The holy trinity of policy-making: science, policy and engagement
It is now widely accepted around the world that shipping emissions need to be tightly regulated in order to protect public health. Various types of port-related equipment and activities, such as cargo handling machinery and trucking goods to and from ports, also generate pollution. Research shows that, in Hong Kong, the combined emissions from ships and port activity are a significant source of pollution that directly affects some 3.8 million people.
The city’s shipping and port management stakeholders have been most active in working with local authorities to define a path towards tighter regulation, and have made progress in reducing emissions. This has come about as a result of several years of combined research into the health and environmental impacts from shipping and port-related activities and public-private-NGO sector collaboration to identify and implement appropriate control strategies.
Atmospheric and public health research was also used as a tool to engage stakeholders throughout the Pearl River Delta, a region with a common airshed but different legal and administrative practices.
The process of bringing engagement, science and policy together to move towards regulation is a unique story in Hong Kong, and one that could be replicated to move other issues. It’s a story that shows that stakeholder engagement is critical in increasing policy understanding and acceptance; the value of data and cross-disciplinary research in science, in this case air quality and public health, for developing a compelling case for policy change; and how together, science and stakeholder engagement stimulated regulatory change.
Scientists know that Hong Kong people are affected by ship emissions. Locally-produced emissions are the biggest element of Hong Kong’s air pollution problem and reducing ship emissions would ease this. The Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department (HKEPD) has been examining these emissions since 2004 and revealed that their public health impact is higher than anticipated. In 2008, the HKEPD commissioned ground-breaking vessel emissions inventory to understand scope of these pollutants. These findings give a clear idea where emission mitigation policies should be focused.
Stakeholder engagement is an organized process designed to engage affected parties. A key principle of stakeholder engagement is that stakeholders have an opportunity to influence the outcome towards decision-making. Stitching many parties together in continuing dialogue requires relationship-building over time because the dialogue often involves financial consequence and substantial change to operations. Resolving these complex issues often requires parties to take a long-term view.
Relationships of trust had already existed between Hong Kong’s air quality scientists, environmental officials, public health researchers and public policy experts through years of conducting various research projects, some of which were funded by HKEPD and some by non-profit foundations.
In 2008, Civic Exchange brought together stakeholder representatives from relevant industries to exchange views with government officials and scientists on the health impacts of shipping emissions and opportunities to reduce emissions first on a voluntary basis and eventually through regulation. After several rounds of dialogue, it was clear that there was no resistance in-principle to cleaning-up shipping emissions, especially after the public health risks were better understood.