- Özgür Töre
The increased use of disposables such as face masks and plastic lunch boxes during the pandemic has helped to highlight the importance of environmental protection.
Environmental issues were to the fore at the Eco Asia Conference, powered by the Environment Bureau of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) and one of the key events held as part of Eco Expo Asia 2020.
Organised by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) and Messe Frankfurt (HK) Ltd and co-organised by the Environment Bureau, Eco Expo Asia was staged as part of "Autumn Sourcing Week | ONLINE" (ASWO) - a virtual trade fair, themed under "A New Connected World Beyond the New Normal", that has attracted 2,600 exhibitors from 33 countries and regions, featuring 37 group pavilions and showcasing the latest products from 11 industries. The Eco Asia Conference is one of more than 20 webinar sessions being held during ASWO. Highlights of the conference included the latest progress on environmental protection work in the Greater Bay Area and insights into the implementation of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals.
Need for green recovery following pandemic - Wong Kam-sing
Wong Kam-sing, Secretary for the Environment of the HKSAR, said: "This year's thematic topic of the expo is 'Green Innovation for a Circular Economy'. Amidst the pandemic, the demand for green recovery and the need for green innovation and a green economy to speed up the transitions for deep decarbonisation have become even stronger."
Mr Wong shared on Hong Kong's green efforts, explaining that in response to Mainland China's carbon reduction targets, Hong Kong's per capita carbon emissions have dropped from a peak of 6.2 tonnes in 2014 to 5.4 tonnes recently. The government has also encouraged the business sector to invest in renewable energy, popularised electric transportation facilities and increased sorting and screening in the recycling process. The HKSAR Government's hope is that Hong Kong and the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area can join the rest of the world in rallying around innovative technologies to develop a circular economy.
On the topic of Greater Bay Area development, Zhang Jieqing, Deputy Director-General, Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, Ministry of Ecology and Environment of the People's Republic of China, and Lu Xiulu, Director-General, Department of Ecology and Environment of Guangdong Province, both said that "ecology protection" is the focus of the region's development and that it is important for Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macao to maintain close cooperation. Mr Lu suggested establishing a cross-regional carbon trading platform to attract international capital, setting up a research centre to examine the causes of pollutants in the region and develop strategies to address them, as well as launching a green finance fund to encourage business investment. Tam Vai Man, Director, Environmental Protection Bureau, Macao SAR Government, pointed out that participating in the development of the Greater Bay Area is currently one of Macao's policy priorities.
Industry urges talent certification across Greater Bay Area
The cooperation between Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macao was spotlighted in one of the panel discussions at the conference. Ou Yuezhou, Honorary Chairman, Guangdong Association of Environmental Protection Industry, said that mutual recognition of the qualifications of talents in the Greater Bay Area is part of the necessary preparatory work for the region. He suggested establishing a technical certification body to ensure the quality of environmental industries in the Greater Bay Area. In the long run, he believes that by combining the strengths of Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macao, the Greater Bay Area is capable of attracting environmental enterprises of a higher level and larger scale to set up operations in the region.
Daniel M Cheng, President of the Hong Kong Environmental Industry Association, added that there is room for coordination among customs authorities in the region. "It is tough for us to move our research testing machines from Hong Kong to the mainland because we do not have import approval and no one dares to take up transportation," he explained. Mr Cheng hoped that the respective governments could work together to facilitate the exchange.
Considering the small sizes of Hong Kong and Macao, which are both facing landfill saturation and local recycling restrictions, Kevin Ho, Director-General, Macao Association of Environmental Protection Industry, raised the possibility of cooperation between Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macao in the area of waste treatment. Mr Ou Yuezhou explained that due to legal restrictions in the mainland, waste could not be transported there from Hong Kong and Macao. He said the construction of an artificial island may be considered as a base to handle waste from the region as part of building a circular economy.
International organisations: SDGs can help economic recovery
Another theme of the conference revolved around the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations in 2015, with a vision for 2030 in which countries, rich and poor alike, can participate and develop in a way that treats both economic and conservation concerns. James Gomme, Director of Sustainable Development Goals, World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), cited United Nations figures showing that the SDGs could create a business value of US$12 trillion and 380 million jobs annually. He believes the SDGs are a way to help the global economy recover from the impact of the pandemic.
Shi Xuan Guan, Deputy Secretary-General, China Association of Circular Economy, said that the mainland is beginning to see results from the development of a circular economy, such as the gradual establishment of a green consumption model and improved regulations and standards. Ho Chi-shing, Chairman of the Hong Kong Quality Assurance Agency, introduced the "COVID-19 Resilience Finance Certification Scheme", which encourages bond issuers to invest in projects to prevent or control the pandemic. Albert Wong, CEO of the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation, cited the example of the park's community, which is working to improve Hong Kong's air quality and reduce waste through pilot projects such as robotic kitchens and the construction of residential buildings using the modular integrated construction (MiC) method.
At the final panel discussion of the conference, corporate representatives shared their efforts in promoting SDGs, with the consensus being that companies cannot achieve all 17 targets, but rather should focus on the areas they are good at. Hendrik Rosenthal, Director - Group Sustainability of CLP Group, said that carbon reduction, bringing in more female engineering talents and deploying energy efficiency technologies are the focus of the company's development. Anson Lim, CFO of Freetech Road Recycling Technology (Holdings) Co Ltd, a company that maintains highways in the mainland, said its construction projects are effective in reducing pollutants and reusing waste. Albert Lam, CEO of Novelte Robotics Limited, concluded that SDGs are important indicators. "We know that everyone is moving forward. We are sure that we are on the right path and that we are sustainable," he said.
The HKTDC is running Autumn Sourcing Week | ONLINE from 16 to 27 November, featuring the latest products from different industries including electronics, houseware, lighting, outdoor lighting, eco tech, gifts and premiums, toys, baby products, stationery, optical and watches and clocks. The virtual fair serves as a one-stop online sourcing platform to keep small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) connected with global buyers and help create business opportunities across various sectors. The Intelligence Hub features more than 20 webinar sessions covering a broad range of industries. The videos of the webinar sessions are available at the ASWO website