Experts propose ways to make Hong Kong a green metropolis

Electric cars, better waste management among suggestions presented by experts at a Post seminar looking at how city can ensure a brighter future

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 January, 2015, 11:53am

Using more electric vehicles, preserving country parks and improving waste management were among ways to ease Hong Kong's pollution problems put forward at a seminar yesterday.

The ideas came from a panel of experts put together by the South China Morning Post for the latest in its "Redefining Hong Kong" series.

One of the speakers, Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing, set out how the government planned to tackle waste issues by introducing charges for disposal and building incinerators.

He said that with a waste recycling rate of just 48 per cent, Hong Kong lagged behind regional neighbours such as South Korea, where 60 per cent of waste was recycled and 20 per cent turned into energy.

Wong said waste incinerators were needed to reduce the use of landfills.

Because Hong Kong did not have much farmland where food waste could be recycled, incinerators were needed to turn it into energy, he told the 150 people at the seminar.

The government's proposal to extend landfills in Tseung Kwan O, Tuen Mun and Ta Kwu Ling has met with strong opposition lately.

It has withdrawn the Tseung Kwan O plan and the Legislative Council has delayed scrutiny of plans for the other two sites. The government plans to retable the proposals early next year.

Legco has not yet approved funding for a HK$15 billion incinerator on Shek Kwu Chau, off South Lantau, although a court rejected a challenge in July.

Wong said he hoped waste charges could change the city's culture in much the same way as a 50 cent charge for plastic bags had.

"The earlier 'bring your own bag' campaign has somehow changed Hong Kong culture. When we go to the supermarket, we bring our own bags," he said. "We would like to see that with waste charging."

Fellow speaker Paul Zimmerman, CEO of urban planning campaign group Designing Hong Kong, argued for the preservation of country parks.

The future of the parks has emerged as a hot topic since development chief Paul Chan Mo-po broached the idea of allowing development in some areas to ease housing problems.

But Zimmerman said houses built by indigeneous male villagers in the New Territories were a bigger threat to the parks because of the roads that had to be built to support the new villages and the pollution caused by inadequate sewage facilities.

He also urged the city to limit the number of cars crossing the border from the mainland, especially after the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge opens in 2016.

"The ones who will suffer will be the ones who live in Hong Kong, not the ones who cross the border to visit," Zimmerman said. "Every city has every right to defend its own traffic and communications within the city."

He also called for road pricing to keep drivers away from busy districts, especially during peak periods.

Finally, Zimmerman called on the government to make it easier for people to get around town on foot. This could include improving footpaths, improving road junctions and even providing more seats.

Dr Hung Wing-tat, a transport analyst at Polytechnic University, suggested promoting electric vehicles and said the city's "greenest and cheapest" transport - the island's trams - could be modernised and used as a basis for transport improvements elsewhere in the city.

Hung said there was a lack of initiatives to promote a more environmentally friendly transport system.

A committee on the promotion of electric vehicles, headed by Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, was set up in 2009 but there had been little progress, Hung said.

The government should help bus companies replace their fleets with electric buses because if it didn't the companies would have to raise fares, he said.

Other initiatives, such as road surfaces and barriers that reduced noise and cut pollution, could also help make the city greener, Hung said.