Can Leung get the job done and lead us to greener ways?
Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen has led the government for seven years and the public will probably remember his famous election slogan of 'I'll get the job done.' But has he fulfilled that promise?
Undoubtedly, there have been a number of controversial issues and projects over the past few years, stirring up heated debate and strong opposition in society.
One issue is our non-stop growth in waste. The government proposed to expand the landfill at Tseung Kwan O into the Clear Water Bay Country Park, which agitated the public, and legislators rejected the proposal. The fact that our waste generation rate has grown by more than 60 per cent from 1991 to 2010 has caused our landfills to become saturated. This is the consequence of the delayed legislation for producer responsibility, waste charging, a landfill ban, and food-waste recycling. Instead of implementing effective waste-avoidance policies, the government mistakenly tried to push through the proposal to build a mega incinerator and expand the three strategic landfills.
Another problem is serious air pollution. Tsang launched the Action Blue Sky Campaign in 2006. Then, in his 2009 policy address, he announced an upgrade to the old-as-a-fossil air quality objectives. He aimed to improve air quality through measures such as energy conservation and getting rid of polluting trucks and buses. The public can probably hardly recall the campaign, but they probably remember the serious delay in his promise to upgrade the objectives. As a result, Hong Kong came second in a list of 32 cities in China with the highest concentration of the health-damaging air pollutant nitrogen dioxide.
Tsang hoped to get rid of polluting vehicles from our roads, but the Environment Bureau chose only a weak carrot approach by offering financial subsidies to persuade owners to replace their worn-out vehicles. Without a stick, in the form of a deadline to suspend the licences of polluting vehicles, most are still on our congested roads today. The only legislation enacted to improve air quality was the ban on idling engines, which is ineffective given the number of exemptions and lack of strong enforcement. From 1990 to 2010, the annual roadside nitrogen dioxide concentration has increased by 18 per cent.
Then there is the problem of energy wastage and tariff rises; the government has not been a good gatekeeper during negotiations with the power companies over the scheme of control agreement. They have not brought down the permitted rate of profit to a lower level that addresses public aspirations. The consequence has been high but lawful tariff increases and these will continue to affect many small businesses and grass-roots families until the introduction of a green scheme of control after 2018. In terms of light pollution, instead of mandatory controls to reduce energy wastage, a voluntary guideline was promoted by the government in a weak attempt to address a serious and growing problem. The new government headquarters was supposed to be a leading energy-efficient and green building. Yet it uses twice as much electricity per square metre of floor area compared to the old government offices.
The new administration, led by Leung Chun-ying, needs to review the current environmental policies and introduce really effective policies that deal with our pressing problems at source. The emphasis should be on how our affluent society can dispose of our wasteful habits. Can Leung lead Hong Kong down a sustainable path?
Edwin Lau Che-feng is director, general affairs, at Friends of the Earth (HK)