Environment & Health HKFP Voices

Lantau Island development plans are incompatible with a healthy climate

For millions of years Hong Kong has boasted the perfect conditions for life to flourish in all its diverse wonder. Only in the last slow blink of evolution’s eyelid has the fertile cradle of these few islands given rise to one of the world’s great financial cities.

The World Wildlife Fund recognises Hong Kong as a biodiversity hotspot – one of 25 such rich areas of interconnected life that have lost most of their original habitat as millions of modern humans jostle for position in the delicate ecosystem the world took so long to create.

lantau island

Lantau Island. Photo: Ching Ching Tsui, via Flickr.

In our most recent history, Lantau Island has been the jewel in the rapidly tarnishing crown of Hong Kong’s biodiversity – 144 square kilometres, much of it uninhabited, and over half designated for protection as a country park.

Wetlands, mountains, and forests all over Lantau teem with life, from the smallest ant to the largest buffalo. The surrounding islands also boast unique life forms, divergent paths of evolution taken when the sea swept in and isolated their ecosystems. The last few Chinese white dolphins cling to life nearby.

Perhaps it is the sterilised life of the city that has given rise to a political class that, concerned with election cycles and the metrics by which they can measure progress, has been frighteningly dismissive of the earth that we all spring from.

The HongKong 2030+ development plan has been touted of a beacon of forward movement that will propel the city to further success on the world stage, but behind the glossy advertising lies a darker side.

The proposal to reclaim the land around Hei Ling Chau and Kau Yi Chau to build the East Lantau Metropolis (ELM), including a third Core Business District (CBD3), reveals a shortsighted focus on infrastructure and finance to the exclusion of all else.

The biological treasure chest of Hong Kong is not solely a resource for those of us who live here – it is a global asset. It took the natural world millions of years to develop this delicate ecosystem and it could take us just a few decades more to destroy it forever.

Zhang Dejiang

State leader Zhang Dejiang inspecting the East Lantau Metropolis plan. File photo: GovHK.

The ELM is one half of the development plan for 2030 and beyond, the other half being for New Territories North (NTN) – another massive scale development on the other side of Hong Kong, where the greatest concentration of our large mammal species such as otters and foxes make their habitat.

The picture this paints may seem bleak, but as individuals and communities we have the power to paint a much brighter one. The ELM plan is incompatible with any future that includes a healthy climate.

The government’s public consultation draws to a close on April 30 after only six months – a time frame horribly disproportionate to the scale of the project. The developments projected as part of the 2030+ plan will cost half of Hong Kong’s fiscal reserves and take years to complete.

More than that, they will determine the character of the region for the rest of the century. Some Hong Kong residents have begun mobilising in opposition to these plans but millions of others remain unaware of the massive infrastructure projects that could dominate their lives for decades to come.

There is hope, though, in the power of an engaged and informed citizenry. The Save Lantau Alliance and ELM Concern Group are co-ordinating Hong Kong efforts to oppose these plans. Supporting green groups such as Designing Hong Kong, WWF and Ark Eden have all undertaken actions to engage legislators, the public and press on the development plans.

The students of Hong Kong held a press conference outside the Legislative Council during the last public meeting to highlight that the plans for Hong Kong’s future – their future – are relegating them to the sidelines.

lantau protesters

Lantau Island protest. File photo: Apple Daily.

Interviewed by RTHK, 14-year-old Daanyal Ebrahim cut through the layers of flimsy justification and vested interests in the project, saying simply “The quality of life for people living there will so low that there is no point living there.”

We must unify across Hong Kong, organise within our communities and subject the government to relentless public pressure before it is too late. We must fight the interests of developers and create the change we want to see, not the change imposed on us from on high.

The government has shown the wisdom to change course and protect our environment before – since the trawling ban came into force in January 2013, Hong Kong’s fisheries have recovered from the brink of collapse – and must show that wisdom again. But it is the duty of every concerned citizen to change the direction our city is taking. The 2030+ is not set in stone – so let’s change it before our green spaces are.

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Lantau Island development plans are incompatible with a healthy climate