Where are we now?

Head over to Tsim Sha Tsui and take a stroll along the newly redesigned Avenue of Stars. The popular tourist attraction’s contemporary revitalisation includes heat reducing trellises swathed in vertical plants for added shade, multifunctional LED lamp posts with WiFi and mobile capability, ample harbour-facing seating for one of the best views of Hong Kong Island anywhere and a tribute to the city’s rich cinema heritage. Notably, the kiosks won’t be selling bottled water; AoS’ mobile vending carts and kiosks, designed by local architect LAAB, utilise retracting solar panels in order to reduce energy usage; and Hong Kong and China’s first wave generator (launching later this spring) will generate 600 watts of power per hour by moving a drum through the water inside the canal near the new Victoria Dockside (whose developer New World was the driving force behind AoS’ regeneration). That one drum is enough to quickly charge 20 mobile phones. Imagine what hundreds of them might be able to do.

The Price of Sustainability

That wave generator may be a tiny step, and it certainly won’t solve the city’s filthy air problems on its own, but much of its purpose is to educate the public about wave generation as a renewable energy. In a city insistent on massive land reclamation rather than adaptive reuse or brownfield site development, it’s a tiny step, but one that’s desperately needed.

On February 20, WWF-Hong Kong argued the Development Bureau’s decision to proceed with East Lantau reclamation plans in the absence of a comprehensive baseline environmental impact study was a misguided one that would only make the city somehow less sustainable. “We are very disappointed that the government has decided to proceed [with] infrastructure study in Kau Yi Chau at this stage, which is part of the reclamation plan in East Lantau waters. There has been no detailed and robust survey conducted on fishery resources, corals and finless porpoises at the proposed reclamation area,” said WWF’s Patrick Yeung, manager of oceans conservation, in a statement, arguing proposed brownfield sites would fulfill Hong Kong’s housing demand well beyond 2030, making reclamation moot. “We fear that reclamation will result in irreversible damage to marine ecology and fishery resources, affecting the livelihood of fishermen. Reclamation should only be considered as a last resort to creating new land for future use. The Legislative Council should reject the government’s funding application for any infrastructure study before any comprehensive terrestrial and marine baseline study and assessments are conducted.”

But a lot can happen in a week. In the 2019/20 budget speech delivered on February 27, Financial Secretary Paul Chan spent plenty of time talking up the financial services, innovation and technology industries, dedicating a single paragraph to environmental protection, though it was a fairly generous one. “In my previous two budgets, I set aside a total of $1 billion for departments to install renewable energy facilities at government buildings and venues and community facilities. Responses have been positive. In support of the Policy Address, I will provide another $1 billion for departments to install relevant facilities.” Nonetheless, the word “sustainable” only appeared once in relation to the environment as acknowledgement of a “global shift towards sustainable development”. The other references were in relation to various aspects of the economy.

Running in Place

As a whole, Chan’s billion-dollar commitment to greening the SAR was welcomed. The Hong Kong Green Building Council (HKGBC) applauded the monetary support—including the issuance of green bonds among other green finance initiatives—positing that the government demonstrating its faith in renewable energies by installing the hardware for it at public buildings is the kind of initiative that trickles down to all other sectors and “fortifies” the green built environment. The HKGBC went on to point out the importance of parking spaces being able to accommodate clean energy vehicles (EV) with charging facilities, stating it was “delighted with the government’s determination in bolstering the EV’s adoption. Other than exploring ways to encourage the installation of EV charging facilities at car parks in existing buildings, the government is spearheading the movement by allocating $120 million to extend public EV charging networks at government car parks.” The aim is to have 1,700 charging stations around the city by 2022.

The WWF, which had been ornery the week before, commended the direction this year’s budget seemed to be heading, and also pointed out the continued greening of public spaces via renewables. Regardless, land supply issues once again succumbed to lack of innovative thinking and the lingering ecological and sustainability concerns not being addressed.

“We have been let down by the government’s approach in funding studies to justify the construction [of] 1,000 hectares of reclamation at East Lantau, plus reclamations at Lung Kwu Tan, Sunny Bay and Siu Ho Wan instead of exhausting existing land supply first,” said WWF’s Lead Consultant, Conservation Policy Suzanne Cheung. “Reclamation should be regarded as a last resort for land supply, to be supported by thorough marine spatial planning. Near-shore reclamations, especially at Lung Kwu Tan, is one of the habitats of the Chinese white dolphin. Its natural coastline is also a breeding ground for various marine species, and reclamation will bring irreversible ecological damage.” One step forward, one step back.