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Speech by SEN at World Environment Day programme (English only)

    Following is the speech by the Secretary for the Environment, Mr Edward Yau, at the launching ceremony of World Environment Day at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology this morning (June 5):

Professor Chu, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

    Good morning.  I am honoured to be here this morning with such a distinguished gathering of academics, experts from around the world and students from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST).

    Today is World Environment Day.  I am delighted that the HKUST is taking a leadership role in organising this week-long programme covering a range of important sustainability topics that affect our environment and the quality of life today. The theme, :Sustainability: A Leadership Role for Higher Education;, is of great significance to all of us living on planet Earth. I would like to congratulate the university for its vision, efforts and commitment.

    The issue of sustainability has become a hot topic in the world, given the persistent high energy prices and the increasing concerns about climate change and its impact on us. Not many of us here could foresee the rise in oil price from just US$10 a barrel a decade ago to more than US$120 a barrel now.  Finding a sustainable way to :power; our daily living has become imminently pressing.  The solution is not only confined to science and technology but it also cuts across economic, social and environmental considerations. Enhancing energy efficiency has therefore become a top priority in many economies around the world in order to address energy shortage and climate change challenges. 

    Hong Kong is no exception to these challenges.  Even though our energy intensity or per capita electricity consumption is lower than many other economies with a similar level of economic development, our total energy consumption has recorded an annual increase of 1.3% on average between 1995 and 2005.  We must take action to slash energy consumption and enhance energy efficiency on all fronts.  As a member of the global community, we have also pledged to achieve the energy intensity reduction target set by the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation forum last year, which is to reduce energy intensity by at least 25% by 2030 when compared with 2005.  But we can do more.

    We are firmly committed to various policies in enhancing the energy efficiency of our city.  We have just implemented the first phase of our mandatory energy efficiency labelling scheme in May, covering room air-conditioners, refrigerating appliances and compact fluorescent lamps.  These measures, if put to full utilisation, could cut electricity consumption by more than 130 million KWh per annum.  We see no reason to stop at that and will gradually extend the labelling requirement to other products so that we can maximise the environmental benefits in using energy-efficient products.

    Promoting energy efficiency has tremendous potential in Hong Kong as 90% of our electricity consumption is building related.  To further enhance building energy efficiency, we have just completed a public consultation on the mandatory implementation of the Building Energy Codes. There is overwhelming support from professional bodies and the general public. We are now preparing the relevant legislative proposal to improve energy efficiency and conservation in buildings.  I am glad to know that HKUST has, in fact, been taking the lead in implementing various energy efficiency projects to make the university a green and sustainable one.  Energy efficiency alone also offers good opportunities for research and development leading towards wider and wiser applications of energy saving technology.  This would be an area where academic institutions like HKUST can assume leadership.

    Indeed, reducing energy use will also go a long way to improving Hong Kong・s air quality, as power generation is the predominant local source of air pollution.  Apart from demand side management, it is equally important to have in place a set of stringent emission control measures.  We have therefore required all new power generation units to be powered by natural gas since 1997.  We have also imposed emission caps on all power plants since 2005 and will tighten them even further. 

    And this year, we will introduce two more important measures.  We have already launched the first one, which is to link the two power companies・ rates of return to their environmental performance,  enhancing their corporate responsibility towards our environment.  Next, we are bringing a bill through the Legislative Council to stipulate the emission caps of power plants for 2010 and beyond in the law, to ensure that they will be implemented in a smooth, timely and transparent manner.  We trust that together with our efforts to reduce emissions from other sources such as vehicles, and through working hand in hand with the Guangdong authorities, gradually we should be able to have cleaner air.

    Similar to other densely populated cities, Hong Kong has an imminent and serious waste management problem.  A long-term and sustainable solution is called for to manage our municipal solid waste and encourage the public to participate in 3Rs - :Reduction, Recovery and Recycling;.  We have been promoting the source separation of domestic waste programme since 2005.  Housing estates covering nearly half our population have joined the programme, which could significantly increase their recyclables collected by 60%.

    Apart from the source separation programme, we have also been encouraging waste reduction, recovery and recycling through producer responsibility schemes (PRS).  The importance of PRS is to establish the polluter-pays principle at the consumer level.  To this end, we introduced the Product Eco-responsibility Bill into the Legislative Council earlier this year, and the first PRS under the bill will be a 50-cent environmental levy on plastic shopping bags to reduce their indiscriminate use.  The importance of the bill lies not only in the introduction of the first statutory PRS in Hong Kong, but also, if not more importantly, in providing the legal basis for us to introduce new PRS・s beyond that for plastic shopping bags in future.  This is a clear policy commitment from the Government to promote waste reduction, recovery and recycling. We are now working closely with the Legislative Council for the early enactment of the bill. We are collaborating with the business sector to introduce voluntary PRS・s.  So far, we have introduced three recycling programmes on rechargeable batteries, computer equipment and compact fluorescent lamps.  With the experience gained from these programmes, we will continue our discussion with the relevant trades to launch similar programmes for other products. 

    The successful implementation of environmental initiatives ultimately hinges on public support and participation. The recent approval by the Legislative Council to inject $1 billion into the Environment and Conservation Fund will further strengthen our funding support to environmental education and research initiatives.  While the call for a cleaner and greener environment is the common goal of our community, the work of environmental policy programmes does not guarantee smooth sailing, as they often cut into sectoral interests and selected stakeholders.  There is no shortcut other than very intensive and extensive public discussion and debate as well as public engagement, which are necessary steps to bring about a greater consensus.  Only when we see the willingness among the community to pay for what we pledge, can we see the prospect of a greener Hong Kong. 

    I have outlined a number of policy initiatives currently being discussed and implemented in Hong Kong.  I see scope for a greater role and closer partnership with the academic community if we are to take forward more initiatives.  In addition to the traditionally strong research capability in academic institutions, I am also counting on the young leaders in your student population to be the driving force in our green movement.  Let・s demonstrate by example, let・s engage in all these policy discussions and debates; and let・s take a greener, cleaner and sustainable city as our common goal.

    I wish all of you a most inspiring experience, and for those who travelled from afar, a most pleasant stay in Hong Kong.  Thank you.

Ends/Thursday, June 5, 2008
Issued at HKT 15:13


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