“People, Planet and Prosperity” – these are the catchwords with which Mr Donald Tsang should be familiar during his two-year chairmanship of the Council for Sustainable Development and prior to his elevation to the current post of Chief Executive.
Yet when Mr Tsang announced his intention to revive the plan for a new government headquarters at Admiralty during his election campaign last June, he could not have foreseen how much embarrassment his decision would inflict upon his transport officials in an expert forum two weeks ago. When asked to defend whether the proposed Central-Wanchai Bypass is a sustainable transport solution, government officials had no choice but to reveal traffic models which surprisingly predicted that, even with the bypass, traffic jams would be widespread again by 2016 – with the traffic generated by the proposed government headquarters a major contributing factor.
Mr Tsang should not be expected to grasp the intricacies of traffic models. Yet he would be well-advised to learn one simple lesson – a “business-as-usual” mentality will not lead us down the path of sustainable development.
In the above example, finding a sustainable solution that satisfies the “People” dimension of accruing benefits equitably between car-owners and public transport users, and the “Planet” dimension of reducing vehicle emissions, clearly demands more than the “Prosperity” consideration of maintaining smooth traffic. In fact, a certain level of development shift out of Hong Kong Island north seems inevitable if the majority preference to lower development density in return for better quality of life, as evidenced in last year’s public survey by the Council for Sustainable Development, is to be taken seriously.
In his first policy address, Mr Tsang may be tempted to announce how a strong and bold government can speed up a range of mega-projects. Unfortunately, many of these projects, despite vague assertions of their ‘strategic benefits’ by political heavyweights, may not have gone through rigorous sustainability impact assessments. The risk of a white elephant jungle is very real indeed.
A litmus test for the policy address is whether Hong Kong people’s call for a shift from “growth at all costs” to “quality growth only” will be answered – growth that nurtures a healthy, economically vibrant and just society that respects the natural environment and values its cultural heritage.
Chairman, Hong Kong People’s Council for Sustainable Development