong Kong. The Foundation acknowledges the steps the Government has taken to improve the environment. However much remains to be done before the pollution of our territory is reduced to an acceptable level. And environmental policy needs to be combined with a policy for conservation, which Hong Kong still lacks.
Environmental policy in Hong Kong has so far been defined almost solely in terms of the control of pollution. This is an important goal. However it is also important that we actively seek to preserve Hong Kong's natural and cultural resources, and for this a conservation policy is needed. A policy is needed for the preservation of our natural environment and of Hong Kong s unique cultural heritage: both are under threat.
This paper considers environmental and conservation policy under the following headings:
2 GENERAL PRINCIPLES
The following general principles should guide Hong Kong's environmental and conservation policy:
2.1 Sustainable development
The concept or sustainable development has gained worldwide acceptance, as evidenced at the recent world environmental summit at Rio, and must form the starting point for any environmental and conservation police for Hong Kong.
No territory can be self-sufficient, and therefore the concept of sustainability must be considered in a global context. For Hong Kong, with its very limited natural resources and heavy dependence on world trade, the global implications are especially relevant. A sustainable development policy for Hong Kong must consider the impact Hong Kong's development has on the consumption of resources and the environment world-wide. Hong Kong, totally dependent upon the flow of international trade and investment, has an obligation to be an environmentally responsible citizen of the world community. Some implications of this principle are discussed further under 6 below.
Sustainability also has local implications. The pressure on Hong Kong's natural environment from the demand for accomodation and industrial space is very obvious. Sustainable development means the as much of the natural environment as possible should be preserved. Hong Kong is fortunate in that much of its land area is designated as country park. The enforcement of country park regulations (see 5.1 below), would ensure sustainability of development on land. However the impact of development on the air and waters around Hong Kong needs serious attention (see 4.1 and 4.2 below).
2 2 Relation to economic development
Environmental objectives are often seen as conflicting with economic objectives, and the "price" of environmental protection is seen as a slowing of economic growth. However the Foundation does not believe that this view is necessarily correct. A sensible environmental policy pays economic dividends; there can be a happy congruence of economic and environmental goals.
In a simple sense Hong Kong draws economic benefit from its environment. Hong Kong's magnificent scenery and the unique culture of many of its older urban and rural areas, are obvious economic assets in themselves, being important attractions for the tourists who spend annually here in excess of HK$40 billion. The preservation of these environmental features will maintain help Hong Kong's comparative advantage over competitors like Singapore that have few natural attractions and have eradicated much of their traditional culture.
Yet the economic argument for environmental policy does not rest on tourism alone. To succeed economically, Hong Kong has to be, in Lord David Wilson's words, "a place where people want to go on living and working." If Hong Kong is to retain the best of its workforce, to attract former emigrants back from the superior living environment of the developed countries, to attract international investment and to play a leading role in the development of China which is itself becoming more environmentally aware; - then Hong Kong must adopt stronger environmental and conservation policies.
Our regional economic competitors are already leaving us behind on this issue. Singapore has made a major environmental effort for some years. Now the high quality of life it offers is a major part of the package with which Singapore is successfully attracting international investment. Singapore is even selling its environmental expertise to its polluted neighbours. Even Thailand is to spend more than US$7 billion on advanced sewage treatment plants over the next few years.
A further spur to Hong Kong's improving the quality of its environment is expectation in our market countries. Consumers and governments in North America, Europe and to a lesser extent Japan, increasingly demand products that are not only environmentally friendly themselves, but have been produced in an environmentally friendly manner. Astute Hong Kong manufacturers have already seen this trend and are adapting their production processes to cater to it. A sensible approach to the environmental is likely to become increasingly important to Hong Kong's economic survival.
2. 3 Government's role
The Government must play a leading role by introducing and enforcing appropriate environmental regulations. More resources will be needed. However it is also important that there is the political will to enforce existing regulations. We feel that the Environmental Protection Department lacks the will, or perhaps the support, the use the powers that it has. The fines applied are also too low to act as a deterrent.
The Government should also ensure environmentally sound practices in the Civil Service and quasi-governmental organisations. For example, the Housing Authority should give a lead to the construction sector by insisting on the use of steel forms for concrete and substitutes for tropical hardwood flooring in the its estates. We are also pleased to note that the tenderer's environmental record is now one of the criteria by which tenders for the airport projects are judged.
The present confused alignment of departmental responsibilities must be clarified, as set out in section 3 below. The Government-affilitated Productivity Council and Industrial Technology Centre can assist by promoting knowledge of pollution-reducing technology in industry.
Duties should be imposed on harmful substances such as CFCs discourage their use. However we do not recommend that tax incentives for example special allowances for environmental technology, are introduced. Such allowances complicate the tax system and tend to be abused.
2.4 Market solutions where possible
Where possible we prefer the use of market mechanisms and the private sector to improve the environment, rather than over-reliance on regulation and inspection. For example we would favour:
2. 5 The polluter must pay
Both businesses and individuals must contribute to the cost of controlling the pollution they generate. We would support a levy on water rates to pay for the proper sewage system that Hong Kong needs. This levy should be paid not only by businesses in proportion to the pollution they cause, but also by households. We would also support the introduction of charges for dumping at Government landfills. There should be on-the-spot fines for drivers whose vehicles emit excessive exhaust. Consideration should be given to imposing levies on dangerous chemicals, where these are not banned outright.
The Education Department should review the teaching of environmental principles in schools and tertiary institutions, with a view to improving environmental awareness. We acknowledge that a start has been made in this direction, but believe that the resources devoted to such programmes must be increased. The Government needs to promote environmental awareness by various means in the community generally, and must seek to cooperate with the private sector in such efforts wherever possible. We believe that that many businesses would be prepared to participate in well-managed public campaigns on the theme of environmental awareness.
2. 7 Cooperation with China
As the economic integration of Hong Kong with the Pearl River delta and Southern China progresses, it is increasingly necessary to coordinate with the Chinese authorities on environmental policy. The Hong Kong-Guangdong Environmental Protection Liaison Group must be reactivated. In the long run it is not acceptable for Hong Kong s former worst-polluting businesses merely to reestablish themselves over the border. Their effluent washes back to Hong Kong down the Pearl River while polluted air blows back over our border.
China, and Shenzhen in particular, is becoming more environmentally conscious. A survey by China's Environmental Protection Agency published in June 1992 showed that four-fifths of those questioned were concerned over the worsening pollution associated with China's industrialisation. There will be major opportunities to assist in the upgrading of China's most polluting industries over the coming years Hong Kong businessmen could take an important part in this, particularly if encouraged by a sensible environmental regime in their own territory
3 GOVERNMENT ORGANISATIONS
At present too many Government departments and Governmental organisations are involved in environmental policy, resulting in duplication of resources and conflicting aims:
The Foundation has the following recommendations:
(1) To ensure that a higher priority is given to environmental issues consideration should be given to making Environment a separate branch of Government in its own right, with enlarged responsibilities an resources.
(2) No Government department has been designated responsibility for conservation. Consideration should be given to either creating a Conservation Department under the proposed new Environment Branch, or creating a new conservation section within an enlarged EPD.
(3) The Foundation is in favour of reducing the number of advisory committees. They are not so necessary in their consultative function now that the legislature includes elected members; indeed they tend to detract from the status of the legislature. ECC and EPCOM tend to divert resources and attention from the independent environmental groups and in ECC's case have done little to promote environmental causes. We therefore propose the abolition of the ECC.
(4) In approving the proposed development at Shalotong the members of the Country Parks Board demonstrated their indifference to public opinion - and indeed to the proper interpretation of the Country Parks Ordinance - and their subservience to vested interests. We recommend that the membership of the Board be reviewed with the aim of ensuring better representation of public opinion. The procedures under which the Board operates need to be radically revised to ensure proper accountability and transparency to the public.
(5) The Antiquities Advisory Board has performed reasonably well in the projects that it has undertaken. We therefore propose that it continue; in operation and a review conducted to ascertain whether its resource could usefully be expanded. However, a fully-fledged Government Conservation Department is needed to take on the large tasks of conservation policy.
4 ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY
The Government's present environmental policy is mainly concerned with pollution control and waste disposal. We have the following recommendations:4.1 Air
We acknowledge that some steps have been taken over the last few years to improve the quality of our air, for example the prohibition on high sulphur fuel oil. However the air quality in many urban areas remains dangerously low, and according to Government statistics appears to be worsening. We recommend:
The key to control of water pollution is the installation of a proper sewerage system, including modern drains and sewage treatment plants. We are disappointed that the Government seems to be wavering in its resolve to implement the sewage strategy announced in 1988. With the commencement of PADS the strategy is more urgently needed. At present around half of Hong Kong’s sewage is piped into the harbour untreated. When PADS restricts water flow at the Western end the whole harbour could become like the Kai Tak nullah if nothing is done.
4.3 Other waste issues
Hong Kong needs policies to encourge waste-minisation. While better waste disposal facilities are also needed, Hong Kong badly lags the developed countries in that waste minimisation receives almost no Government attention.
4. 5 Noise
We note measures introduced to reduce noise such as the restrictions on percussive piling and the low noise surfaces laid on certain roads. However noise in residential areas remains a problem. We recommend making the use of modern silenced piling machinery mandatory, and giving consideration to relaxing the time limits on its use. Action should also be taken against excessive industrial noise near to residential areas.
5 CONSERVATION POLICY
Conservation is linked to the environment. However conservation police goes further than the mere reduction of pollution; it is aimed at preserving Hong Kong's natural and cultural assets, which enhance the quality of life for those who live in or visit the territory. Our recommendations are as follows:
5.1 Country Parks
Hong Kong is fortunate in having its magnificent Country Parks. However the Shalotong episode has shown how vulnerable these parks are. We recommend:
5.2 Other Lend use issues
5. 3 Marine marks
The concept of the marine park needs to be introduced and enshrined in statute. A marine park would be an area of sea of outstanding natural or scientific interest, for example, shallows containing coral reefs or the breeding grounds of rare species of fish. Dumping in such areas should be prohibited and they should be protected from the effects of dredging.
5.4 Cultural conservation
As noted in 3(5) above, at present the Antiquities Advisory Board does limited although useful work in identifying buildings or areas of cultural and historical significance, and arranging for their gazetting and preservation as monuments. However this work is carried out in a piecemeal fashion without adequate resources or an overall policy. We recommend:
6 GLOBAL ISSUES
As a developed and wealthy territory, dependent upon trade, Hong Kong has a responsibility to abide by international agreements on the environment As set out in 2.1 above, this is important in ensuring that Hong Kong follows the path of sustainable development. Hong Kong’s record in this area is poor. We recommend giving a higher priority to participation in international measures to reduce pollution. In particular, we draw attention to the following: