Pale green leadership

WORLD Environment Day was a rare opportunity for the Governor to pat himself on the back. As a former British environment secretary, he came here with a reputation as a man who cared. He pledged he would set a 'good, green example'. Three years later, he wants to be seen as having lived up to that early promise. Yesterday he was able to say that the problems seen as priorities five years ago - water and air pollution in particular - have been tackled with some success.

That is true. Where his predecessor identified issues, he has invested money.

But vast though the sums spent on cleaning up the harbour have been, the details of the sewage processing works and the positioning of the outfall have yet to be finalised, while dredging, reclamation and construction have added to the pollution and the general threat to the marine environment has hardly diminished. The pressure on the Pink Dolphin population is only one indication of how the sea environment has deteriorated.

In the battle against air pollution, too, the Government has scored some successes in reducing certain contaminants. But the pollution continues to worsen dramatically. And the much-touted Air Quality Index which will be published from today is more a means of monitoring how little has been done than of solving the problem.

Meanwhile, Lord Wilson's vow to help save the Mai Po marshes by designating them an internationally protected wetland, under the Ramsar Convention, has yet to be fulfilled. While the United Kingdom Government dithers over ratification, developers continue to carve chunks out of the marshland borders.

The new Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands, Bowen Leung Po-wing, has promised to make sustainable development a priority instead of a mere catch-phrase. However, until Government departments are able to work in concert, the Environmental Protection Department, which he oversees, will be a voice in the man-made wilderness. Sustainable development will require the active co-operation of the Works Branch, the Transport Branch as well as the Trade and Industry Branch. The Governor boasts about $20 billion earmarked for the Sewage Scheme and millions more will be spent on the environment in coming years. Yet unless that spending is better targeted and policy is co-ordinated between departments, the environment will get worse before it gets better.