Hong Kong should take a more holistic approach to solving its environmental problems, according to a delegation of Swedish environmental experts and Swedish royalty addressing a Hong Kong forum this week.
Speaking at “Sustainable Development – the Swedish Experience,” 15 environmental experts addressed more than 100 Hong Kong companies, researchers and academics, sharing their insight and practical experience in waste management, pollution control and sustainable economic growth.
In the presence of Her Royal Highness Princess Birgitta of Sweden, delegates emphasised how environmental challenges could be tackled effectively only through consensus-building at all levels in a community, including government, NGOs, youth groups, consumers and trade and industry.
On the face of it there are few similarities between environmental challenges in Hong Kong and Sweden – Sweden has a similar population to Hong Kong spread over a land area of 410,934sq km, compared to Hong Kong’s cramped 1,042sq km.
But Boel Evander, consul general, Consulate General of Sweden in Hong Kong, said there was a key similarity. “Both are very beautiful places,” she said. “My own countrymen have always been living very close to nature, and that has made them very conscious of trying to sustain the beautiful environment and nature that we are born into and live in.”
Tony Clark, commercial counsellor at the Swedish Embassy in Beijing, and head of the Swedish Center for Environmental Technology (CENTEC), said the challenge in urban development “is to keep all aspects of development together – social, environmental and economical,” calling for a totally integrated system and solution in urban planning.
“In Sweden, institutions for environmental protection date a long time back,” he said. The first water protection agency was established at the beginning of the last century, and in 1969 Sweden boasted the first legislation of its kind to integrate air, water and soil pollution control.
But environmental success in Sweden was not at the expense of economic growth, said Clark. “Since 1990, GDP has grown 25%,” he said. “Industrial production has increased 50%. But greenhouse gas emissions have fallen 3%.”
Initiatives such as CO2 tax, green energy certificates and wider use of biofuels had contributed to a cleaner environment, he said.
Peter Wenster, senior advisor at the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SALAR), said self-government at the municipal level was a key factor in Sweden’s success. Local governments were responsible for their own taxation systems, generating revenue to solve problems at the local level.
“If they had money from [central government] he government would probably tell them what to do with it,” he said. A more local approach led to a broader, more innovative range of solutions.
Wenster said acceptable solutions require shared responsibility, cooperation and open dialogue among the various stakeholders. When asked how to deal with the “NIMBY” issue during new project proposals, Wenster said he would recommend opening a discussion with the public on “what happens if we do nothing – because that’s often the worst decision,” he said.
Professor Hans Lundberg,Swedish Environmental Research Institute in Stockholm said the environmental movement needed to be more enthusiastic, to believe in itself more. “It took use 50 years to clean the water of Stockholm,” he said. “You can make a change.”
But Lundberg stressed the planners needed to cooperate more. “The water department needs to sit down with the air department,” he said.
Lundberg introduced some modern, low cost air quality monitoring equipment, known as diffusive samplers, employed to good effect in Sweden’s cities and industrial sites. These are small devices requiring no electricity which can be left at strategic locations over a period of time to measure pollutant concentrations. The results allow an accurate pollution profile of an area to be mapped at very low cost.
“Mapping doesn’t solve the problem,” said Lundberg. “But it’s a good way to visualise the situation. You can set targets, evaluate if environmental protection is working – it would be good if someone in Hong Kong could do this,” he said.
For better water management, Steen Bjerggaard, Director of International Projects, Stockholm Water Company, noted that digested sludge could be used to provide fertilisers, as well as heat, electricity and biofuels for transport.
This is a good example of the “holistic” approach of Sweden’s municipalities, and has had tremendous effect on Stockholm’s water quality. HRH Princess Birgitta noted, as a child growing up in Stockholm Castle she remembered how dirty the water surrounding Stockholm was. “I had been away from Sweden for [a number of] years,” she said, “and when I came back to Stockholm, I could see a big difference. Nowadays people even fish salmon and swim.”
Trevor Graham, senior adviser, City of Malmo, highlighted the tremendous achievements in Malmo’s holistic approach to a cleaner environment. Sweden’s third largest city has transformed itself from a heavily polluted industrial city to a creative hub he said, with all aspects of air, water and soil pollution integrated and working together in a harmonious way.
For example, waste is automatically collected by Envac’s Automated Waste Collection System – trash is sped underground by compressed air to be sorted centrally. Priority is placed on reuse and recycling; organic waste is separated towards digesters to create biofuels for local transport.
Air quality has been improved through a number of measures, including car-free areas in the city centre and restricted zones for heavy trucks. 400km of cycle tracks have been introduced. And high energy efficiency squeezes the full potential from every drop of fuel – for example triple glazing means houses which suffer -10˚C winters need no heating.
Daniel Cheng, deputy chairman for the Federation of Hong Kong Industries and president of the Hong Kong Environmental Industry Association concluded the forum saying Sweden was known for its creativity and design in technology, and its ability to integrate technology. “The Hong Kong government needs to be more creative to allow different integration of technology,” he said. “There is a big opportunity for all of us.”
The forum was organised by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, together with the Royal Sweden Hong Kong Society, the Consulate General of Sweden in Hong Kong and Hong Kong Science & Technology Parks.