NGOs unite to support HK Government conservation action
The third clause invites the Government to involve the public in the plan-making process - one of the key recommendations of the CBD. This has two related benefits. First, with wider involvement more ideas, perspectives and experience can be brought to bear, and second the more involved the public is in developing the BSAP the greater the sense of public ownership and support there will be when the plan is implemented.
This is no small undertaking. Should the SAR Government choose to adopt this novel approach, a large-scale public consultation exercise, under which the BSAP is built from the bottom up, could take up to two years and involve, inviting assessing and prioritizing the inputs of thousands of people. Taking a longer view, this process could also be considered as a training programme, creating a committed and well-informed cohort of citizens with a strong interest in conservation.
It is interesting to note that the extension of the CBD to Hong Kong has come at a time when the Government has taken several positive steps to protect Hong Kong's biodiversity and countryside against those who seek to benefit by damaging the environment. These include:
The passing of a bill in the Legislative Council to ban trawling (a highly destructive fishing practice) in Hong Kong waters in May 2011.
The announcement by AFCD that private land in the "pocket areas" could be included inside the newly drawn boundaries of Country Parks in order to prevent unauthorized development of such land - a brave decision that will certainly draw a strong response from the Heung Yee Kuk (which represents indigenous villagers in Hong Kong).
The recent crackdown on illegal structures on buildings in rural areas, which had previously been ignored, contributing to the impression that indigenous villagers were entitled to benefit from laxer interpretation of Hong Kong's laws than other citizens.
These follow the now famous case from 2010, when more than 80,000 people joined a Facebook Group protesting against an unauthorized development at Tai Long Sai Wan, a popular beauty spot in one of the "pocket areas" in Sai Kung Country Park.
Donald Tsang, the Hong Kong SAR Chief Executive responded swiftly. In his next policy address he announced that, as a direct result of the concerns expressed on the Facebook page, greater planning controls would be imposed on all 57 "pocket areas".
It is encouraging to see how officials and departments responsible for protecting biodiversity and the land have ridden the groundswell of public concern for Hong Kong's natural heritage, making new proposals and conducting more robust enforcement actions to protect the countryside, where pressure from vested interests had previously blocked such actions.
It is hoped that this positive trend can continue. The real value of establishing a broad framework for biodiversity conservation with a BSAP is that while such individual actions are laudable in themselves, they would have a far greater effect if they were contributing to a broader vision to protect and enhance Hong Kong's biological diversity.