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CS' speech at UN Sustainable Development Leadership Forum


Following is the speech by the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mr Donald Tsang, at the United Nations Asia-Pacific Leadership Forum on "Sustainable Development for Cities" at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre this afternoon (February 25) (English only):

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, let me extend a warm welcome to all of you this afternoon. In particular, I would like to welcome our guests from the United Nations and from other cities around the world. I hope you have a very productive and enjoyable stay.

The Hong Kong SAR is honoured to be hosting this forum, and we thank our Central People's Government and the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs for giving us the opportunity. This segment of the programme is devoted to "Sustainable Cities of the Future". In that regard, I would like today to tell you about Hong Kong's experience and the challenges we face.

Hong Kong's Growth and Characteristics

Compared with some major world cities, modern-day Hong Kong has a relatively short history. But, like other metropolises, over the past few decades we have experienced a surge of growth, in both population and economic output. The population growth came largely in waves of migrants looking for a more prosperous life. The physical manifestation of Hong Kong's response to this influx of humanity is the vertical cityscape you see today. One result is that we have some of the most densely populated neighbourhoods on earth.

Hong Kong today is also characterised by a high degree of internationalism, the free flow of information, open and fair competition, sophisticated financial infrastructure, a superb transportation and communications network, and a well-educated workforce led by a pool of intrepid entrepreneurs. Hong Kong is a bastion of free trade and one of the most competitive economies in the world. Indeed, last month the Heritage Foundation in the US ranked Hong Kong as the world's freest economy for the tenth year in a row.

While our population has grown by 70 per cent in the past three decades, our GDP has expanded by 450 per cent. Our economic success has been accompanied by a significant improvement in living standards for many of our citizens. Quality education and health care are provided free of charge or for very low fees. Our people enjoy more comfortable living space and a growing array of urban and rural-based cultural and recreational amenities. You may have noticed that we are currently playing host to the annual Hong Kong Arts Festival. This is one of the longest running and most highly regarded events of its kind in the world.

So, in addition to being a thriving economy, we have much to offer in terms of cultural and natural diversity. And in developing major projects such as Hong Kong Disneyland and the West Kowloon Cultural District, we want to make it clear that Hong Kong is more than just a frenetic financial centre and trading hub. Being a world city means offering a breadth and depth of lifestyle pursuits befitting a modern international metropolis.

Approaching the Challenge of Sustainable Development

Still, despite our successes, Hong Kong has its share of challenges that are directly related to our long-term sustainability. Let me give you a couple of examples.

First, Hong Kong, in common with many other cities, has always had a problem in allocating scarce land resources to meet the demands of a large population. We need to build transport infrastructure to cater for a highly mobile workforce, to provide housing and related facilities for our citizens, and to allocate space for a range of business and commercial activities. Sometimes we have to make tough decisions on how to balance the need for more land to encourage growth with the desire to maintain a high quality of life for our people.

Another challenge is the issue of waste disposal. As a city with a high level of commercial and personal consumption of goods, we generate large amounts of waste. We face a situation in which our current waste disposal facilities will no longer be viable in a few years. We need to develop solutions that will not only safeguard the integrity of our natural environment but also be economically viable and socially acceptable. Again, this requires some difficult decisions. It is crucial that we begin the debate on how to tackle this problem, as a community, sooner rather than later.

Like other major cities facing the challenges of sustainable development, we are aware of the need to regularly and critically take stock of how we do things, and how we could do them better. This forum provides a valuable opportunity to do just that.

As our Chief Executive explained earlier today, the HKSAR Government has started to make sustainable development an underlying principle in the formulation of our public programmes and policies. All major new proposals by the Government now must be tested against a "sustainability assessment". The assessment considers the economic, social and environmental implications and how they should be addressed in taking forward the policy.

This system not only acts as an early warning mechanism to ensure the long-term sustainability of new public policies, it also gives planners and decision-makers a wider perspective of the impacts on our natural, social and economic environments.

Long-Term Planning

The long-term planning scenarios for any major city must have regard to the principles of sustainable development. It is simply not viable for us to focus on economic growth without considering the needs and expectations of a growing population and the impact of extended physical infrastructure. The declines of some of the great urban civilisations of the past provide a compelling illustration of the importance of taking a pro-active approach. Planners must ensure that the social and environmental integrity of a city can flourish in harmony with its economic development.

In Hong Kong, we are undertaking an exercise to plot our future development through a plan called "Hong Kong 2030". This project starts with the vision of positioning Hong Kong as Asia's world city. It sees us achieving an internationally oriented service economy with a workforce with specialised skills and knowledge, which in turn attracts other skilled people and specialised resources to reinforce our competitive position.

At the same time, the project recognises that our long-term goal is to "centre on achieving economic prosperity and quality of life without compromising the resources and needs of future generations", which is a textbook prescription for sustainable development.

Setting goals for sustainable development is of course an important and worthwhile exercise. The international community has been setting and refining goals with the publication of the Brundtland Report in 1987, "Agenda 21" in 1992, and the United Nations Millennium Declaration in 2000. But such goals will contribute to the sustainable development of our societies only if there is a firm commitment to their implementation. This, as we all know, is the difficult part.

One of the results of the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development, held in Johannesburg in 2002, was the promulgation of the Plan of Implementation, which sets out an international commitment to certain agreed development goals. This plan, while focussing on sustainable development on a global scale, gives us insights into what we must do to create "sustainable cities of the future".

Strategy and Partnerships

The Johannesburg Plan of Implementation deals primarily with the means of implementing sustainable development goals. The importance of financing initiatives, scientific and technological innovation and education for sustainability are discussed in detail. Alongside these initiatives is a further consideration that goes to the root of the concept of sustainable development - mobilising community resources in a spirit of partnership and capacity sharing.

I mentioned just now, in the context of long-term urban planning, the importance of a pro-active or, if you like, vision-based approach to future development. This does not mean that setting the vision and implementation goals should be the sole preserve of city administrations. On the contrary, sustainable development demands that we engage the community actively at an early stage in defining the way we want to see our cities evolve.

The public policies and major programmes we contemplate today will have an impact on the quality of life that our future generations will inherit from us. These include issues such as waste management, urban planning, education and employment opportunities, and many others. We cannot realistically resolve all these issues through isolated planning studies, and that's why we have recently embarked on the formulation of a long-term sustainable development strategy for Hong Kong.

To help us develop this strategy, we are committed to working in partnership with the business sector, NGOs, professional and academic institutions and concerned individuals and community groups.

The co-ordinating body for this work will be the Council for Sustainable Development. This Council, which I chair, was appointed last year by the Chief Executive, and includes members from the business, academic and other non-government sectors. A key role of this Council will be to design a process whereby we can engage the wider community in discussing the challenges that we face in implementing sustainable development in our city and arriving at solutions based on a broad consensus.

I do not underestimate the size of the task before us. The formulation of a sustainable development strategy involves building a common vision for our society. In Hong Kong, as in every major city, there are conflicting views. Finding a way to harness the energy of our citizens into a consensus will require determination and patience.

Regardless of the outcome, the very process of engaging the community in this far-reaching discussion on the sustainability of our city will have two positive outcomes, in line with the spirit of the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation.

First, bringing the community into an inclusive and open discussion of our future priorities will raise public awareness of the principles of sustainable development. Through our consultation process, we can enhance our citizens' capacity to understand the basis of sustainability. No matter how an issue like household waste management or urban mobility may appear to be predominantly economic, cultural or environmental in nature, we should also see its implications across the board for our future way of life.

Second, by engaging people in the process, we can implement the principle of partnership and inclusiveness in the progressive development of our society. Tapping the collective wisdom of the community to find solutions to our challenges is one of the core sustainability principles. A sustainable city of the future will be defined by its ability to reconcile respect for the natural environment with economic growth and social equity and diversity. But it will also be defined by its readiness to encourage citizens' participation in all the issues that define quality of life.

To this end, we are inviting stakeholders in the community to engage in a series of dialogues on their aspirations for the sustainable development of Hong Kong. Are we prepared to pay more for waste disposal to protect the environment? How can we best provide land for social and economic growth in ways that minimise pressure on our "green" belt and coastal regions? Such questions cannot be answered by city governments alone. They require us to engage the collective wisdom and commitment of the community in a transparent and participatory process. Indeed, just last week we published a public consultation document on how best to preserve Hong Kong's heritage buildings and neighbourhoods.


Ladies and gentlemen, we are at an early stage in our own plan for addressing the challenges that our city will face in the next 20 to 30 years. We recognise that no one society has a definitive solution for implementing sustainable development. In each of our cities, we must tailor our strategies and policies to local conditions and circumstances.

But, as an international metropolis, and one that has always been an outward-looking hub of trade and communications, we are also mindful of the benefits of regional and international co-operation in pursuit of the common good of our global community. As the English poet John Donne said, "No man is an island". By the same token, no city is an island. The decisions we make about our future also have an impact on other places.

This forum gives us in Hong Kong, and our friends from other cities around the world, an opportunity to share our experience, while reminding us that we are part of a much greater effort to secure a sustainable future for the generations that succeed us.

The ancient Athenians dreamed of passing on to their grandchildren's grandchildren a city that would be greater and more beautiful than the city that was passed on to them. I am sure that all of us today share this dream for our cities, and look forward to playing our part in making this dream a reality.

Thank you.

Ends/Wednesday, February 25, 2004


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