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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 Business Environment Council's 18th Anniversary Gala Dinner today (September 5):

     The Honourable Leung Chun-ying, the Honourable Raymond Ho Chung-tai, Mr Stephen Fong, Dr Andrew Thomson, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

     Let me start by saying how delighted I am to be here this evening. What an honour it is to be asked to speak at the 18th Anniversary Gala Dinner of the Business Environment Council. It is the BEC's first Gala Dinner, so I am doubly honoured to be invited to share my thoughts with so many renowned business leaders from different sectors in Hong Kong.  

     Before I continue, I would like to convey the best wishes of the HKSAR Government on this important occasion. Since your inception in 1989, the BEC has been a valuable partner in our efforts to sell the idea of sustainable development and environmental ethics to Hong Kong's business sectors. You have a well-deserved reputation for your leadership role and pioneer work in showing businesses that green practices can bring competitive gains. Your success is shown by the fact that the BEC has grown into a vigorous network of more than 20,000 companies across various sectors in Hong Kong and Mainland China.

     Can businesses be profitable and environmentally-conscious at the same time? It is old thinking to say no. The new thinking is not only that it can be done, but also that it should and must be done. It is a growing world trend for businesses to adopt green practices, and Hong Kong's reputation as a global business centre requires us to always be at the forefront of world trends.

     The Government has long been sold on the idea that linking business and the environment is good for business and good for Hong Kong. I am sure all of us here agree that the best way to reap rewards from such a linkage is for the Government and the business sector to work together.

     I also believe that you, as business leaders and members of the BEC, share the view that short-term profits should give way to the vision of a cleaner and greener planet by cutting emissions and waste in such a way that it also cuts business costs and improves efficiency. It's a winning formula that carries the prize of a high quality of life.  

     We in the government have a vision for our economy. Hong Kong deserves no less than a highly innovative and competitive economy which is plugged into global markets, and which stands out for the importance it gives to sustainability.

     You can have the best economy in the world, but if your environment is second-best, you will not be able to keep the talent and entrepreneurs you have, nor can you attract foreign tourists and new businesses. We know this. That is why we place such importance in cutting air pollution, treating urban sewage, improving water quality and protecting our natural habitats.

     While early results may have proved encouraging, we still have some way to go. We've been blessed lately with some blue-sky days. It's given all of us a chance to see how wonderful that is! But there are still days when our famous Victoria Harbour skyline is hidden by a polluted haze. It serves as a reminder that our work is not yet done.

     As you know, our pollution problem is a combination of air pollutants from power generation and vehicular traffic here in Hong Kong, together with pollutants from the Pearl River Delta Region. No one denies that the world relies too much on fossil fuels and other practices that cause such pollutants. Scientists now agree this in turn causes global warming. It is an issue that is being treated with growing urgency both here in Hong Kong and around the world. We already have in place policies which combine legislation and incentives to phase out vehicles that pollute. We also encourage our power companies to move towards cleaner fuel.

     And like the BEC, which has seen the need for a Shenzhen operation to tackle Pearl River Delta pollution, we in Government are also working closely with our counterparts on the Mainland to combat regional air pollution. The goal is sustainable development, and just last month the HKSAR and Guangdong Provincial governments agreed to further strengthen our cooperation through the framework we established in 2005 known as the Hong Kong íV Guangdong Joint Working Group on Sustainable Development and Environmental Protection.
Both sides agree to implement programmes and projects to promote and assist commercial and industrial enterprises in Hong Kong and Guangdong to achieve energy efficiency and put cleaner production and comprehensive utilisation of resources into practice; and create an environment conducive to the development and adoption of the relevant technologies.

     But let's not forget about sustainable waste management. We now dump more than 6 million tonnes of waste each year! If this waste load continues to grow at the current rate, our three landfills will run out of space in 4 to 8 years. We cannot allow this crisis to happen. That is why the Government now has a comprehensive policy framework that tackles every stage of waste generation and disposal.  For instance, we hope to introduce Producer Responsibility Schemes that will require manufacturers, importers, wholesalers, retailers and consumers to take responsibility at every stage for the proper management of specific products. In line with the "polluter pays" principle, we propose to introduce an environmental levy to discourage the indiscriminate use of plastic shopping bags at source.

     We all have a duty to protect and preserve our environment. A clean environment is an asset. The Government will continue to fulfill its role as the key player in bringing about change, but we cannot do it alone. We need business leaders like you to help create the kind of environment we all want to see. As business leaders, you are on the inside looking out, and therefore, in the best position to know in what way the business sector can respond to opportunities and challenges. All of you, collectively and individually, can help shape public thinking. The more we make people aware of the dire consequences of pollution, the easier it becomes to make them do something about it. Your actions can set an example for others.
     I hope by sharing my views with you, I have given you some food for thought. But I hear you have a mouth-watering menu this evening! So, the sooner I conclude with this, the sooner we can all turn to that other food!

     Let me just end by saying thank you and wishing the BEC and you all every success and prosperity!

Ends/Wednesday, September 5, 2007
Issued at HKT 20:23


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