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Chief Secretary for Administration's speech at International Youth Summit opening (English only)


Following is the speech (English only) by the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mr Donald Tsang, at the opening ceremony of the International Youth Summit today (July 30):

Professor Davies, summit participants, ladies and gentlemen,

I am honoured to have the opportunity to open this important International Youth Summit. It is a summit that brings together a large number of like-minded students from around the globe to look at practical suggestions for providing a sustainable future.

May I extend a very warm welcome to all of you who have travelled far to be here today. I would also like to commend members of the Organising Committee on their foresight. You have taken an initiative and inspired others to build on the foundations of the 1992 "Rio Earth Summit" with the ultimate goal of setting up joint international university student groups dedicated to securing a sustainable future. I am particularly glad that you have chosen to begin this important journey today in Hong Kong.

In our exciting city, in the space of just a few days, you will see most of the great social, economic and environmental issues that give force to the question "Can we build a sustainable future?" There are few places like Hong Kong where you can feel the immense pressure of population, the population more acutely. Here on the north shore of Hong Kong Island, and over the harbour in Kowloon there are over 40,000 people per square kilometre - over four times the density in London and three times that of New York. We are also a city that consumes a vast amount of resources, famous for our ability to create wealth, and boasts a great diversity of education, expectations as well as cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

Hong Kong is a city built on trade. In many ways, we play a role in Asia and the world today similar to that played by Genoa in the medieval world.

Ten days ago, Genoa was very much in the news. The violence of the demonstrations grabbed the headlines, but it obscured the question, the question being put by many of the protestors at the G8 summit - a question that is at the heart of this summit. Will the way in which the global market is growing lead to a world-wide sustainable partnership, or will it dissipate our common resources and disenfranchise the poor?

In your deliberations over the next few days, I wonder if you will find definitive answers or easy solutions to that question. But I trust that here in Hong Kong you will find hope.

Let me share with you a few things about this city that is my home. Things that I hope will help to bring out the dynamic relationship between economic, social and environmental development.

Most pictures of Hong Kong are dominated by towering skyscrapers that provide homes and offices for nearly 7 million people. Few realise that they only cover less than 20% of our land. The population has increased five-fold in 50 years, but equally dramatic has been the increase in the woodlands. In 1948 less than 3% of our land had any tree cover. Today, almost 25% of our land is woodlands. The reason: a combination of reliable, affordable electricity and gas supplies replacing wood as fuel; and clear, enforceable land and planning laws.

When I was the age of most of you here today, I didn't go to University. In the 1960s only a small percentage of school leavers had the luxury of receiving higher education in Hong Kong. The dramatic expansion of education opportunities is the key to Hong Kong's economic transformation, helps create a knowledge-based economy. It also creates a deeper understanding of our local and global environment, which in turn gives us a greater capacity to protect it.

If you look out from this University across the harbour, you will see that despite the Asian financial crisis which struck us a couple of years back - and despite the gloomy economic news at present - ships and aircraft continue to carry to us the world's people and goods in ceaseless procession.

I see Hong Kong as a confluence of great rivers of human industry which brings growth and prospects to tens of millions around the world, not just the seven million here. Yet you do not see the things that Alexis de Tocqueville and others of his generation saw in the great port cities of 150 years ago - the "putrid sewers" and the "big smoke".

That's not to say we don't have environmental problems. Far from it, our population density, our constrained topography, our industry and transport certainly present huge and continuing pressures on our environment and living conditions. But through investment, legislation and hard work we are coping and bringing about improvements.

The main reason for this is the very nature of our society. Hong Kong is a city where law is respected because it is developed openly, in harmony with social change, and administered impartially. We are open and tolerant to different ideas, which give us the capacity to learn and to change quickly.

By safeguarding the liberties of its citizens, the Government is invigorated by them in turn. These are not unique attributes. They are available to any society, any city. But attention to them as much as to economics and the environment is, in my view, indispensable to building a more sustainable future.

You will find that it is quite easy to talk about sustainable development in general terms. I would like to share with you how we are moving from talking about the concept to making it part of our process of reaching decisions.

Following a two-year study and a series of seminars, workshops and public consultation exercises, a Sustainable Development Unit was established in my own office in April this year. This Unit helps me oversee the integration of the concept within the government and the community. I have given it an ambitious action programme.

I have asked the unit to ensure sustainable development principles are incorporated into the government's initiatives and programmes, particularly those with long-term implications on the economic, environmental and social conditions of Hong Kong. Members are currently working on a system of sustainability impact assessments. By the end of the year, all policy bureaux and executive departments will be required to analyse, assess and report on the sustainability of their major initiatives.

This will provide an assurance that our new policies and programmes will be sustainable. And the impact assessment system should also result in a co-ordinated effort within the government to address and resolve issues that span a number of departments and agencies. I firmly believe that the early identification of these issues, particularly those requiring broad consensus on the compromises to be made, will greatly improve the quality of our decision-making and ensure sustainability in the longer term.

But as you know, even with the best will in the world, no government on its own can build a sustainable society. The support and active participation of the community are fundamental. That's one of the reasons why we will be setting up a Council for Sustainable Development - hopefully by the end of this year. The Council's role will be to provide expert advice to the government, keep the public regularly informed about its work, and encourage community participation.

Indeed, the Sustainable Development Unit is researching into the arrangements for similar institutional bodies overseas. We hope to learn from their experience, especially in relation to community involvement. As part of the research process, members of the Unit will be here throughout the summit, they are here among you, to benefit from the constructive suggestions flowing from this international forum.

In addition, we are establishing a $100 million Sustainable Development Fund to support community initiatives on sustainable development, with an emphasis on educational programmes. We want to actively inspire the community to take ownership of the concept of sustainable development and to put it into action. In this way, we can promote better understanding of its importance, foster a sense of individual and collective responsibility, and encourage changes in behaviour.

Overseas experience has shown that involvement of a civil society is essential in the successful pursuit of sustainable development. In the United Kingdom, for example, the government launched a campaign three years ago called "Are you doing your bit?" It focused on specific issues relating to sustainable development such as energy efficiency, packaging and water conservation. The campaign showed people how they could influence their local and global environment by just being a little bit more thoughtful about their day-to-day actions.

The European Commission has also targeted its efforts on promoting dialogue within civil society after realising that action must be taken by everyone and at all levels.

Clearly governments have a key role to play in putting forward unambiguous and sustainable action plans for people to see and follow. But, ultimately individuals -citizens and businesses alike - will need to appreciate and deliver the changes in consumption and investment patterns that are needed if the quality of life is to be improved more extensively and in a more sustainable way across the world. In the process, civil society is crucial to the overall success of the campaign.

I believe this is encapsulated in the theme of the Youth Summit today, "I-We-Sustainable Development". It could not be more timely as we prepare to mark the 10th anniversary of the Earth Summit. Next year, world leaders will gather in Johannesburg to review progress on the commitments made in Rio. They will share their experience on ways to overcome the obstacles encountered and, hopefully, to agree on the areas we need to focus on in future endeavours.

But there should be no doubt in everyone's mind that recent advances in technology and the sciences can help to bridge the gap. Perhaps I can give you one example involving our own East Asian region that was highlighted recently in an article in the International Herald Tribune.

It noted that "by fully exposing itself to the capital and technology of the First World in the 1980s and 1990s, East Asia doubled its living standards - a process that took the West more than 100 years". And if you take Hong Kong on its own, during that time, our per capita GDP has increased by a remarkable 114%. We have benefited from modern economics, modern technology, and modern science. The question remaining is how to apply it to those communities and countries that have not yet caught up to the 21st Century. And then fashion a sustainable future for the world.

All of you here today have the creativity and the courage to become the leaders of tomorrow. As such, you hold the key to the future. This International Youth Summit is indeed a mini-Earth Summit. This is the beginning of your journey towards a sustainable world. So, I would like to pose a personal challenge to each one of you. The challenge is to come up with at least one bright idea of sustainable development at this Summit. Take it back home. Tailor it to your own environment, and promote it to your family, friends and neighbours. It is only with young people like yourselves taking the lead and putting the concept into practice that we can possibly build a sustainable global society for our future generations.

With that challenge in mind, I wish this Summit and all of you every success. Good luck and thank you.

End/Monday, July 30, 2001


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