Environmental Watchdog

Background

 / ©: Soh Koon Chng / WWF-Canon
Development work such as this are changing Hong Kong's landscape as well as natural habitats.
© Soh Koon Chng / WWF-Canon
While around 40% of Hong Kong’s land lies within the Country Park system, there are numerous terrestrial biodiversity hotspots that receive little or no protection, particularly those on private land. Many ecologically sensitive areas suffer from a lack of adequate policy legislation and management, while urbanization, habitat destruction and degradation (including waste dumping) are continuous threats.

Which is why WWF’s role as an environmental watchdog is so important in Hong Kong. There are currently different legislations covering different areas and issues, but there is no policy covering conservation as a whole, nor territory-wide conservation objectives. Without such a policy in place, the effectiveness of conservation protection will continue to be limited.

WWF advocates for the Government to develop and adopt a holistic conservation policy. This requires a legislative framework that facilitates and enables effective and sustainable conservation and environmental management. By working alongside the Legislative Council, WWF’s goal is fix the gaps in current legislation and ultimately see such a holistic policy installed.

WWF has long carried out an environmental watchdog role in the territory with considerable success. There are systems and procedures in place whereby people can get involved and give comment as new issues emerge, and WWF uses these opportunities to provide our expert guidance and input. In addition to alerting the government to illegal environmental activity, WWF is one of very few environmental groups that proactively scrutinizes new development projects in ecologically sensitive areas, using our expertise to suggest ways that threats to biodiversity can be avoided or reduced.

Policy Review

 / ©: Neil Fifer
Mai Po Nature Reserve Centre - Sunset
© Neil Fifer
In order to fulfill WWF’s watchdog role, it is necessary that we maintain close monitoring of government policy and action. Environmental protection and nature conservation measures are currently muddled among land use control and planning legislation. The Hong Kong Government still has no comprehensive nature conservation policy that could ensure the long-term preservation of species and habitats.
In 2004, the Hong Kong Government announced the New Nature Conservation Policy, attempting to enhance conservation of the most ecologically important private lands. However, questions remain about the feasibility and sustainability of these measures. In addition, the new policy is limited in scope, and does not address many other important aspects of conservation in Hong Kong, such as the shortcomings of existing terrestrial protected areas, threatened species conservation, invasive species and ecological restoration.

Scrutinizing Development

 / ©: Ben Halford
Hong Kong City Centre Development
© Ben Halford
Between 2008 August and 2009 July, WWF scrutinized 96 development projects proposed to the Hong Kong Government and other statutory bodies. This has caused the Government to approve or reject such development projects, with a number of approved development projects adopting recommendations made by WWF.

Planning Issues
Development is a necessary and inevitable part of a society’s growth. However, equally necessary is the responsible governance of development, to ensure that the process remains beneficial – rather than destructive to the environment in which the development takes place. WWF may be involved for years as Government planning studies in Hong Kong’s rural areas take shape.

WWF is particularly concerned with planning proposals that affect ecologically sensitive areas. Since the government often engages the public to understand their views in these planning studies, WWF regularly undertakes site visits to better understand the study area and provide comments where necessary. Providing the Government with early input can help to avoid and reduce development impacts before incompatible developments gain too much momentum to be called off later.

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Eco-Vandalism

 / ©: Alan Leung
Site Visit to Tung Chung Stream
© Alan Leung
Many cases of environmental vandalism, in particular illegal tree-felling, dumping of construction and demolition materials and land filling with concrete, especially those operating on a small scale, go unnoticed. Some unscrupulous vendors, construction operations and land owners are capable of causing severe damage through waste, sludge, sewage and other pollutants. WWF is particularly concerned at the number of cases that deliberately degrade the ecological value of a piece of land, in the hope that this will ease the way for future development permission. If such activities take place on Government land, taxpayer money is used to reinstate the damaged land. Unfortunately, the offenders are rarely located or prosecuted due to weak enforcement. The usual low fine meted out has also failed to serve as a deterrent.
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