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Empty shelves as Hong Kong supermarkets struggle to restock amid a buying frenzy over fears that the coronavirus outbreak will shut off supplies, on February 6. Photo:  AFP/Philip FONG

Between horrifying memories of SARS and the coronavirus panic today, our government seems to have merely paid lip service to sustainable development, despite understanding its essence.

Hong Kong is one of the wealthiest economies in the world; unfortunately, the city now has to pay a very heavy price for not putting equal emphasis on the environmental, social and economic pillars that support sustainable development. Our government should humbly learn a hard lesson and make due adjustments.

As Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po prepares the 2020-21 Budget, it is a golden opportunity to put Hong Kong’s large financial reserves into investments that will make the city truly sustainable and safeguard the public from health and environmental risks in the future.

Here are some suggestions for Chan to consider.

First, climate-friendly energy investment. Becoming carbon-neutral by 2050 or sooner is now a common goal for almost all nations worldwide. Therefore, investing in climate-friendly power generation is a must. Reservoirs and closed landfills are ideal for that. Investing in wind or solar farms in the Greater Bay Area will further reduce our carbon footprint.

Second, green transport investment. Our government should invest in fuel-cell electric- and hydrogen-powered transport systems, as they will be the rides of the future.

Third, water supply investment. Reducing reliance on water from Dongjiang is a sustainable move our government should make, by building a new reservoir similar in scale to Plover Cove Reservoir and enhancing water catchment infrastructure.

Fourth, sustainable food supply investment. Food security is always a concern for Hong Kong, as relies heavily on external supplies. Investing in the development of eco-friendly systems to cultivate food locally will enhance sustainability.

Fifth, health system investment. Besides building new hospitals, our government should invest in training a larger workforce to cope with foreseeable demand.

Should the administration, led by Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, make serious investments in these sustainability areas, our ability to tackle any challenges arising from environmental, health and other risks would be strengthened, and also result in job creation and more business investments. The city’s economy would then become sustainable.

Edwin Lau Che-Feng, executive director, The Green Earth

This article originally published in SCMP, Reprinted with permission from the author

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