Maya de Souza is the Assistant Director for Policy Research at Business Environment Council, an independent organisation established by the business sector to promote environmental excellence.


Contrary to the fears of many, the Greater Bay Area initiative is a big step towards enhancing Hong Kong’s local environment and consequently, the social well-being of Hong Kong’s citizenry. It can help deliver clean air, clean water, and help protect green open spaces – if Hong Kong seizes the opportunity.

That may sound like wishful thinking. How can a major push for growth combine with infrastructure development in one of the most densely populated parts of the world to do anything but harm air quality, bodies of water, and natural landscapes?

Yes, we can

Commitments at national, regional, and local action make this development pathway entirely possible. The goal of an ecological civilisation is written into the 13th Five-year Plan. This philosophy – recognising social and economic dependency on a healthy environment – exists not only in words but has seen action on the policy front in the past few years. The Environmental Protection Act was introduced in 2014 and the evidence suggests high levels of enforcement. In rapid succession, two more initiatives were introduced: the Emissions Trading Scheme (soon to come into effect) and Environmental Taxes (in force from the beginning of 2018 relating to air, water, noise pollution and solid waste).

Beijing is of course far away. But at a regional level, a State Council Guiding Opinion (2016) commits the region to becoming an ecologically-civilised construction pilot area. Shenzhen and Guangzhou went further – they elected to be early peaking cities for CO2 emissions under China’s Alliance of Pioneer Peaking Cities, meaning they commit to having their carbon emissions peak, then decline, before 2030.

Hong Kong’s Greater Bay Area neighbours have put their cards on the table. They want a clean healthy environment. With growing affluence comes a higher appreciation for environmental fundamentals: clean air, clean water, a stable climate, and natural landscapes for rest and recreation. But just how strictly and how quickly they apply this thinking remains in question.

Keeping up with the Wongs

Hong Kong can take up the offer to cooperate in regional initiatives and commit to jointly reduce emissions of all types, whether sulphur or nitrogen oxides from shipping, carbon emissions from power or poorly treated sewage sludge entering water systems. It can commit to play a leadership role, not to compete on lower costs and poorer air, but instead offer skills and technology from urban planning to energy management to enable this transition.

If Hong Kong doesn’t make that deal, resolve may weaken and the region may witness a race to the bottom as 11 big cities spar to win a dirty version of the economic game. Positioned at the mouth of the PRD, Hongkongers are likely to be losers in more ways than one. However, if Hong Kong seizes the opportunity on offer through regional cooperation and business engagement with these challenges, it has much to gain – not only in terms of a cleaner environment but also a ready market to in which to build expertise and to sell that environmental expertise and services.

 


Business Environment Council will host EnviroSeries Conference on 23 May to explore how Hong Kong can benefit from the Greater Bay Area initiative in the transition towards sustainability. For more information, please email [email protected] .