By Dr Michael Lau
It is high time for Hong Kong to act if it wants to avoid becoming a city that lags behind others.
Ten years ago, the Development Bureau and Planning Department produced a development strategy for Hong Kong up to 2030, called Hong Kong 2030: Planning Vision and Strategy. The latest update is a planning strategy looking to beyond 2040 is entitled HK2030+. The public consultation for this exercise lasts until 30 April.
The vision laid down in HK 2030+ is for Hong Kong “To become a liveable, competitive and sustainable city, championing sustainable development as the overarching planning goal”.
There are two new strategies identified for creating ‘Capacity for Sustainable Growth’ namely building a smart, green and resilient city strategy in response to the climate change challenge and enhancing and regenerating environmental capacity.
At WWF, our vision is to transform Hong Kong to be Asia’s most sustainable city. We recognise sustainable development as the overarching planning goal for Hong Kong.
As agreed in the 2015 United Nation Sustainable Development Summit, protecting the planet is key to sustainable development. Hong Kong is truly blessed with a wide variety of terrestrial and marine habitats which support a myriad of wildlife and amazingly some can only be found here and nowhere else.
This biodiversity is of key conservation importance and provides a multitude of services to our community such as giving us clean water, purifying the air we breathe and absorbing carbon to help regulate climate.
HK2030+ rightly points out that for Hong Kong to be sustainable, the approach needs to be “proactive” in conservation implementation and not merely “reactive”. WWF’s experience in managing Mai Po Nature Reserve has demonstrated that through proactive conservation and management, the diversity and population of wildlife can indeed be increased.
Vision 2030+ while listing out environmentally and ecologically sensitive areas where major development is to be avoided , does not then mention any new proactive conservation actions. Hong Kong needs a planning strategy to guide our city beyond 2040. WWF believes there will be a need for priority conservation actions so that Hong Kong can increase our community ecological capacity.
In marine conservation Hong Kong is playing catch up. We have five marine parks and one marine reserve covering just over 2% of our local waters. The threats are many with reclamation, coastal development, contaminated mud deposits, depleted fish stocks, water pollution and marine litter are putting our seas’ health at risk.
It is no surprise that marine life, such as the iconic Chinese white dolphin, has been in such serious decline. Clearly appropriate conservation actions can be taken now rather than waiting for the completion of any development in the HK2030+ plan.
During the formulation of Hong Kong’s first Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (BSAP), academics and NGOs have repeatedly recommended adopting the Convention of Biological Diversity Aichi target of having at least 10% of our Hong Kong waters as marine protected areas by 2020.
WWF has already worked with over 30 experts and identified 31 marine hotspots and we are looking to have over 20% or even 30% of world oceans as marine protected areas by 2030 .
The prioritization of these to produce a recommended list of new marine protected areas for Hong Kong should be ready later this year. For the Chinese white dolphin, the monitoring and scientific research shows protecting its core habitat in waters off Tai O and Yi O is critical.
On the terrestrial front, even though some 40% of our land is covered by our Country Park system, this mainly covers hilly areas. Lowland habitats in flat areas such as freshwater marshes and rivers are under-represented. These ecologically important habitats are often on private land next to villages, and have been a source of conflict between landowners and conservationists.
In this year’s Policy Address, the Chief Executive announced the exploration of two innovative measures, a Conservation Fund/Trust and a land exchange plan, to bring important private land into a conservation and management framework. These are most welcome and the government should speed up the process and adopt these new mechanisms as soon as possible.
At WWF we support the setting up of a conservation trust which will no doubt contribute to the integrity of our country park system and make our biodiversity more resilient.
Increasing the environmental capacity through proactive conservation and active management is only one side of the story. We also need to ensure our valuable natural heritage is not damaged by urbanization.
In the original HK2030 planning study, the population assumption was 8.4 million people by 2030 and planned development of 2% more land (i.e. ~ 2,200 ha) to meet the needs of the additional population. The latest population projection by the Census & Statistics Department has put population peaking at 8.225 million by 2043, and then it will decline.
HK2030+ now calculates a 4,800+ ha of total new land requirement (including 1,200 ha of outstanding requirements). Given that the population growth has slowed considerably, WWF doubts the justification of planning for the East Lantau Metropolis (ELM), which if built would require reclaiming about 1000 ha of our sea around Kau Yi Chau, Hei Ling Chau and Mui Wo to accommodate 400,000 to 700,000 people.
Dr Michael Lau is the director of wetland conservation at WWF-Hong Kong.