Outlook on environment needs revision

IN Mr A.G. Cooper's letters (South China Morning Post, January 4 and 6) written on behalf of the Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands titled ''Environmental commitment is genuine'' and ''Already committed to embracing Earth Summit's principles'', it could be misleading to think the Government is devoted to making Hongkong and our planet a better place to live by promoting sustainable development.

We at The Conservancy Association do not doubt that some individuals in the Government are genuinely committed to environmental protection, but we are suspicious as to whether the current environmental and development policy has really embraced the principles laid down in the Earth Summit.

The Government's environmental policy has been criticised as passive and reactionary, stressing mainly on abatement, disposal and other end-of-pipe controls. The root cause of such environmental problems are not addressed or deliberately ignored.

While appreciating the designation of 40 per cent of land for country parks, probably a major achievement in the late 1970s, the Association must deplore the lack of a comprehensive conservation policy in protecting the biologically diverse habitats in Hongkong, most of which happen to be outside the country parks. Besides, even the country parks are faced with the danger of being intruded by private development, such as the Sha Lo Tung incident as well as public development, such as landfills.

In the report by the Association's delegation to the Earth Summit, which has been submitted to the Government, it has already been mentioned that the current country park system is far from sufficient in fulfilling the obligation for the Summit's convention on biodiversity for the reason stated above.

The Association has proposed to the Government that a strong co-ordinating body for environmental affairs needs to be set up. We are glad to hear Mr Cooper saying that the Planning, Environment and Lands Branch is co-ordinating conservation. Yet there areover 30 Government departments, in one way or the other, that are involved in environmental protection (according to EDP's report).

We are glad to hear from Mr Cooper that the Government will address new initiatives from the Earth Summit in mid-1993 when reviewing its White Paper. But we do not understand how the Government can do this as the White Paper was published in 1989 and has been based on the reactionary approach which is very different from the proactive approach in the Earth Summit resolutions.

We are also glad to hear that the Government has set up study groups for following up the Earth Summit convention on climate change. But the representation in such groups needs to be improved. In the energy efficiency advisory group, for example, seven members have been drawn from the Government, four from energy utilities, four from buildings-related industry and three academics. The tilt in the balance is obvious and it is highly dubious as to how such a combination could help achieving the target set in the Earth Summit.

The Association agrees with the polluter pays principle. Yet, we see the primary objective of such a principle as one of providing incentive to reduce pollution at source rather than raising revenue to treat pollutants at end point.

As a participant in the Earth Summit, the Association got the impression that solutions to many environmental problems lie in development pressure. We think that the Government's overall direction, not just its environment policy, needs to be changed in order to achieve a sustainable future.

GORDON NG General Secretary The Conservancy Association