CY Leung's vision for Hong Kong fails the environmental test
Edwin Lau says policy plan ignores needed action on waste and pollution
The middle class grumbled that there was nothing for them in the chief executive's policy address. The greenies probably feel the same way, given the lack of powerful initiatives from Leung Chun-ying to tackle our major environmental challenges, from poor air quality and ever-growing waste, to ridiculous energy wastage and the conservation of country parks.
Leung has moved to improve air quality by lowering the sulphur content of marine fuel and requiring ocean-going vessels to switch to low-sulphur fuel at berth; proposals we and other non-governmental organisations have advocated for years.
We have also urged the government to provide onshore power to feed ocean vessels and even container ships to further reduce air pollution. We are disappointed Leung did not include these in his policy plan.
Air pollution often reaches dangerously high levels in Kwai Chung. While Leung has pledged to help the grass roots through subsidies, he has forgotten to safeguard their health by including policies that control pollutants emitted by two of the city's economic pillars - the tourism and logistic industries.
Leung highlighted the HK$11.4 billion scheme to phase out old commercial vehicles from our roads by 2020, but where were the policies to manage our transport to alleviate congestion, contain car growth and restrict the worst polluting vehicles from crowded areas by implementing low-emission zones?
Regarding waste reduction, it was pleasing to see that the government has pledged HK$1 billion in subsidies for the recycling industry. We put in a lot of effort last year to line up two key recycling industry associations, representing over 80 recyclers, to lobby the government to provide subsidies so that recyclers would be encouraged to collect the low-value recyclables that are mostly dumped in our landfills.
Wood, glass, food waste and mixed plastics are of little value but they can become resources if we recover them from the waste stream. I hope the subsidies will cover these items.
Such subsidies should be offered only to those who collect recyclables locally rather than the waste traders who ship foreign scrap to the mainland through Hong Kong, as the latter contribute little to effective waste reduction in our city.
We expected Leung to unveil a comprehensive plan for food waste, which constitutes 40 per cent of our municipal solid waste; yet, all he could say was that the plan is still in the pipeline.
Then there was the failure regarding sustainable development. Without waiting for the outcome of the environmental impact assessment of the proposed third runway, Leung has trumpeted its importance for Hong Kong's economic development.
The impact assessment is a statutory requirement, and its findings will be reviewed by the Advisory Council on the Environment, probably in the first quarter of this year. Leung should avoid putting political pressure on the council and allow its members to conduct an impartial review.
Sadly, Leung came up short in addressing the core environmental problems we face today, preferring instead to play around with some less controversial aspects.
It shows Leung lacks the political commitment required to solve our environmental issues. He embraces pure economic development rather than sustainable development, which is more challenging as it has to balance economic, social and environmental demands.
Edwin Lau Che-feng is director of general affairs at Friends of the Earth (HK). www.foe.org.hk