Press Release: Civic Exchange encouraged by the new administration’s commitment to improve the environment, but reminds the government that determination, perseverance and multi-stakeholder collaboration are keys to turn things around

HONG KONG: Wednesday, 16 January 2013 – On environment, Civic Exchange welcomes Chief Executive C Y Leung’s proposals in his maiden policy address to tackle the city’s pressing environmental issues, including air pollution and nature conservation, among others. However, only time will tell whether government plans will be turned into real actions that deliver a liveable environment for Hong Kong people. On good governance, Civic Exchange finds it disappointing that the government has not planned to ensuring proper public records management in Hong Kong through enacting an archive law.
1. Air Pollution and Public Health
It is heartening to see a strong commitment from the Chief Executive to improving air quality during his term of government, and to highlight government’s responsibility to protecting public health. This is extremely important, as it signals a fundamental change in the government’s air quality management policy, from only focusing on emissions reduction at source, to also on reducing people’s excessive exposure to toxic air pollutants.
Roadside air pollution
Civic Exchange welcomes the government’s “carrot and stick” approach to get the polluting old diesel commercial vehicles off the road, which should be far more effective than just providing financial incentives for vehicle replacement as in the past. However, Head of Transport and Sustainability Research, Simon Ng urges the government to spend public money carefully. “However the government is going to roll out the new vehicle replacement scheme, let’s not forget public money, and we are talking about serious money here, must be spent to protect public health, not to line someone’s pocket. A reasonable but short deadline must be set to complete the replacement as it will bring most benefits to society, and more financial support should be given to owners who are willing to replace their aging vehicle early. The level of financial support should be lowered progressively every year to encourage early replacement”, Ng explained.
Ship emissions
Civic Exchange supports government’s decision to regulate ocean-going vessels to switching to low sulphur fuel while at berth in Hong Kong, which is a major policy breakthrough in ship emissions control. This is also a very positive response to the voluntary, industry-led Fair Winds Charter, and the shipping companies’ constant call for a level playing field. Civic Exchange estimated that mandatory at-berth fuel switching inside Hong Kong waters would reduce sulphur dioxide and particulates emissions from ocean-going vessels by 33% and 25% territory-wide, respectively.
It is also encouraging that the government has re-iterated its intention to explore other means to reducing ship emissions, including the use of low sulphur fuel among local vessels. We also welcome that with the first berth of the new Kai Tak Cruise Terminal ready for use in summer this year, the government is planning to install on-shore power for cruise ships. It is important as cruise ships are a major source of ship emissions in Hong Kong, contributing about 10% sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulates emissions among all ocean-going vessels. Larger cruise ships using the new Cruise Terminal will pose significant emissions and health impacts on the residents living in neighbouring communities.
2. Nature Conservation
Civic Exchange is delighted to see that the Chief Executive has reaffirmed his commitment on conservation based on the principles and practices of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The CBD represents global best practices to halt the loss of biodiversity, and we hold the government to the promise of ambitious policies and proactive planning that will restore Hong Kong’s degraded terrestrial and marine biodiversity, and enhance ecosystem services that anchor our valuable quality of life in Hong Kong.
A key tenet of compliance with the CBD is the development of a Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan. “We welcome the Chief Executive’s support of the BSAP in the Policy Address, and its emphasis on mainstreaming terrestrial and marine conservation in major government policies”, Wilson Lau of Civic Exchange remarked. To this end, Civic Exchange recommends that the establishment of a high-level steering committee under the Chief Secretary committee, with members drawn from key bureaux and departments, as a vital next step. This is to ensure that responsibility cuts across all Government rather than narrowly under the Environment Bureau.
We urge the government to develop and make use of this work on the BSAP, including Hong Kong-wide biodiversity assessments that must be undertaken, in unison with other policy issues. Specifically, the Chief Executive’s plan to establish a land reserve for housing must be developed sensibly without impinging on places of high ecological value and necessary buffer zones to protect its ecological integrity.
3. Major Policy Omissions
Water resources management
It is disappointing that water resources management is once again overlooked by the government, and only local water quality has been mentioned. It is important for Hong Kong to take a serious long-term interest in water resources management, as 70-80% of Hong Kong’s fresh water supply comes from Dongjiang. Water supply to Hong Kong is becoming vulnerable due to the growing demand for water resources in the Pearl River Delta and serious pollution problems in the upstream area caused by large-scale industrial relocation. Civic Exchange will carry on with our water research and prompt the new administration to take early actions.
Energy and climate change
While energy issues are touched upon in bit and pieces under different sections of the Policy Address, there is still no sign of a coherent and comprehensive energy policy that would shed light on Hong Kong’s future in terms of energy security, energy mix, energy efficiency, carbon reduction, and climate change adaptation and mitigation. Civic Exchange urges the government to step up their effort in engaging the stakeholders within this year, and to deliver a long-term energy policy and a climate change strategy with clear energy saving and carbon reduction targets.
City planning and liveability
Civic Exchange asks the government to also turn to better city planning as a means to enhance social cohesion. While we acknowledges different measures suggested in the Policy Address that will tackle housing and poverty issues, which are major concerns in society, it is equally important for the government to take a pro-people approach when it comes to planning, such as having human-scale projects that would improve the accessibility and connectivity of its street network, turn streets into quality public spaces for social bonding, and enhance the mobility and well-being of low-income groups who have limited choice of transport and social activities.
Public records management
There is no mention in the Policy Address that the government will enact an archive law to ensure public records are properly managed. Public records management has long been a neglected policy area. Although the government said that there are mandatory administrative guidelines (with no legal backing) to govern how public records are managed and that these guidelines are effective, there have been cases of public records mismanagement that affected government efficiency, accountability and transparency. Civic Exchange urges the government to look into this issue without further delay. An archive law to ensure government agencies’ compliance with public records keeping (electronic records included), and to confer on the public a right to access to records is of crucial importance to good governance.