Global focus: Hong Kong

5th April 2014

Global focus

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Helene Wright

IEMA Fellow Thomas Tang gives an insight into how EIA is being used in the special administrative region of China

Since 1997, the pace of development in Hong Kong has been remarkable. Core infrastructure projects such as an international airport, several kilometres of rail and roads, and the development of new residential areas have created a unique urban development model for a densely packed city. Hong Kong also faces many social and environmental problems, and these raise concerns about the sustainability of this model.

The environmental impact assessment (EIA) process is one tool used to minimise these impacts. Hong Kong’s EIA Ordinance came into force in 1997 and places a statutory requirement on projects that will have an adverse impact on the environment to obtain permits for construction, operation and decommissioning, if applicable.

The permits ensure the recommendations of EIA studies are implemented during the different stages of the development’s lifecycle. Often, environmental monitoring audits and independent professional assessors are required.

In practice, the EIA process is straightforward for less complex developments. However, the increase in local political and social pressures has resulted in the incorporation of public engagement to ensure that the views of stakeholders are heard.

This is no easy task and, as in the case of Hong Kong’s planned incinerator, some projects have faced judicial reviews where consensus has not been reached. In a way, it is a sign that the EIA process is working; it is giving the public an opportunity to contribute. The law also formalises consultation with Hong Kong’s advisory council on the environment, a group comprising members of environmental advocacy groups and EIA experts.

As well as identifying areas of high ecological value, such as country parks and wetlands, Hong Kong’s EIA process also considers: geographical and geological issues; land resumption; site constraints; constructability; the project’s flexibility and maintenance; and disruption to the community. The latter is crucial in the site selection process and, where necessary, in compensation proposals.

EIA is one of Hong Kong’s major institutional tools for environment planning and management and, as development continues in the coming decades, it will remain a crucial means of protecting the environment.

Dr Thomas Tang, FIEMA CEnv, is corporate sustainability director at AECOM, Asia.


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