A key election pledge by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying was on nature conservation. This is the best articulated part of his manifesto relating to the environment and a subject on which he consulted widely.
To deliver on his pledge, the chief executive has to ensure that the Environment Bureau and the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department take his commitment seriously. He must also allocate sufficient resources to develop and implement policies. A stated goal in the pledge is to review Hong Kong's 2004 conservation policy by comparing it with provisions of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. This shows the chief executive wants Hong Kong's policies to be in line with global best practices.
China signed on to the convention in 1992. It was extended to Hong Kong last year and the government is obliged to create a biodiversity strategy and action plan based on the sound principles, targets and processes set out in the convention.
Previous administrations have not taken a comprehensive approach to protecting our biodiversity. It is not enough to have set up country parks, drawn up land-use planning and conducted environmental impact assessments. Like many other places, our biodiversity is threatened by rapid development and a comprehensive plan that covers both terrestrial and marine conversation is essential.
Reviewing our conversation policy in accordance with the biodiversity convention is no small promise. This means the government has to come up with workable policies to enhance protection of threatened species, landscapes and agriculture, and to expand the ecological capacity of Hong Kong.
Creating an action plan based on the UN convention provides the right framework to guide policies. It will require reprioritising work within the government, as well as strengthening co-operation with stakeholders. The agriculture department's role becomes all important. While there is undoubted expertise within the department, it has lacked a senior-level champion to raise its profile.
Funding needs to be provided in the coming year so the action plan can be carried out.
The plan should not be constrained by current policies and practices and it should plot a long-term path, including targets and timelines, for Hong Kong to comply with the convention.
The convention recommends an extensive public consultation process that involves stakeholders and the public. This dovetails with the chief executive's election pledge to engage the public on conservation issues so they understand the value of Hong Kong's natural assets. The plan and funding for widespread and sustained engagement should be put in place as soon as possible so that the fulfilment of the pledge can begin perhaps with an announcement in Leung's first policy address in October.
Despite there being so many problems surrounding the new administration, Leung and his ministers need to continue to deal with substantive issues if they are to find salvation further down the road. Taking a step forward in nature conservation is a way forward.
Christine Loh Kung-wai is chief executive of the think tank Civic Exchange. firstname.lastname@example.org