Sustainable Development

Sustainable Development

PII: S0025-326X(00)00003-5 Sustainable Development I always thought I knew what sustainable development is. ItÕs not chopping down more trees than yo...

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PII: S0025-326X(00)00003-5

Sustainable Development I always thought I knew what sustainable development is. ItÕs not chopping down more trees than you plant or, in the sea, not ®shing at a level greater than that of natural recruitment and cohort survival measured over an extended time scale. But, here, in Hong Kong it is apparently more than that. On 6 October 1999, the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China, gave his third policy address to the Legislative Council. In it, one of his planks for `Making Hong Kong an Ideal Home' was `adhering to the principle of sustainable development'. This initiative is to be supported in three ways: ®rst, set up a Council for Sustainable Development to advise the Government; second, the provision of HK$100 million (US$13 million) to fund communitybased projects and, third, major policy proposals to be subject to Ôsustainability impact assessmentsÕ. The ®rst two are politically understandable enough; set up a committee for the green groups to sit on and give out enough money to keep the same organizations busy collecting aluminium cans and recycling paper. But whatÕs this third initiative? This question was in part answered by a circular letter from the Director of the Environmental Protection Department telling interested parties how this policy initiative will a€ect progress of the Strategic Sewage Disposal Scheme (SSDS) which has four phases, the ®rst of which (to connect up all sewers into a central scheme) has su€ered years of delay even though the ®nal treatment plant has been completed and is now treating 25% of the design capacity ¯ow of sewage. Albeit, still pumping the e‚uent into the central harbour area. Stages 2, 3 and 4, culminating in the treated sewage being discharged out to sea via a long outfall, are to be reviewed by a re-convened International Review Panel of sewage treatment experts who will examine the implications of the stage 1 works for stages 2, 3 and 4 and consider whether other, alternative, strategies might be more sustainable, considering cost, programming, engineering feasibility and environmental factors. To me, this sounds suspiciously like sustainable development being here interpreted as `donÕt develop something you may not want to keep running in the future'. That is how the green groups also see it and have recently asked the government: Ôcan the SSDS handle the growing sewage generation and can it be maintained?Õ The fear on my part is greater, however, and is that under the banner of sustainable development, the SSDS will not be

Marine Pollution Bulletin Vol. 40, No. 7, pp. 563±564, 2000 Ó 2000 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved Printed in Great Britain 0025-326X/00 $ - see front matter

developed, because it cannot be ÔsustainedÕ and Hong KongÕs inshore coastal pollution problems will continue and increase as the population continues to grow to an anticipated level of 8 million (from 6.5 million now) by 2011. The initiative for sustainable development has come from the policy secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands which in early 1999 published a report entitled `Heading Towards Sustainability' and whose de®nition of the subject appears to be `Creating sustainable patterns of development ± those which allow increasing quality of life for individuals while reducing the burden that human societies put on the environment'. A government ¯yer de®nes the objectives of sustainable development as: (i), a healthy and stable society; (ii), a clean and enjoyable environment and (iii), a prosperous economy. To achieve results in the area of sustainability, the policy secretary lists various initiatives that have been undertaken in past years. These include: (i), issuing a Green Paper on the development of environmental policy; (ii), promoting environmentally responsible management in the public sector; (iii) supporting public education on environmental issues; (iv), enhancing schoolÕs abilities to provide e€ective environmental teaching; (v), organizing school activities aimed at promoting environmental awareness; (vi), strengthening co-operation with the Guangdong Authorities on protecting Deep Bay and Mirs Bay (and achieve a common goal of improving the environment); (vii), reviewing the implementation of the Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance; (viii), encouraging the community to (gradually) accept the implications of the Ôpolluter-paysÕ principle and (ix), inviting businesses to play a greater role in protecting the environment. There does not seem to be anything substantial in these proposals, however, such as regulating the cyanide-based live reef-®sh trade, or insisting that imported wood is on an inventory of legally forested timber. The policy bureau will, however, also undertake four initiatives to deliver results in the above area of sustainable development, that is; (i), promote greater public participation in the statutory Environmental Impact Assessment process; (ii), establish e€ective institutional arrangements to ensure ecient and e€ective consideration of policies related to the environment and conservation (set up a Sustainable Development Unit and establish consultative and promotional structures to encourage more sustainable approaches to development); (iii), ensure all major policy and strategic initiatives go through full assessment of their social, environmental and economic implications and (iv), strengthen co-operation and co-ordination between Hong Kong and Guangdong on environmental management and pollution control e€orts in areas of mutual concern. These initiatives are, I hasten to point out, in addition to other, more practical, initiatives either underway or 563

Marine Pollution Bulletin

planned to reduce noise pollution, improve air quality, reduce waste, improve water quality and conserve natural heritage and resources. So, we now know what sustainable development is: it is, loosely, environmental education and management and pollution abatement. The University of Hong Kong has set up a Centre for Studies in Urban Sustainability and in an essay on sustainable development published in the universityÕs magazine it was stated that the local results of unsustainable development are uncontrolled development on land better suited for other uses, inecient fossil-fuelbased transportation, environmental degradation and poor economic performance. You mean: thereÕs a better use for reclaimed land than housing people in modern townships? There are viable alternatives to fossil fuels now available to sustain a modern cityÕs transport system? O.K., I agree there has been environmental degradation, but Hong Kong is an example of poor economic performance?! This was the city-state that convinced Margaret Thatcher of the success of the market place, ushering in the present Anglo-American economic policy and its daughter the World Trade Organization. In a recent global survey, Hong Kong was, for the sixth straight year, voted to be the most open and freest economy in the world! And, now, it has emerged from the Asian Economic Crisis relatively unscathed. The report `Heading towards Sustainability' concluded, by the way, that Hong Kong is not following a path of sustainable development. To put it in perspective, Hong Kong has a land area of 1200 km2 (the area of London), a sea area of 1800 km2 , a population of 6.5 million people and no natural resources! Of course it is not sustainable, no more than is New York and Shanghai: it depends on China (and elsewhere) for almost everything it imports, manufactures and re-exports. Another academic at this University seriously set before its Senate a proposal to establish a three-year undergraduate degree in sustainable development. Other senators, in rejecting the proposal, were, perhaps, echoing my own confusion as to what is sustainable development, at least in the Hong Kong context, and pondering how one can seriously put across the message of the governmentÕs objectives of what it should achieve: viz, a healthy and stable society, a clean and enjoyable environment and a prosperous economy! To me, this sounds like a job for the Messiah not a teacher! Over the last two years, with the Asian Economic Crisis, Hong KongÕs spectacular growth has diminished, but ChinaÕs is still estimated to be about 7.5% and I have to ask how this is possible within the framework of `sustainable' development. The simple answer is that is not and it is estimated that over 80 million Chinese now


have a disposable income and one of the things they spend it on is food. There are about four million ®sherman working out of China (including Taiwan and Hong Kong) and even though ChinaÕs seas are now all considered to be over®shed, and with live reef ®sh, sea horses, lobsters all commanding astronomical prices, does anyone seriously believe that the ®shermen are going to practice sustainable resource management? On a global scale, from 1950 to 1995 it is reported that consumption of wood and grain has tripled (In 1994, China exported 8 million tonnes of grain; by 1996 it was an importer of 16 million tonnes), paper consumption (even with computers and e-mail) has increased by six times, fossil fuels by four times and ®sh catches by ®ve times. I bet there is nobody reading this who is not aware, in their own countries, of over®shing problems. How can you have growth, at least the level of growth to satisfy todayÕs money-hungry corporations, with sustainable development? Surely this is, at best, an anachronism and at worst an impossibility. And, by the way, it is growth that has caused Hong KongÕs pollution problems, the burning forests of Indonesia and the mine deaths in South Africa and China, aided by a healthy dose of corruption and greed of course. Besides, what is the rush to create a global economy? I know some cults believe the millennium will be cataclysmic (if you are not reading this ± it was), but if itÕs not, what is the worldÕs global economy rushing towards? Personally, I would rather see a slower, more compassionate, approach to growth in which a wider spectrum of society shares in its bene®ts. Remember, over®shing, cyanide ®shing and mariculture are not to feed the masses±just the select few who can still a€ord to eat tuna, coral reef ®sh, prawns and oysters. I hate to say this but much as the idea of sustainable development is super®cially attractive, isnÕt it nonsense? As if to put the seal on such a view, in announcing the coming of a Disneyland theme park to Hong Kong, the Deputy Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands was reported in the newspapers as saying that the Disney project `was in line with the sustainable development concept'. He followed this up, by way of explanation: `Looking at it that way, something like the Disney theme park is better than another container port'. Oh!! Right, so now we know, itÕs ocial: sustainable development in Mickey Mouse here in fantasyland. BRIAN MORTON The Swire Institute of Marine Science and Department of Ecology and Biodiversity, The University of Hong Kong, Cape dÕAguilar, Shek O, Hong Kong E-mail: [email protected]