PAUL ZIM­MER­MAN

Hong Kong Tatler - - Features -

En­vi­ron­men­tal­ist Paul Zim­mer­man, elected by the Pok­fu­lam con­stituency to the South­ern Dis­trict Coun­cil, is CEO of De­sign­ing Hong Kong, a group that ad­vo­cates for bet­ter ur­ban de­sign.

The num­ber of green groups has tripled over the past two decades.

A few en­vi­ron­ment-fo­cused or­gan­i­sa­tions ex­isted be­fore the han­dover. The Con­ser­vancy As­so­ci­a­tion, founded in 1968, is the en­vi­ron­men­tal NGO with the long­est his­tory in Hong Kong. Ocean Park was es­tab­lished in 1977 with the goal of com­bin­ing ed­u­ca­tional pro­grammes with recre­ational ac­tiv­i­ties. But that’s few com­pared to the num­ber of groups that ex­ist to­day. There are now al­most 30 green groups in the city. They’re not only char­i­ties; en­vi­ron­men­tal aware­ness has been grow­ing from the bot­tom up and turned into a grass­roots, com­mu­nity ef­fort. We have vol­un­teers help­ing to clean up Hong Kong beaches, re­cy­cling pro­grammes, and ed­u­ca­tional courses on en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion from in­sti­tu­tions such as the Hong Kong Polytech­nic Uni­ver­sity. The main shift in peo­ple’s at­ti­tudes to­wards is­sues like sus­tain­abil­ity and lo­cal ecosys­tems came in 2003. That’s when Sars hit.

Sud­denly, it be­came dan­ger­ous to share an el­e­va­tor, a bus or a plane with other peo­ple. Every­body wore face masks. Na­ture—trails, forests, you name it—was the only place that felt safe. It marked a real turn­ing point in per­spec­tives and be­hav­iour to­wards the en­vi­ron­ment and the great out­doors. We all be­came widely ob­ser­vant of its value.

Air pol­lu­tion in Hong Kong has cer­tainly de­creased, though now you have it com­ing from the main­land, and that’s tough to con­trol.

But Hongkongers are try­ing to keep track of it. They are alert. The re­lease of the Hed­ley En­vi­ron­men­tal In­dex by Civic Ex­change in 2009 has been a step­ping stone for that. It’s the world’s first web-based tool to mon­i­tor the real-time eco­nomic costs of Hong Kong’s air pol­lu­tion in terms of hu­man health and mon­e­tary im­pacts, and it’s re­ally been a wake-up call, plac­ing air pol­lu­tion firmly on peo­ple’s radars.

The Um­brella Rev­o­lu­tion in 2014 marked not just a po­lit­i­cal shift, but an en­vi­ron­men­tal one, too.

Young peo­ple care about the en­vi­ron­ment they live in, and I think that shone through in their protests and agenda. For the next gen­er­a­tion, sus­tain­abil­ity is in­trin­si­cally linked with leg­is­la­tion. It’s a stance that will no doubt trig­ger fur­ther change.

The most press­ing chal­lenge to the fab­ric of the city right now is traf­fic.

The city has al­ways had its conges­tion is­sues, but not in­volv­ing traf­fic from across the bor­der, or not as high as it could be any­way—say, 40,000 trips a day be­tween here and the main­land. That will change. We’re build­ing new road links—look at the Hong Kong-zhuhai-ma­cau Bridge—or im­prov­ing them, as in the case of the Hong Kong-shen­zhen West­ern Cor­ri­dor. Soon enough, we’ll have a ca­pac­ity for 220,000 trips daily. Go­ing to the main­land for busi­ness, or to play golf or to hike, is go­ing to be­come the norm, which means that we will see growth in the num­ber of pri­vate cars—it’s al­ready hap­pen­ing— even though the city wasn’t de­signed for it. The re­sult isn’t pretty: ris­ing conges­tion, more road links to try to ease that conges­tion, and shrink­ing space. Sus­tain­abil­ity re­quires more ef­fi­cient and en­vi­ron­men­tally sen­si­tive trans­port. This can­not be achieved by sim­ply build­ing more roads.

Hong Kong is go­ing through a plas­tic waste epi­demic.

Over the past two decades, plas­tic has be­come al­most om­nipresent. From su­per­mar­kets to fast-food pack­ag­ing, we dis­card up to 2,000 tonnes of it in the city ev­ery day. And the bad news is, we don’t know how to process it, which means a lot of it ends up in our waters—ac­count­ing for 85 per cent of float­ing marine refuse, to be pre­cise. That has reper­cus­sions on the food chain—ex­perts have found bite marks from fish on plas­tic lit­ter and tox­ins in their sys­tems—and the ecosys­tem. Im­ple­ment­ing tougher laws on waste man­age­ment should be a pri­or­ity.

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