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Chp 101, World Summit on Sustainable Development – Forty years champion for the environment

World Summit on Sustainable Development

In the world’s third environmental summit in 2002, CA was no longer the lone voice. For the first time, the Hong Kong Government sent a delegation headed by Director of Planning Bosco Fung. But the 8-member official delegation was dwarfed by the civil society presence – the team assembled by CA consisted of 37 delegates.

It was all down to good preparation, which started almost a year before. Led by Chairman Albert Lai and Chief Executive Gordon Ng, CA decided to take the lead to coordinate Hong Kong civil society participation, taking pains to be as inclusive as possible. The group was thus expanded from a CA delegation to an NGO delegation. More room was made for people to participate, even young children, through an eco-tour organized beforehand.

The event itself, the World Summit on Sustainable Development, was held from 26 August to 4 September. Successful participation hinged on good preparation and there no effort was spared. Three representatives of CA were at the Fourth Preparatory Conference of the Summit held in Bali from 27 May to 7 June, to gain a feel first-hand on the draft political declaration and the Plan of Implementation being negotiated. There the CA representatives organized a historic, albeit informal, “Chinese NGO Caucus”, with CA appointed as the secretariat and Lister Cheung as coordinator.

Then it was a matter of organizing the Hong Kong presence. A “Civil Society Declaration on Sustainable Development” was drafted and endorsed by participating organisations and launched in a seminar on 12 August. It consisted of 4 principles stating the goals of sustainable development for Hong Kong, and 6 action guidelines on issues such as sustainable consumption and production, resources, poverty, and caring community – themes that accorded with the “3P” slogan developed by the host country, namely, People, Planet and Prosperity.

The delegation itself was truly multi-sectoral. With Albert Lai as delegation leader, CA had the strongest presence, but two-thirds of the 37 delegates were from other organizations with varying background, such as deputy leader of delegation Chua Hoi Wai of the Hong Kong Council for Social Services, Oxfam’s Chong Chan Yau, Friends of the Earth Director Mei Ng, and others from St James Settlement and Hong Kong Christian Service. Besides green groups and social workers, there were also academics, corporate executives, and politicians: among the delegation were two legislators, Choy So Yuk and Emily Lau. The group also included a few young people and three primary students, all properly registered with WSSD and partaking in some of the Summit activities; the youngest delegate was five year old Karina Chan.

Another type of preparation was to formulate Hong Kong’s own submission to the WSSD. For that purpose, a booklet “On the Path to Sustainable Development” was published. Participation of various delegates in different forums and events was also arranged, from plenary events and NGO briefings throughout the Summit, to various forums for business and parliamentarians, a Civil Society Global Forum on 19 August, various coordination meetings with other NGOs, civil society demonstrations, not to speak of the very impressive market place set up by the host specifically for the Summit, and the odd sustainability tours which delegates were lucky to have signed up to.

In reality the activities could never have been totally planned. A useful meeting was convened during the Summit with the Hong Kong government team. CA’s planned seminar on Local Agenda 21 went ahead as scheduled, but other meetings with the “Chinese NGO Caucus” had to be changed several times being they eventually took place.

At the end of the day, however, it was not up to the 20,000 delegates but the 104 world leaders to deliver. But they did not. Although there was a final agreement on the “Plan of Implementation”, it contained so many compromises that it looked like an elaboration of principles, or worse, a set of “Palliatives for Inaction” rather than a Plan of Implementation. Instead of the advertised “Rio plus 10”, the WSSD almost became a kind of “Rio minus 20”, as it resorted to the very early principles established in 1972 in Stockholm instead of producing concrete action to move forward.

The problem boiled down to commitment and money. One of the most important principles of sustainable development agreed in Rio was that responsibility should be “equal and differential” – in short, advanced countries should pay more. In the end, however, many felt let down by the rich countries, especially the United States, for their lack of commitment, the US’ refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol of the Framework Convention on Climatic Change being the archetypal example. That shirking of responsibility by the world’s wealthiest nation and biggest polluter was more than once contrasted with the ratification of the same Protocol by China announced by Premier Zhu during the WSSD.

At the conclusion of the WSSD, CA issued a statement highlighting four points:

  • The SAR government should formulate a Sustainable Development Strategy and in the course of doing so, engage the Local Agenda 21 process. For the longer term, the case for a Sustainable Development Bill should be examined carefully.
  • A concerted effort is needed to find sustainable solutions on energy and water, two of the main themes addressed by the WSSD. The Mainland will have to be involved in a partnership in developing such sustainable solutions.
  • Now that China has signed up to the Kyoto Protocol on climatic change, Hong Kong must play its part. As the wealthiest city of China, it should strive to meet the standard that befits that of a developed city.
  • Hong Kong should aim to become a model of sustainable development. This will call for efforts on the part of the community and Hong Kong people should be prepared to bear our responsibilities towards global problems such as poverty. We have a duty, for instance, to be responsible consumers of seafood, now that agreement has been reached on conserving the world’s fisheries stock.

What it learnt from WSSD was incorporated into CA’s 2002 Policy Address submission to the Chief Executive, entitled “Asia’s World City and a Model of Sustainable Development – Hong Kong Can Do It!” On 23 October it organized a demonstration outside LegCo in support of Choy So Yuk’s motion debate on Local Agenda 21 and sustainable development, urging the government to respond promptly to the international agreements on sustainable development. The following year, CA helped facilitate the formation of the People’s Council for Sustainable Development, which was set up in September 2003. The formation of PCSD was to engender an expansion of partnership among civil society. It meant more, not less, commitment of CA to sustainable development.

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July 20, 2015 - Posted by | Dr WK Chan book

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