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Speech by Secretary for the Environment (English only)

    Following is the speech by the Secretary for the Environment, Mr Edward Yau, at the Closing Ceremony of the 21st Youth Conference of Caretakers of the Environment International today (July 13):

President Cox, Principal Lau, Professor Chan, distinguished guests,

     Let me start by saying it is my honour to be invited to speak at this conference on an issue that is so close to our hearts ¡V our environment.  For those who have come a long way from home, and visiting Hong Kong for the first time, I welcome you. I must also thank you for bringing along a full week of bright blue skies and clean air! That has done a lot to make Hong Kong¡¦s skyline shine under a warm summer sun. I surely do need more blue-sky days to make my mark as the new Secretary for the Environment. Hong Kong needs more like-minded advocates like you in making our environment greener and our lifestyle environmentally friendlier.

     Seeing so many young faces also reminds me that you are the future. We all have a role to play in respecting and caring for our environment, not just to preserve what we have today, but also for sustaining it for succeeding generations.  It is too easy to forget that the environmental problems that prevail today are a result of our inadequacies of yesterday, and the only way to clean them up is to act without delay today for a better tomorrow.  And it is you and I who can do so much. Simple things like turning off your computer or TV when you¡¦re not using them, setting your air-conditioner at an energy-saving temperature, not wasting food, reduce and recycle waste. I can go on with a longer list. It all adds up and every single act counts.

     I like the name Caretakers of the Environment International, for a good environment is nature¡¦s gift to all of us in the community, both local and international, and as the beneficiaries, we have a duty to take care of it for ourselves and for our children.

     It is wonderful that this year¡¦s conference is being held here in Hong Kong at the Queen Elizabeth School Old Students' Association (QESOSA) Secondary School, a school that primes itself as one of Hong Kong¡¦s forerunners in promoting green learning and nurturing young and responsible caretakers of our environment. Your presence here signifies how Hong Kong can contribute in no small way in bringing together global efforts in heightening awareness of environmental education amongst the international youth community.

     From reading your programme I can say this: all of us agree on the same thing -- protecting the environment is an important issue that goes beyond boundaries since all of us, wherever we are, breathe the same air.  Likewise, our successes can only be built on the co-ordinated efforts of the entire international community.  For instance, no nation or community can single-handedly deal with the global warming that is already having an effect on our day-to-day living whether it is in urban, suburban, temperate or sub-tropical areas. Global warming is no longer just the scare-mongering of a few but the shared concern of scientists all over the world.

     It¡¦s easy to talk about common problems but very often solutions and resolve can be undermined by individual circumstances pertaining to different nations and communities.  For instance, questions are often asked by the developing countries on whether we protect the environment at the expense of promoting development, or vice versa?

     Hong Kong has been facing such a dilemma as we build our metropolitan city that houses almost 7 million people within a tiny terrain of 1000 square kilometres.  We do not see urban living as necessarily at the expense of the environment.  For instance, Hong Kong is one of the very few international cities where you have a metropolitan skyline set against a green hinterland of country parks and protected areas that cover 40% of our total territory. That allows our urban dwellers to retreat from the central business concrete jungle to trails and scenic pathways within just 20 minutes of travel time. Your presence here in the new town of Tin Shui Wai right next to an important wetland and migrant bird reserve is another telling example.  Of course we need to do more to restrain the encroachment of our city into the countryside. It is a challenge not just for the planners, engineers, and policymakers who build our city; our people also have a common responsibility in deciding how much we want to preserve the balance between town and country.

     But that leads us to another question: can developing and developed countries march in lockstep towards a better environment?

     We all know that different countries are at different stages of economic growth. We know that some are capable of doing more, others less. We know that governments have a responsibility to their citizens to keep the economic engine humming.  That is why I believe the only way we can look at the roles of developing and developed countries when it comes to protecting the environment is to see ourselves as a global village, which we are, and recognise that climate change and the threat of green house gases affect the entire world. It is based on this spirit that Hong Kong is working hand in hand with our neighbouring province on the Mainland of China in curbing emissions and reducing industrial waste, and recently exploring emission trading and further promotion of energy efficiency through collaborations at both inter-governmental and enterprise levels.  Together, Hong Kong and the Guangdong province have agreed to make a substantial reduction of major pollutants from that of the 1997 level by 2010.  It is an ambitious target which involves a great deal of hard efforts and close co-operation but it also underlines the commitment and determination of the two governments.

     Even after all this, we still need to ask ourselves: what is the price we are willing to pay to protect our environment? Do we do it here and now, or can we afford to wait?

     The good things in life come at a price. If we want to cut the emission of pollutants, which is key to fighting global warming, we must turn to cleaner fuel. We must find renewable sources of energy. But all of this mean power generation will cost more. If the community wants a better environment for ourselves and our future generations, and I'm sure communities do want that, we must be prepared to make some sacrifices! In Hong Kong, the resources that Government put in the environment portfolio represents 2% of total public expenditure and we are topping up each year with new money for new initiatives.  The most recent example is the $3.2 billion we set aside for subsidising the replacement of commercial diesel vehicles to meet the Euro IV emission standards.  We also have financial incentives for diesel taxis and light buses to move to Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) models.  More will come and we believe the community is also willing and prepared to contribute, for instance, in paying for plastic bags they get from supermarkets as a deterrent for wastage; and perhaps some time in the future, a road pricing scheme for using roads in the most congested urban areas. There will be healthy discussions, I¡¦m sure, if not heated debate and controversies. And there will be supporters willing to stand up to speak for the case.  There will be green groups who will spare no efforts in putting across their ideas and arouse public attention.  They are however not the only advocates or the only voice.  If we believe that the planet belongs to all of us, we are all stakeholders.  Each and every one of you has a role to play. We¡¦re all in the same ship together. And we must all row to the drumbeat.

     Honestly, improving our environment is not a job just for either the Government or green groups.  It requires collective efforts and more importantly a change in the way we live and the habits we have become accustomed to. We must start forming new habits ¡V from little things like no longer using too many plastic bags, to bigger things like no longer leaving our car engines idling, to even bigger things like reducing emissions from power stations that contribute to greenhouse gases.

     We will do whatever is necessary to make our skies blue, to make our air fresh and clean. Our target is not just the air. We want to better manage our waste disposal through recycling, and re-use on top of reduction.  We need to do so to lessen the mounting pressure on our landfills which are filling up too quickly.  We are also exploring ways to turn waste into business opportunities.  We need to be creative and forward looking. Who says that ideas must only come from experts or professionals?  A better environment can be more attainable if it becomes a way of life, especially amongst the younger generation who sets the example.  Only by so doing can we do all these things in a way that sustains development. Protecting the environment and sustaining development must go hand in hand. We all lose if we do one without the other. But to have the best of both worlds, we must all work together.

     I am so grateful for the opportunity to share my thoughts with you on the very important issue of the environment. What better place to discuss it than at a youth conference like yours?  So please continue with the good work, stay connected with friends you made here in Hong Kong, keep watch and stand up on issues that affect our global and local environment, as I'm sure you will.  You are the new ambassadors of environment and I look forward to seeing many of you one day taking up ministerial positions on environment either in your own country or on the world stage.  And I congratulate you on the success of your very worthwhile endeavor.

     Thank you.

Ends/Friday, July 13, 2007
Issued at HKT 16:54


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