Land swap hailed as a boost for biodiversity in Hong Kong
Green groups welcome protection of Sha Lo Tung enclave and new carbon intensity target
An unprecedented land swap to protect the Tai Po enclave of Sha Lo Tung and new carbon intensity targets for 2030 were among the environmental policies floated in the chief executive’s final policy address on Wednesday.
Leung Chun-ying also pledged to study the “ambit and modus operandi” and required resources for a “conservation fund” to revitalise remote rural areas.
The plan for Sha Lo Tung follows years of deadlock over how to conserve the ecologically sensitive site in Pat Sin Leng Country Park. With no conservation plan implemented, swathes of sensitive wetlands have been destroyed.
“We are actively considering long-term conservation through a non-in-situ land exchange for private land with high ecological significance at Sha Lo Tung,” Leung said.
The government would offer the restored Shuen Wan landfill in Tai Po to the developer for a golf course, as was originally the plan for Sha Lo Tung, which in 2004 became one of 12 priority sites for enhanced protection under the government’s “New Nature Conservation Policy”.
Legal scholar Eric Cheung Tat-ming, an adviser to the Sha Lo Tung Development Company which owns most of the land, welcomed the news that the government was finally taking a position and hoped a “win-win situation” could be achieved before the end of the administration’s term in June.
WWF-Hong Kong conservation director Gavin Edwards said the measures would help to protect Hong Kong’s biodiversity and step up climate change mitigation.
Dr Ng Cho-nam, an associate professor of geography at the University of Hong Kong, said: “[Conservationists] have been fighting for this for many years.”
Ng is vice-chairman of the Bird Watching Society, which has recommended a fund similar to Britain’s National Trust. Both conservation groups opposed Leung’s idea to free some peripheral country park land for homes.
A government source said the land swap was a one-off owing to its high conservation value and the lack of opportunity for the owner to develop the site but stressed such exchanges would not become customary.
Meanwhile, Leung accepted recommendations from a steering committee on climate change to cut carbon intensity – emissions per unit of GDP – by 65 to 70 per cent by 2030 from 2005 levels. The government had in 2015 pledged an intensity target of 50 to 60 per cent, but only up to 2020.
Prentice Koo Wai-muk of climate change advocacy group 350HK said the target equated to a 26 to 36 per cent reduction in emissions from 2005 levels, which was a slower rate than the 2020 achievable reduction of 19 to 30 per cent.
“The use of more natural gas [50 per cent by 2020] without renewables in the electricity mix constrains this progress,” he said.
Sources say the government will replace 10 out of 16 coal-fired power plants by 2030.
Leung said the government would study how to further promote energy savings and renewables in negotiating the post-2018 scheme of control regulatory framework with the city’s two power companies.
He also earmarked HK$200 million for more renewable energy installations at government buildings and facilities and HK$500 million to help achieve energy saving targets.