Email this article Government Homepage
PSE/DEP's speech on environmental issues and challenges (English only)

    Following is a speech (English only) delivered by the Permanent Secretary for the Environment, Transport and Works (Environment), Ms Anissa Wong, at the Workshop on Environmental Issues and Challenges for Hong Kong organised by the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology today (September 22).

Professor Chin, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

     I am very pleased to join this Workshop today. As a newcomer to the post of the Permanent Secretary for the Environment and Director of Environmental Protection, I am extremely delighted with this valuable opportunity to meet so many learned and devoted friends who attach importance to promoting a clean, high quality environment for the enjoyment not only of our population but also of our children. The establishment of the Institute for the Environment in the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology underlines the sense of urgency and commitment of the university to tackling the environment challenges that Hong Kong and its surrounding region face. The agenda of the workshop is substantial and I am sure participants at the workshop look forward to the in-depth discussion on specific areas. So without further ado, let me begin with a brief outline of where we are today in tackling environment issues, and what we plan to do in the near future.

     Firstly, a quick overview of the economic and social changes in Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta in recent years may help focus our attention on the context for the rising environmental challenges that we face today. Compared with 1995, the GDP in Hong Kong grew by 15% to $1,292 billion in 2004. During the same period, the GDP in the Pearl River Delta Economic Zone grew by 240% to RMB 1,339 billion. Over the past six years, the number of industrial enterprises in Hong Kong decreased from about 22,000 in 1998 to about 14,000 in 2004. During the same period, the number of industrial enterprises in the Pearl River Delta increased from about 12,000 to over 20,000. The number of motor vehicles and motorcycles has almost doubled over the same period, from about 4.2 million to about 8 million. All these indicate that the economic activities in the Pearl River Delta have been growing at a very high speed in recent years.
     With the economic development comes the rising demand for power supply, cars and more resource-demanding lifestyles. The total energy consumption in Hong Kong in 2004 was 288,000 Terajoule, an increase of 26% from 1990. In the same period, energy consumption in Guangdong Province increased by almost two times to 4.2 million Terajoule.

     Such colossal increase in energy consumption has a direct impact on our air quality. Smog has become a frequent visible problem for both Hong Kong and Guangdong. Pollution does not respect boundaries and the only way to deal with it is through joint action in which all parties share responsibility. In 2002, the Hong Kong and the Guangdong Provincial Governments completed a Joint Study on Regional Air Quality, which identified the relative significance of different industrial and commercial sources of pollution and their direct and indirect impacts on regional air quality. The findings show that Hong Kong accounts for about 20% of the regional air pollution while other PRD areas account for about 80%, using 1997 as the base year. And as both Hong Kong and Guangdong contribute to the regional air pollution problem, it is only reasonable that both sides agreed to achieve pro rata emission reductions on the same basis.

     In April 2002, the Hong Kong and the Guangdong Provincial Governments agreed to reduce the regional emissions of four key pollutants by 2010 on a "best endeavours" basis. Using 1997 as the base year, the agreed levels of reduction are: 40% for sulphur dioxide, 20% for nitrogen oxides and 55% for both respirable suspended particulates and volatile organic compounds. Since then, individually, the two sides have taken various measures towards meeting their respective targets.

     On Hong Kong side, we have introduced Euro IV petrol standards for our vehicles and pursued a new policy of imposing emissions caps in the specified process licences for power plants. We have completed a programme of retrofitting about 36,600 heavy diesel vehicles with emission reduction devices as well as another programme which provided incentives to owners to replace diesel light buses with LPG light buses.

     The results are encouraging. Except for sulphur dioxide, the major air pollutants emitted in Hong Kong have been on a downward trend. The number of days of the Air Pollution Index exceeding 100 decreased from 87 days in 2004 to 49 days in 2005. Recently, the Government has redoubled its efforts with the Chief Executive kick-starting the Action Blue Sky Campaign, which calls for the participation of the whole community in combating air pollution. Action is also in hand to introduce a mandatory control scheme for common products containing volatile organic compounds in 2007. Every small act counts: adopting 25.5 degrees Celsius as the standard for internal air conditioning, switching off unnecessary lights, electrical appliances and car engines while waiting, etc. The list can go on, and if we all contribute, we can see blue sky more often.  
     As much as the blue sky, we would also like to enjoy clean water. As we all know, the literal meaning of the name Hong Kong is "fragrant harbour". Unfortunately in recent decades this phrase has provided fertile ground for some fairly obvious jokes. Nevertheless, we are determined to restore our harbour to a condition where such unwarranted humour will be a thing of the past.

     The Harbour Area Treatment Scheme, or "HATS", has been the focus of the Government's efforts to improve the water in Victoria Harbour. The first stage was commissioned at the end of 2001 and treats 75% of the sewage generated around Victoria Harbour at a chemically enhanced primary treatment plant on Stonecutters Island. Our challenge ahead is to deal with the remaining 25% of the sewage, mostly from Hong Kong Island, which still ends up in the harbour basically untreated, and to cater for further urban development. So, with support gained during the public consultation, we are developing a programme for implementing HATS Stage 2 in phases, with a view to providing by 2014 a capacity to treat 2.8 million tonnes per day of sewage generated from both sides of Victoria Harbour. Our priority is to press ahead with Stage 2A, which involves building a disinfection facility at the Stonecutters plant, and deep tunnels to transfer Hong Kong Island's sewage to the plant which needs to be expanded.

     The disinfection facility, when completed in 2008/09 if the project goes smoothly as planned, will bring substantial improvement to the water quality of the beaches at Tsuen Wan such that they can be re-opened for public use. On completion of Stage 2A, it is hopeful that we would be able to re-organise the cross-harbour swim in Victoria Harbour.

     Solid waste is another imminent environmental problem, yet often less recognised. Over the past nine years, municipal solid waste loads have increased by around 3% annually. It is estimated that the three existing landfills would be full in five to nine years from now. Clearly we need a more sustainable way of dealing with our waste as we know the severe constraints in finding additional landfill space. To tackle this issue, the Government published "A Policy Framework for the Management of Municipal Solid Waste (2005-2014)" last December to set out a comprehensive strategy on waste management. The specific measures outlined in the document include territory-wide source separation of domestic waste, municipal solid waste charging, producer responsibility schemes, support to the environmental industry and new approaches for bulk reduction and disposal.  

     Community involvement is the cornerstone of successful waste management. Schools, businesses and industrial households are our valuable partners. In 2005, about 9,000 kg aluminium cans, 31,000 kg plastic bottles and 232,000 kg waste paper were collected from some 900 schools participating in recycling programmes. We have a "Wastewi$e Scheme" which helps businesses in Hong Kong to set and achieve waste reduction targets. By now, over 1,300 organisations have participated in the scheme, some of which are large organisations, prominent listed companies and public utilities. We have not missed out domestic households. We launched a territory-wide scheme on Source Separation of Domestic Waste in January 2005. So far, 413 housing estates have enrolled in the programme, representing 25% of the population in Hong Kong.

     In a modern society, individuals, manufacturers and handlers should also share the responsibility for waste management. In this regard, the Government proposes to introduce a producer responsibility scheme (PRS) for specific products. Under the PRS, a host of stakeholders, who could be manufacturers, importers, distributors, retailers and consumers, will share the responsibility for managing end-of-life products. While the progress of the voluntary PRS for rechargeable batteries has been encouraging, we plan to extend the PRS to other priority products including plastic shopping bags, vehicle tyres and electrical and electronic equipment.

     To properly handle the materials recovered from waste, we must have a robust local environmental industry. We are building a 20-hectare EcoPark in Tuen Mun to provide long-term land at affordable rentals. Our aim is to encourage the local recycling and environmental industry to invest more in developing advanced and value-added recycling processes. The first batch of lots in the EcoPark will be available for leasing by the end of this year.

     We have to admit the reality that even if we are very successful in reducing and recycling waste, there will still be unavoidable waste that needs proper disposal, and solely relying on landfills is clearly not sustainable. The Government is planning to develop Integrated Waste Management Facilities, or IWMF, to achieve bulk reduction of municipal solid waste with advanced treatment technologies. The IWMF will employ state-of-the-art technologies, with thermal treatment as the core treatment technology. The IWMF will be established in two phases. The phased approach will allow us to put in place at the earliest time frame a suitably sized plant in the first phase to achieve bulk reduction, hence extending the lives of our landfills. We plan to commission the IWMF in the mid-2010s. At the moment, we are initiating the site search exercise for the IWMF and will consult the public after suitable sites have been identified. Through the above means, we hope to reduce the quantities of waste arising and to conserve landfill capacity.

     Prevention is always better than cure. Environmental impact assessment is the tool we have established to pre-empt environmental problems in new policies, plans and projects. At present, all major projects in Hong Kong have to be assessed, with potential impacts mitigated, following the requirements of the Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance. Similar arrangements for Strategic Environmental Assessments have also been adopted in reviewing major new plans and policies. Environmental consequences of different options are considered thoroughly before decisions are made. Information is presented in an accessible, easily understood format so that the public can participate in a meaningful dialogue with the policy makers or project developers.

     Time does not allow me to list all of our environmental initiatives. But I hope I am able to convey to the audience the commitment of the Government in tackling environmental issues that face Hong Kong. Sustainable development is now an underlying principle in the formulation of our public programmes and policies. The principle requires us to:

* find ways to increase prosperity and improve the quality of life while reducing overall pollution and waste;

* meet our own needs and aspirations without damaging the prospects of future generations; and

* reduce the environmental burden we put on our neighbours and help to preserve common resources.

     All these objectives cannot be achieved by the Government alone. Everyone in the community, whether a private citizen or business establishment, needs to start working in partnership to achieve sustainable development.  

     A cleaner environment comes at a price, and everyone should pay for the share of pollution they bring about in the first place. It is only with the collaborative efforts of the Government and every individual in society that we can implement the necessary measures to tackle environment challenges we face today.

     Workshops like this will present a good platform for environmental practitioners from universities, government, business and industry to exchange expertise and generate ideas for the common goal of finding a way forward for tackling on our environmental challenges. I wish you all a fruitful discussion today.

     Thank you.

Ends/Friday, September 22, 2006
Issued at HKT 16:00