When you think about protecting nature, cities like Hong Kong may not be the first places that come to mind.
After all, Hong Kong is one of the world’s most densely populated areas. With more skyscrapers than any other city in the world, this city conjures up images of a glittering skyline — not of pristine, natural vistas.
Yet, there’s a lot of nature here that’s worth protecting. In fact, while 25 percent of the territory is developed, a full 40 percent has been set aside for country parks and nature reserves. Hong Kong Island’s mountains are covered in thick rainforests that extend down to beaches; offshore lie islands and rich pockets of marine life that shelter species like the Chinese white dolphin and the endangered green sea turtle.
Recently, C. Y Leung — the Hong Kong Chief Executive — delivered his 2013 policy address (an annual, pseudo-state of the union address outlining the year’s biggest priorities). One of the main themes of the address was the need to address Hong Kong’s environmental challenges — which, in a city of seven million people, are not insignificant.
Chief among the city’s priorities are decreasing pollution, which kills nearly 3,000 people every year, and improving the water quality of Victoria Harbour. The policy address also called for Hong Kong to come up with its own Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (BSAP) as a means both of complying with the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and of better planning protection for its own natural resources.
The Conservancy is highly supportive of this plan. We think it can help governments and communities focus on their greatest conservation needs. We have helped government partners develop them before, even in nearby China.
The Conservancy is one of 37 organizations that recently released a joint resolution applauding the Chief Executive’s policy address. We believe that the BSAP process — which will pull more Hong Kong groups into planning around the city’s environmental future — will increase environmental efficiency while also making Hong Kong a healthier, more sustainable place. It will, in short, make life better.
I moved to Hong Kong from Beijing about a year ago, and in that time I’ve come to appreciate the pockets of wilderness that await Hong Kong’s more adventurous explorers. My home in Sai Kung — a northeastern piece of the city’s New Territories district — allows me to trail-run through the rainforest and down to the ocean; there’s always a chance that I’ll happen upon a Burmese Python or a Palm Civet en route.
Coming from landlocked Colorado and its wide-open spaces as I do, Hong Kong offers a unique combination of natural experiences — but it faces a familiar set of environmental challenges. As with any modern city, it’s now struggling with how it can continue along its trajectory of economic growth while also ensuring that its people have clean air, fresh water and ample food well into the future. The government’s environmental leadership has also just announced new measures to improve air quality through some thoughtful, common-sense measures, like upgrading older vehicles and working with container ships on their emissions.
Thankfully for me, my family and the other seven million inhabitants of this city, Hong Kong is taking important new steps to build on its already impressive legacy of conservation toward securing that sustainable future.
What’s your city doing to solve its environmental challenges? Let us know that — and your favorite urban/natural place to explore — in the comments below.
[Image: Hong Kong's skyline. Image source: Jake Cohen/TNC]