Clear The Air News Blog Rotating Header Image

February 26th, 2016:

Hong Kong needs a bolder action plan to protect its environmental legacy

Michael Lau and Gavin Edwards say the government has let Hongkongers down with its safe and ineffective framework for public discussion on a strategy to safeguard our amazing biodiversity
Hong Kong’s subtropical climate and unique position at the mouth of the Pearl River mean the city is blessed with an amazing diversity of plant and animal life. The need to protect the diversity of life on earth is enshrined in the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, which also extends to Hong Kong.

In his 2013 policy address, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying committed to develop a biodiversity strategy and action plan [1] to help implement the convention locally. Unusually for Hong Kong, a participatory approach was embraced, with academics, environmental NGOs, professionals and other stakeholders invited to develop a set of recommendations for Hong Kong’s first biodiversity strategy for 2016-2020.

After more than a year of intense work by more than 100 experts and stakeholders, over 400 recommendations have been produced and grouped into 33 draft key actions. They are aimed at strengthening conservation across the territory, to find a better balance between urban development and environmental protection. A public consultation is being held until April 7 [2], after which the government will produce a final action plan.

However, most of the 400 recommendations have been omitted from the consultation document, and most of the 33 draft key actions have not been directly incorporated. Instead, there are 25 pages summarising previous or ongoing initiatives to conserve biodiversity, and only 17 pages on an action plan.

A closer inspection of the consultation document reveals a mixture of vague “possible actions” and restating of existing government commitments, such as implementing ongoing species action plans even though they are falling short – for example, in relation to the decline of the Chinese white dolphin. This is in stark contrast to the call by the UN convention for an effective and practical action plan.

There is also a danger that the government will be tempted to take the easy route in formulating its action plan, by prioritising research and awareness-raising, with less emphasis on new direct conservation action. This takes responsibility away from government – for example, research can be undertaken by academics and non-governmental organisations, whereas only the government can lead on specific policies.

Also, research, while an essential component of conservation, won’t directly result in an improvement in our natural environment. Such an approach is also contrary to the UN convention’s “precautionary principle”, which states that “where there is a threat of significant reduction or loss of biological diversity, then lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to avoid or minimise such a threat”.

More worryingly, the consultation document emphasises enhancing existing conservation measures, implying that the government has no interest in introducing new measures to protect our natural heritage.

So, what more should the action plan contain? The answers lie within those 400 specific recommendations. For example, less than 2 per cent of our seas now receive some form of protection and are under increasing threat from reclamation, contaminated mud deposits, pollution and unsustainable fisheries.

Governments around the world have identified marine conservation as lagging behind, and have adopted a specific target to ensure at least 10 per cent of the marine environment should be protected globally by 2020. Such a target could easily be achieved for Hong Kong.

Another priority is more coordinated preservation of the Inner Deep Bay wetlands, which are of international importance to the tens of thousands of migratory water birds. A growing number of wetland reserves are being created as mitigation of urban development around Deep Bay. A statutory Wetland Trust needs to be set up, to ensure their long-term conservation, and a holistic management plan developed.

Effective species action plans are urgently needed to halt and reverse the decline of species such as the Chinese white dolphin. A comprehensive list of threatened species should be produced. It is also important to address Hong Kong’s impact on global biodiversity, which is considerable due to the unsustainable consumption of shark fin and Bluefin tuna.

There is no reason why the government cannot adopt these and other measures into the biodiversity strategy while continuing to develop the city; Hong Kong has a history of doing just that.

For example, we can draw inspiration from the previous success in turning a treeless landscape into a recognised biodiversity hot spot. Accounts from visitors arriving in Hong Kong in the 1800s described the place as “barren” and “sterile”. During the Japanese occupation in the second world war, nearly all the plantations and regenerated forests were cut down for firewood.

We can draw inspiration from the previous success in turning a treeless landscape into a recognised biodiversity hot spot

Since then, a dedicated effort involving decades of reforestation and protection and allowing natural regeneration and recolonisation has resulted in a flourishing landscape, with over 1,900 species of flowering plants (over 5 per cent of China’s total) and over 500 bird species recorded (some 40 per cent of China’s total). This demonstrates that, when the government pursues dedicated conservation efforts by working with nature, biodiversity decline can be reversed.

Previous governments have left a legacy of a world-class country park system, afforested our barren hillsides and protected an internationally important wetland. What legacy will the current government leave for the plants, animals and 7 million citizens that inhabit Hong Kong?

Dr Michael Lau is assistant director, conservation, at WWF-Hong Kong. Gavin Edwards is director, conservation, at WWF–Hong Kong
Source URL:

Zero Waste speeds up in Croatia after Zelena akcija

On Wednesday 24 February, representatives of the city of Prelog and six surrounding municipalities signed the European “Zero Waste 2020” strategy at a conference in Prelog organised by NGO Zelena akcija / Friends of the Earth Croatia and the communal waste company PRE-KOM. In signing the strategy, the local authorities – which are already leaders in sustainable waste management in Croatia – have committed to meet the ambitious goal of 70% separately collected waste by 2020.

Attendees at the conference included Minister of Environmental and Nature Protection Slaven Dobrović, Assistant Minister Lidija Runko Luttenberger, head of the Environmental Protection and Energy Efficiency Fund Sven Muller, the Assistant Minister for Enterprise and Trade, the Head of Međimurje County, relevant Mayors, Heads of Districts, communal companies and representative of Zero Waste Europe. 18 NGOs from the Zero Waste Croatia* network were also present. After the conference the NGOs met with Assistant Minister Luttenberger on the topic of advancing sustainable waste management in Croatia.

The seven local authorities in Lower Međimurje for whom Zelena akcija / FoE Croatia drew up recommendations (the city of Prelog, and the districts of Goričan, Donji Kraljevec, Sveta Marija, Donji Vidovec, Donja Dubrava and Kotoriba, with altogether more than 25 000 inhabitants) managed to separately collect more than 50% of waste in 2015. As this moved them to the top of the league tables for separate waste collection and recycling in Croatia, signing on to the international Zero Waste 2020 strategy was a logical next step.

Siniša Radiković, Director of PRE-KOM commented:

“Our wish, by accepting this strategy and implementing Zelena akcija’s recommendations, is to separately collect and treat 70% of useful waste by 2020, landfill less than 30%, and reduce the amount of landfilled waste to less than 50 kg per inhabitant per year, which is in the range of the most successful cities and districts in the world”.

“Thank you for making our task easier, and that is to continue changing waste management policy in the Republic of Croatia. Until now the policy has been to mix and burn waste – thank you because you have shown that another way is possible”.

“According to the experience of many zero waste communities in the world, three ingredients are needed for success: political support, good management and commitment to meeting ever higher targets. The town of Prelog and the surrounding districts have shown that they have all these ingredients. I hope that other communities in Croatia will soon join them, to the benefit of their inhabitants and the environment.”

“Lower Međimurje has shown that in a relatively short period of time it is possible to create a good quality waste management system and become a good example for others. I’m proud that Zelena akcija contributed to this success with its analysis. This shows that NGOs have relevant knowledge and that when the authorities are ready to listen to well-argued recommendations, significant results can be achieved”.

In order to enable the commitments in the Strategy, the Lower Međimurje Waste Management Council was formed, which will include the local waste management companies along with Zelena akcija. Together with Zero Waste Europe, Zelena akcija will monitor progress towards the targets and assist with implementation of the measures to prevent, re-use and recycle waste.

At the meeting of the Zero Waste Croatia network with Assistant Minister, Marko Košak, Waste Managament Programme coordinator in Zelena akcija and Zero Waste Croatia network presented the current situation with waste management in Croatia. Erika Oblak from Zero Waste Europe presented the Zero Waste Europe network and successes by particular cities and districts. Ms Luttenberger presented the priorities of the Ministry for Environment and Nature Protection with regard to implementing a good quality waste management system. The NGOs provided comments on problems with the system and suggestions for the planned new national Waste Management Plan for the period until 2021.

The main message from the NGOs was that the new plan needs to ensure a long-awaited shift from mixing and burning waste to reducing, re-using, separating and recycling waste, as done by Prelog and neighbouring districts. The Assistant Minister clearly stated that the Ministry will ensure that the system is changed for the benefit of people and the environment, and that environmental organizations will have an important role in this process. A similar sentiment was expressed by Minister Dobrović during the conference “The problem in Croatia is large and I therefore welcome NGOs which actively work on the promotion of the zero waste concept. We all have a common task and even if it has not been like that until now, from now on problems will be resolved by sitting together around the table and all suggestions will be examined.”

Zelena akcija believes that the city of Prelog will achieve its ambitious targets by 2020 with the implementation of the proposed measures. We hope that other communal waste companies, with expert assistance from NGOs and support from the Ministry and Fund for Environmental Protection and Energy Efficiency, will also advance their waste management systems according to Lower Međimurje’s example and satisfy the needs of both residents and the environment.