Council for Sustainable Development
Karen Wong – The Standard
Monday, March 31, 2008
Over the past decade, words like global warming, pollution, and recycling have become part of the everyday vocabulary. Andrew Thomson, chief executive officer of The Business Environment Council, has been one of the strongest proponents of environmental protection, pushing forth agendas to make Hong Kong a “greener” place.
Thomson’s passion for environmental issues is more than just saving trees, or cleaning the air, but he sees the practicality in being environmentally friendly.
Arriving in Hong Kong in 1992 from the United Kingdom, Thomson immediately found himself involved in environmental-related work.
“Hong Kong has improved significantly. When I first arrived in Hong Kong, constructions were horrible everywhere.
“There has been some significant advance in environmental construction. Now, people have come to incorporate green building effectively,” he said.
With his deep knowledge in environmental science, along with his experience in numerous industries, Thomson is currently working with many different sectors in Hong Kong to understand that it is possible to be both environment and cost-friendly.
“We would often target transport- related issues, buildings and the manufacturing sector, and we would receive lots of general criticism on environmental issues,” recalled Thomson.
It is hard, he said, for people to see the progress that the city has made when in fact the progress takes a long period of time.
“It is a huge challenge, it’s not like deciding whether to have steak or fish,” he said.
“People are impatient when it comes to pollution, the problem is that there’s no magic wand on such an issue.
“Although the government is [taking] drastic measures to prepare for the Beijing Olympics, it only works for a short-term fix. If it is used for the long term, it would stop economic development.” He said when it comes to environmental issues, the discussion is the same in the East and the West.
“It is always about economic development against environmental protection. Issues such as air pollution and water conservation are always quite challenging, but recently, food availability has been ever increasingly challenging.”
Thomson started his career in retail banking, but after receiving enough mileage in the financial world, he went back to the environmental science- related issue, which “was very dearest to my heart.”
“Many see environmental issues as black and white. They think that business makes money and environmental issues cost money,” said Thomson, adding, “environmental issues are part of management issues that a company should take, same as human resources, same as cash flow management.
“Historically, companies comply with government legislation, but government legislation is the minimum requirement. The companies are actually interested in being efficient because efficiency saves money.”
As a member of the HKSAR Government’s Waste Management Appeals Board, Thomson says environmental issues are about being efficient. “Environmental issues [have] become part of the efficiency drive.”
In a job where success cannot be noticed right away, Thomson said breakthroughs have been made in promoting green buildings.
“We have accessed over 200 buildings in Hong Kong to help them in adopting a practice to increase the efficiency with the way buildings use their resources.”
Also a member of the Council for Sustainable Developments Strategy Sub-Committee, Thomson works to help companies incorporate a suitable plan that benefits both the environment and the companies themselves.
“Green building is one of BEC’s projects, it’s my baby. We’ve been working for over 13 years, making changes and improving the usage of buildings with different companies.”
In terms of personal investment, Thomson says he has invested some money in funds related to environmental issues but his largest investment lies in property.
“I would say I have a fairly balanced portfolio. Some aggressive, some non- aggressive. I don’t have a great deal of money invested in Hong Kong, most of my money is invested in the MPF.”
Looking ahead to the future, Thomson is realistic.
“Looking ahead, I don’t see the air clearing up in the next few years. I continue to see a lot of challenges, such as the issue with the harborfront. [But] I believe the harbor will become more and more clear.”
Updated on Mar 30, 2008 – South China Morning Post
Any road scheme that can reduce traffic and air pollution is bound to enjoy extensive support. Survey after survey has shown people are prepared to support tough measures – and pay for them – to improve the environment.
A report by the Council for Sustainable Development, for example, recommends electronic road pricing. Before its release last month, the council received an unprecedented 80,000 written responses, an overwhelming majority of which either supported or did not object to such a scheme.
Yet transport officials insist time and again on attaching add-on conditions before any such scheme can even be considered. They give the impression that they have other agendas, or simply don’t want it. The latest instance is a new, unpublished official study which repeats the government’s contention that electronic road pricing in Central would only work after the building of the Wan Chai-Central bypass. Without the bypass, a charge of up to HK$90 would have to be levied to cut road use by 20 per cent, it contends. This would drop to HK$40 with a bypass.
It seems the projected high levy is reason enough for officials to put off implementing the electronic scheme as a standalone measure. But construction of the bypass has been thrown into doubt after a High Court judge ruled this month that a temporary reclamation for the project required the same stringent test of overriding public interest as permanent reclamation. Even if construction ultimately goes ahead, the bypass will take until 2015 or 2016 to complete. So expect more delay to any road pricing scheme.
In the real world, a high levy may actually be a plus for the scheme. It will have little impact on reducing traffic if prices are kept too low. What is important is that the levy is not seen as a tax. Revenue should be returned to the system. An effective way would be to use the proceeds to equalise charges between the three main tunnels. This would help redistribute traffic by reducing usage of the Cross-Harbour Tunnel and increasing it for the Western and Eastern tunnels. Road pricing should be introduced as soon as practicable – it can always be modified if and when the bypass is built.
Council for Sustainable Development’s Report on the Better Air Quality Engagement Process
Hong Kong has wrestled with the challenges of development over the years. Transformed from a manufacturing-based city to becoming a provider of the sleek service operations that are now on offer, Hong Kong has been successful in re-inventing itself as the need calls. But the urgency now lies with tackling our air pollution problem.
For many years, the price for Hong Kong’s development has been the environmental impacts caused by our energy consumption and transport usage. Our air quality has steadily declined as a result of the boosted levels of pollutants emitted and the lowered visibility that obscures our world famous landmarks like Victoria Harbour － and our health has suffered as a result.
It is not just our health either; Hong Kong’s image as a modern city is not given credence by the state of our air. Companies are facing problems attracting talent to our shores, the efficiency of our workforce is being affected and our young and vulnerable are facing severe challenges from breathing polluted air. From Government officials to the grassroots, the message has been clear － it is time to act.
This report by the Council for Sustainable Development which represents the fourth stage in its engagement process seeks to bring about a fundamental change in Hong Kong’s approach in tackling air pollution and aims to strengthen the political intent behind the Hong Kong Government’s efforts in this area as well as freeing up much needed resources to resolve this urgent matter.
Working with the Government, business and civil society, the Council is a platform for the views of parties with different interests to converge with the joint aim of resolving Hong Kong’s air quality problem. The Council has carried out one of the most intensive and comprehensive public engagement process in Hong Kong’s history. Over 80,000 people responded to the Council’s call insisting that action be taken to protect the health of Hong Kong’s citizens – on the strength of this number – the Council now believes it has the right to speak out on behalf of the community.
The Council’s report is structured as follows:
- Background – in which the Council explains the basis for its work and the process through which it engaged over 80,000 stakeholders.
- The Engagement Process – what the findings showed from the engagement process and what we have learned.
- Recommendations – the Council provides its recommendations covering the major sectors including power, transport and business and invites the Government to respond.
The records of the written submissions received by the Council during the engagement process can be found on http://www.susdev.org.hk, as part of the Independent Evaluation of Feedback by the Social Sciences Research Centre of the University of Hong Kong.
Stephen Brown – Friday, December 21, 2007 – The Standard
It must have come as a bit of a surprise to the administration during the week when the Council for Sustainable Development announced it had carried out a public opinion survey on air pollution.
The survey of 81,000 people assessed their views on air quality. The findings showed a high degree of concern, indicating this may have been one of the few public opinion surveys on a sensitive topic in Hong Kong’s history that has not had its results conveniently doctored before publication.
Even more surprising than the frank findings of the survey was the fact that this organization, populated as it is by administration appointees, managed to come up with some firm policy proposals after completing the poll, recommendations that did not necessarily fit neatly into the political agenda of its masters.
The council highlighted the inconvenient truth that people here are fed up to the back teeth with the air pollution that we have to live with.
Forty-two percent of the respondents wanted road pricing introduced, while 77 percent wanted higher transport fees if that meant that our air quality could be improved.
But, with our political system fundamentally flawed, as the functional constituency system ensures that public policy takes no real account of anything other than the narrow vested interests of the incumbents of these rotten boroughs, it still remains to be seen whether Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam- kuen can raise his policy game to meet heightened public expectations.
The future of electronic road pricing, in particular, looks as uncertain here as ever, despite the evidently beneficial impact that it has had on London and its long-standing role as a plank of transport policy in Singapore.
This old policy kernel has been around for years and why it cannot be implemented here has never been adequately explained. But it seems that those – particularly our lordly civil servants – who like to be driven around while reading in the back seat of limousines find any restriction on their rights a dreadful inconvenience.
The other aspect of the survey that was interesting was the fact the “man in the street” appeared to be keen to initiate the polluter-pays principle when it comes to ameliorating our air quality.
However, introducing the polluter- pays principle means that businesses will have to pick up the tab for polluting, at least in the first instance, and only after incurring these costs would companies be able to attempt to recoup the losses by raising prices.
Of course, because of the onus on business paying, the logical implementation of the polluter-pays principle is, in reality, a step too far for the appointed members of the council.
So, rather than pay heed to his own survey results, we had the vice chairman of the council, Edgar Cheng Wai-kin, calling for huge amounts of public money to facilitate the “clean-up.”
The call is in effect no more than a call for the poorest in our society to bail out those that have made money by polluting our environment.
This idea flies directly in the face of the polluter-pays principle, and indicates that the environmental solution will turn into a grab for the huge government subsidies that seem to be on the way, which will also undoubtedly be accompanied by special-interest pleading to raise fares.
For a man who promised to get things done, Tsang has not scored many victories when it comes to public policy.
Apart from announcing the odd railway, his initiatives are becalmed, while in some areas, such as in the case of his ill-advised cross-border financial initiatives, his policies have been rebuffed and are in disarray.
The public support for stringent environmental measures gives Tsang the perfect opportunity to move ahead with radical reforms in this area. However, it looks as if we are being set up yet again for huge dollops of public money to be handed out to those that need it the least.
With few policy “wins” to his name, Tsang may do well to think his options over carefully before he announces how to respond to the mounting public annoyance with air quality.