The Promises

The Promises

21 January, 2016
2016 CE Policy Address
A lowdown on what CY has highlighted environmentally, and NGO responses so far
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Hong Kong’s three remaining landfills are reaching their capacities; the air is hazy with pollution; and we have been (rightfully) slammed for our continued ivory trade. Is there hope?
 
2016’s Policy address, delivered with aplomb by Hong Kong's Chief Executive C.Y. Leung, appears to offer some promises against our many environmental concerns. The government seems to ahve considered Hong Kong’s best interests - but responses from various NGOs are ambivalent, in some cases applauding the government’s efforts and in others, describing the Policy address as desultory.
 
Citizens have a right and a responsibility to know what the government is prioritising, and to both acknowledge their positive intentions and review their efforts with a critical eye.
 

AIR QUALITY
 
The issue:
 
Hong Kong’s air quality has assuaged slightly, with a 12% - 25% drop in major roadside concentrations of major air pollutants: nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and respirable suspended particles. However, the same cannot be said for ozone levels, which saw an increase of 9.3 percent between 2010-2014. And, overall, one glance across the harbour on any given day reveals a familiar brown haze. According to the Hedley index, an indicator developed by the University of Hong Kong’s public health school to show the public health costs and risks from pollution, as many as 2,196 people died prematurely last year due to air pollution. The cost to the public purse of such health problems amounted to HK$27 billion.
 
The goal is to improve air quality by achieving the new air quality objectives by 2020, in accordance to the Air Quality Objectives.  Contrary to popular belief, our air pollution issue is homebred, with local traffic emissions as the leading cause. Neighbouring mainland (mostly industrial) sources are responsible for 36 per cent of Hong Kong’s overall air pollution whereas local sources contribute to 53 per cent, with local traffic emissions being the leading cause of air pollution increase. 
 
CY says:
In response to the high level of vehicular emissions, the government will proceed with the review of the Air Quality Objectives in the coming year. Joint efforts with Mainland China will also be strengthened to focus on designating an emission control area in the waters of Pearl River Delta, lessen emissions from marine vessels, monitor air quality and study the formation and control of ozone, and fine suspended particulates.
 
The response:
Clean Air Network (CAN) stated although the air quality has improved last year, roadside air pollution has not reached a satisfactory level since 1988, according to the standards of Hong Kong’s Air Quality Objectives and the World Health Organization’s standards. They cite the current transport system in the city and inefficient use of road space as the main culprits for roadside air pollution. CAN urges the government to explore more sustainable transport management, among other measures. It also urges the Government to proceed with the review of the Air Quality Objectives within 2016.
 
CLIMATE AND ENERGY
 
The issue:
Climate change affects our physical environment and triggers a chain reaction that leads to disasters such as floods, droughts, heat-waves, tsunamis, and threatens irreversible famage to human health, economic development, and society in general. While it is a natural phenomenon, the rapid development of industry over recent decades has accelerated global warming to a unsustainable extent, and we're in danger. The Paris Climate Conference held from 30 November to 11 December 2015 were a sign that the world is beginning to understand the urgency of the scenario.
 
CY Says:
The Chief Secretary for Administration will chair an inter-departmental committee to press ahead with mitigation measures. The Energy Saving Plan for Hong Kong’s Built Environment 2015~2025+ also reflects the Government’s goals to help, with its new target of reducing energy intensity by 40% by 2025. The Environment Bureau will stretch the scope of the Mandatory Energy Efficiency Labelling Scheme to include more electrical appliances as well as promote low carbon living in the city. To improve the regulatory arrangements, to optimize energy efficiency and the development of renewable energy, the Government plans to hold discussions with the power companies about the new Scheme of Control.
 
The response:
The Hong Kong Green Building Council welcomes the government to implement mitigation measures to address the climate change issue. The NGO will also lend a helping hand by setting green building targets for the next five years to echo the global pledges of the World Green Building Council at COP21. It also expressed that it is committed to supporting the dialogue platform among various stakeholders of the “Energy Saving Plan for Hong Kong’s Built Environment 2015~2025+” and collectively explore solutions to achieve carbon reduction targets.
 
ELECTRIC VEHICLES

The issue:
Closely related to the air pollution conversation, the topic of electric vehicles (EVs) is a hot one; they seemingly offer a smart, easy solution for transport companies and individuals to dramatically improve the situation. They eliminate roadside emissions and are quieter as well.
 
CY says:
The government has been promoting and will continue to promote the use of electric vehicles to help improve roadside air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They will continue working with franchised bus companies to conduct an ongoing trial runs of 36 single-deck electric buses this year. More public EV charging stations will be upgraded to medium-speed chargers, and property management companies can receive subsidies to install more charging docks.
 
The response:
CAN welcomes the Government’s promotion of electric vehicles in the public transport system, but suggests that bicycles should also be promoted as a pollution-free transport solution.
 
WASTE MANAGEMENT
 
The issue: 
In our society, where everything comes in abundance and products and packaging are designed for convenience, it's not surprising that we have a huge problem of too much waste - as evidenced by our landfills on the brink of capacity and the human debris that litters not only our city streets but our shorelines and natural areas. Plastic and packaging accounts for a vast portion of municial solid waste (MSW), as does food waste at over 30% of the bulk.
 
CY says:
The government will implement new legislations to help improve our currently poor waste management system. The idea is to target waste reduction, starting with a quantity-based charging legislation for MSW. The use of existing sewage treatment work facilities for food waste/ sewage sludge anaerobic co-digestion is also a possibility to help raise the food waste treatment capability. A trial is to be run this year. The government will also increase efforts to mobilize the community to engage in reducing food waste and enhance support for NGOs collecting surplus food and redistributing to those in need. 
 
HERITAGE CONSERVATION
 
The issue:
Hong Kong is a gem, with a rich historic past we cannot ignore. A lot of our buildings, country parks and hiking trails make Hong Kong unique. These places are under threat of urbanization, and are demanding our protection and conservation efforts.
 
CY says:
The government will continue to enforce statutory protection for 111 monuments and develop projects under the Revitalizing Historic Buildings Through Partnership Scheme. In the past few years, the Government secured the consent of owners of 12 privately-owned historic buildings to conserve them and continues to encourage more private owners concerned to do the same. They'll also set aside HKD $500 million to establish a dedicated fund for the conservation of built heritage. The fund will also support public education, community involvement, promotional activities, and academic research.
 
NATURE CONSERVATION
The situation:
Hong Kong is wonderfully (and perhaps surprisingly) rich in biodiversity, both on land and underwater, despite what sometimes seem like concentrated efforts to wipe it out in favour of development.
The global Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was extended to Hong Kong in 2011. Since 2013, the Government has initiated public engagements and conducted a number of educational and awareness-raising programmes including the first Biodiversity Festival launched in September last year.
 
CY says:
The government is currently consulting the public on the first Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (BSAP) for Hong Kong, with the stated objective of implementing enhanced nature conservation and sustainable development in the years to come. It has earmarked resources to launch the relevant initiatives, namely to raise awareness of ecologically important areas and species, and to conduct research on biodiversity and monitor biodiversity trends.
 
The response:
NGOs are urging Hong Kong citizens to weigh in and let government know that our ecosystems and wildlife are important to us. Initial response has been that the Plan is weak, and hasn't taken into account many of the steps advised by working group members engaged from the NGO and private sectors durnig the advisory stage.
Conserving nature is vital, not only for our enoyjment but for our survival. Check out the public consultation and be heard. The consultation runs until April 7th.
 
WILDLIFE TRADE
The situation:
Back in 2013, the government declared the ban of shark fin soup and other endangered species (i.e. Bluefin tuna and black moss) at official events and encouraging Hong Kongers to stop eating it. This was widely met with ehtusiastic response;  according to a study by HKU and the Bloom Association last year, almost 70 percent of Hong Kong citizens have now boycotted shark fin soup, or consumed less of it in the past five years.

Now that shark fin is on the decline, concerned citizens (and the global media) ahve focused their attention on the trade of animal ivory, which still thrives legally in Hong Kong, albeit with some hard-to-enforce restrictions. Many feel it is long past due for Hong Kong to step up and ban this outdated trade; an estimated 30,000 elephants are killed in Africa every year for their tusks to produce ivory products for consumers in Asia. Hong Kong is a major transit and retail hub for ivory trade, with more ivory products than any other city in the world. Hong Kong’s high demand for ivory products fuels the rampant poaching in Africa. It is a cruel and unsustainable product long eschewed by other nations.
 
CY says:
In 2016, the Government announced plans to “phase out” local ivory trade, a major milestone for elephant conservation.  
 
The response:
Cheryl Lo, Senior Wildlife Crime officer of WWF-Hong Kong, remarked, “The Hong Kong government has listened to the voices of the city’s people and politicians who have been clearly calling for a ban. Hong Kong can now play a leadership role and strike a major blow against the global ivory trade and wildlife crime.”
WWF's Conservation Director Gavin Edwards adds, “After today, it’s no longer a question of “whether” a ban is needed – we can focus on “when” and “how” to end the ivory trade. With close to 100 elephants killed every day, there is no time to waste.” WWF urges the government to create a concrete timetable and scheme to halt Hong Kong’s ivory trade as soon as possible.
 
Photo by Yym1997

By: Cynthia Chung
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