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Monday, January 14, 2019, 10:22
Fighting poverty and protecting environment remain essential
By Christine Loh
Monday, January 14, 2019, 10:22 By Christine Loh

The year-end 2018 Central Economic Work Conference that set China’s domestic economic policy for 2019 highlighted reducing poverty and protecting the environment among the country’s top priorities.

In President Xi Jinping’s year-end message to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, he asked it to help integrate Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan into the mainland’s development.

A case can be made to consider the national priorities and Xi’s message together.

China’s experience over the past four decades in lifting over 740 million people out of poverty holds a lesson for all. At the same time, 400 million of the Chinese population have reached middle-income status.

Another lesson from China is the determination to clean up its environmental mess, albeit comprehensive efforts were only put in place when the situation became diabolical. After laying out national plans to reduce air, water and soil pollution between 2013 and 2015, significant improvements are being made, and other initiatives are also showing positive results.

In reducing poverty, the obvious lesson is China never lost policy focus on it over four decades. With environmental protection, even in a few years, good results can be seen.

The ability to combine environmental protection, heritage, culture, design, as well as digital services to enable authentic living and not just commercial gain is challenging but Hong Kong has experienced people to do it, if they are given the opportunity to work with stakeholders

China called on G20 countries in December 2018 to implement the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, which has 17 goals that together embody international thinking on the need to take multiple concurrent actions to make progress. Eliminating extreme poverty and hunger, and protecting the environment, make up a large chunk of the United National Sustainable Development Goals. Most of the rest have to do with work and employment.

Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan have also done amazingly well in raising the standard of living of their people. There must be many practical experiences to share with each other and the mainland without touching on political sensitivities. The trick is to find the right kinds of forums at this time of heightened cross-Straits tension.

The environment holds enormous potential for collaboration and co-learning because it is about healing the degradation caused by the unsustainable growth of past years. Improvement is measurable, visible and a clean environment is beautiful. The environment is also something that every government, every city, every industry, every company, every family and everyone can make it their business, thus offering many levels of dialogue and opportunities for cooperation.

Thinking today has already advanced to a stage where governments and companies no longer see pollution control, waste management and resource efficiency as a cost that may not be affordable. They should be integrated into government policies and plans, as well as corporate strategies. Leaders in sustainable development have figured out their environmental footprints, set goals to reduce them, and see their effort as a competitive advantage.

In rural areas, sustainable development should include practicing sustainable agriculture, reforestation, protecting biodiversity, and revitalizing village life and culture. Hong Kong’s small example at Lai Chi Wo has these elements. A dialogue across the country could be most useful.

There has already been some thinking about revitalizing more Hong Kong rural villages in light of Lai Chi Wo’s success. To do it well would require multi-disciplinary approaches that transcend conflicting interests. After all, the purpose is not to create tourist attractions. The ability to combine environmental protection, heritage, culture, design, as well as digital services to enable authentic living and not just commercial gain is challenging but Hong Kong has experienced people to do it, if they are given the opportunity to work with stakeholders.

With urban living, Hong Kong’s public housing program provides homes for more than 40 percent of the population and is probably the single most important contribution to social stability.

Public housing is in general well-managed, as are many of Hong Kong’s private housing estates. Over the course of the two decades, the building management sector has been professionalized and it must continue to strive for excellence. Achieving excellence in this sector will not only meet local expectation but enable Hong Kong to capitalize on it in the entire country.

The advancement in building management offers solid employment opportunities in light of the growth in high-density, green and healthy urban living because it requires good inter-personal and communication skills, knowledge about how to maintain building structures, dealing with waste management, as well as meeting the demands for “smart” building so occupants can save energy and water, get health information, enjoy delivery convenience etc.

Protecting biodiversity is also an area of potential collaboration between the mainland, Hong Kong and Macao, and it is an area of satisfying work at many levels, from research to patrolling forests and seas.

The news last month that nearly 300 oil wells were closed in the Kalamayli Nature Reserve in Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region to improve the chance of survival for the Przewalski’s horse — the last subspecies of wild horse, of which only 2,000 still remain worldwide — is most encouraging. Why not work on protecting the endangered pink dolphin, whose home is the western waters of the Pearl River Estuary? A well-researched joint plan is what the CPPCC members from Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macao should ask for.

The author is chief development strategist and adjunct professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology’s Division of Environment and Sustainability.

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