Definition Of Sustainable Development Environmental Sciences Essay

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Many countries and cities, including Hong Kong, have been developing at a rapid pace, resulting in the gradual depletion of natural resources and tremendous pressure on the world's ecological system. It is therefore important to balance economic, environmental and social considerations in the course of development, which is what sustainable development is all about.

In this essay, I am going to discuss about the sustainable development in Honk Kong, Firstly, the definition of sustainable development (SD) would be stated and followed by how SD understood in Hong Kong. Also, the reasons of why Hong Kong needs to develop SD and benefits of SD would be mentioned.

Besides, the role of education in SD will be discussed, not to mention the SD effort that the government put. Finally, the essay will be ended by talking about SD in Hong Kong in the future.

Definition of Sustainable Development

Sustainable development is defined as, development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs- (WCED 1987, 43). The concept of sustainable development is concerned with improving human welfare in ways without harming the environment.

According to the World Commission on Environment and Development), sustainable development contains two key concepts:

Needs: priority to needs of poor; for this, consumption patterns in richer countries got to be readjusted?

Limits: natural resources are limited. Technology and social organization can offset these limits. Therefore, we must moderate demands on natural resources.

Thus, environmental considerations are to be embedded in all sectors and policy areas. (WCED 1987, 43)

How Is Sustainable Development Understood in Hong Kong?

The Hong Kong Government commissioned a report on Sustainable Development for the 21st Century (Planning Department 2001), which proposed the following definition:

Sustainable Development in Hong Kong balances social, economic, environmental and resource needs, both for present and future generations, simultaneously achieving a vibrant economy, social progress and a high quality environment, locally, nationally and internationally, through the efforts of the community and the Government. (emphasis added)

Alternatively, the government website on sustainability quotes the Chief Secretary's 1999 policy address and proposes that for Hong Kong sustainable development means:

1) Finding ways to increase prosperity and improve the quality of life while reducing overall pollution and waste;

2) Meeting our own needs and aspirations without doing damage to the prospects of future generations; and

3) Reducing the environmental burden we put on our neighbours and helping to preserve common resources. (Sustainable Development Division 2008a)

Challenges by the HKSARS

As Hong Kong is facing many challenges, it seems that sustainable development is a suitable problem-solving way. In sustainable development, economic activity should be managed so as to advance environmental protection and social welfare goals. Also, sustainable development can provide long-term economic efficiency.

Poor air quality, water pollution and overfishing are probably most discussed environmental challenge in Hong Kong. While biodiversity in Hong Kong is decreasing, its country parks and agricultural lands are frequently damaged by illegal development, rubbish dumps, and pollution. Also, it is a fact that Hong Kong produces the largest amount of household rubbish per capita in the world, and ranks low for its level of waste recycling among different county. (Cheung 2010, 1).

Hong Kong also involved in global environmental problems. When c consumption is contributing to global warming, Hong Kong is one of the world's highest per capita polluters (Hertwich and Peters 2009).

At the same time, Hong Kong faces many social challenges. Over the last half century Hong Kong's economic growth has been astonishing. However, the wealth has not been widely shared. Hong Kong has one of the world's highest levels of income inequality UNDP 2009, 195).

What the government needs to do is ensure that future development begins to address the many environmental and social challenges that Hong Kong faces without undermining existing resources and strengths, i.e. Sustainable development.

Reasons for supporting sustainable development in Hong Kong

Environmentally sustainable development can provide us a higher living standard.

In our daily life, problems of air, sound, and light pollution is quite serious which diminish our quality of living. For example, many Hong Kong people are constantly tired as the light and noise of the city pollutes their living place and makes it difficult to get sufficient sleep. However, sustainable city planning would help to solve these problems by limiting the sources of pollution, allowing better airflow between buildings and so on.

Apart from helping the environment and also improving our lives, sustainability also makes a benefit in the personal aspect. If a typical Hong Kong citizen adopts a more sustainable diet, they would need to reduce their consumption of meat and animal products. It is because production of these foods is more resource intensive than production of plant-based food. Nutritionists tell us that substituting meat with vegetables, fruits, and grains would also make us thinner and healthier, not to mention, prevent us from getting many serious diseases including cancer and heart disease.(Pollan 2008).

Similar health benefits are bringing from other sustainable personal choices-such as using public transport and walking. Widespread use of public transport in Hong Kong is not only environmentally positive, but also uses the energy more efficient and healthy than in car-dependent cities.

Sustainable development will help the conservation of resources. Otherwise, some recourse will be lost soon. For example, if you hope to enjoy the pleasure of eating wild ocean fish in twenty years' time, you have good reasons to advocate sustainable use of ocean fish stocks (Pauly et al. 2002).

One more reason for supporting sustainable development is concerning for more vulnerable people. There is countless debate over the meaning of the term 'justice'. However, it generally refers to the idea that people should receive treatment that is proper for them (Sachs and Santarius 2007, 129). Three principles can be identified as central to justice. Everyone is to be taken into account in accordance with their rights, their needs, or their performance (Sachs and Santarius 2007, 129). The conflict among these principles . . . is in large part the substance of struggles over justice- (Sachs and Santarius 2007, 129).

The widespread hardship faced by poor people in contemporary Hong Kong suggests that there are serious questions concerning the degree of justice in our present system of government. Despite the recent economic success of Hong Kong, income inequality is among the highest in the world (UNDP 2009, 195). If the well-being of disadvantaged people in Hong Kong, or people living in poverty in China or further afield are considered , and the diversity of our planet's plants and animals should be preserved, we should seek ways of living that create opportunities for marginalized people and avoid harming our shared Earth. If we have concern for next generations we also should ensure that we leave them a healthy planet. This means avoiding ecological catastrophe and protecting the health of country parks, waterways, and oceans.

Sustainable Development Efforts

The Sustainable Development Divisionwas set up in April 2001 to promote sustainable development in both the Government and the community. One of its major tasks is to oversee the implementation of a sustainability assessment system within the Government to facilitate the integration of sustainability considerations into the decision-making process.  All bureau and departments are required to conduct sustainability assessments of their major initiatives and programmes and to explain the sustainability implications in their submissions to the Policy Committee and Executive Council.

The Council for Sustainable Development was established in March 2003 to promote sustainable development in Hong Kong.  The terms of reference of the Council are:

to advise the Government on the priority areas it should address in promoting sustainable development;

to advise on the preparation of a sustainable development strategy for Hong Kong that will integrate economic, social and environmental perspectives;

to facilitate community participation in the promotion of sustainable development in Hong Kong through various means, including the award of grants from the Sustainable Development Fund; and

to promote public awareness and understanding of the principles of sustainable development.

Members of the Council are appointed by the Chief Executive and include people with experience and expertise in the environmental, social and business sectors, as well as senior government officials.

In addition, a Sustainable Development Fund has been established with a sum of $100 million to provide a central source of financial support for initiatives that will help to develop a strong public awareness of the principles of sustainable development and to encourage sustainable practices in Hong Kong and research that integrates at least two of the three aspects of sustainable development - economic, social, and environmental (Sustainable Development Division 2008b).

Education for Sustainable Development

Education plays a very important role in sustainability, because education improves welfare in its own right. Also, education for sustainable development at a societal level is essential for broader progress toward protecting environmental assets. The Brundtland Report repeatedly emphasized the value of education in facilitating sustainable development in poor countries. It mentioned that some developing countries and regions ―such as China, Sri Lanka and the Indian state of Kerala, have achieved remarkable successes in lowering infant mortality and improving health through increases in education, especially of women. (WCED 1987, 104).

There is no denying that educational needs differ in different places. In a developed economy such as Hong Kong, the emphasis of sustainability education is likely to focus more on raising public awareness about the environmental impacts of our lifestyles. A little change in lifestyle and public policy lead to great success of sustainability.

Take a look at Agenda 21, it explained the importance of education for sustainability in the following terms:

Both formal and non-formal education are indispensable to changing people's attitudes so that they have the capacity to assess and address their sustainable development concerns. It is also critical for achieving environmental and ethical awareness, values and attitudes, skills and behaviour consistent with sustainable development and for effective public participation in decision-making. To be effective, environment and development education should deal with the dynamics of both the physical/biological and socio-economic environment and human (which may include spiritual) development, should be integrated in all disciplines, and should employ formal and non-formal methods and effective means of communication. (UN 1993, Chapter 36, para 3)

In recognition of the importance of education, the United Nations General Assembly declared the period 2005-2014 to be the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. In Hong Kong, the Sustainable Development Fund has supported projects related to primary and secondary education. Environmental education is covered in primary and secondary school curricula through classroom teaching and outdoor activities.

Environmental groups (such as WWF and Friends of the Earth) serve as important agents to teach the child environmental knowledge and values through school talks and by organizing student field trips to ecological sites. Also, In the new secondary school curriculum topics related to sustainable development are taught in different subject areas, including earth resources, energy, technology and the environment, climate change, and sustainable cities (Education Bureau 2009).

Although much work has been done introducing sustainability concepts to school education, tertiary sector did not have such teaching about sustainable development. Luckily, with general education subjects being offered to all first year students, the adoption of a four-year tertiary system in 2012 will introduce opportunities for studying sustainable development across different aspects.

It is surprising that there is the lack of focus on sustainability education in Hong Kong's universities. In fact, Universities and colleges the world over typically aspire to equip their students with more than just vocational training. Most of them try to instill training in citizenship and ethics, so that students will work for the betterment of society. Given the growing prominence of environmental issues, and our awareness that the earth is approaching various ecological limits, it is arguable that sustainability should form a central part of every university education (Calder and Dautremont-Smith 2009). No matter students are studying medicine, engineering, teaching, tourism management, or an MBA, it is important that they should understand how they can contribute to the societal goal and sustainable development in their careers.

Hong Kong's universities have not made sustainable development a central element of the curriculum. However, in May 2010, the presidents of each publicly funded university in Hong Kong (plus the president of the Institute of Education) signed the Hong Kong Declaration, which signaled an understanding of the need for greater sustainability in tertiary education. In addition to promises concerning the efficiency of campus infrastructure, the university presidents pledged ―to fully utilize the opportunity available to our institutions, through the transition to a four-year tertiary system in 2012 and other means, to enhance students' understanding of the interrelated environmental, social and economic challenges of climate change and sustainable development across all faculties and major fields of study.- (Kuo, 2010).

Sustainability and Democratization

Should we be optimistic about Hong Kong's potential to achieve sustainable development? The former Chief Executive, Tung Chee Hwa gives us a answer. He committed Hong Kong to the goal of sustainable development in his 1999 policy address (Tung, 1999). It was adopted as a central policy objective in Hong Kong 2030: Planning Vision and Strategy (Planning Department, 2001b).

However, these formal commitments have not been matched by action. Some progress has been made in some areas over the last two decades. For examples, cleaning some of Hong Kong's beaches through improved sewage and waste processing, reducing reliance on coal fired power generation, enhancing the environmental impact assessment mechanism.

Besides, Hong Kong Government does not effectively implement a comprehensive sustainable development agenda. For example, even the Hong Kong Government appears to be proactive in the area of climate policy, it still refuses to disclose or limit greenhouse gas emissions resulting from aviation and consumption. It means that the most polluting aspects of our lifestyles are related to any government emissions reduction efforts (Harris, Chow, and Symons 2010).

The political system needed to be changed to make Hong Kong's future more sustainable. Democratization is one important step. Democratic government would better reflect the interests of Hong Kong's population. At present, the struggle over democracy constitutes Hong Kong's primary political issue. Democratic parties and activists have an endless debate to political freedoms and preserve civil, of course, and increase the influence of democratically elected legislators. If the dispute finally is resolved, it would allow greater room for deliberation on other issues, maybe sustainability development.

Maybe we should not too pessimistic about the Hong Kong. There are some promising signs. Hong Kong has a long history of political activism. From the mass strikes in the past to delay of introduction of anti sedition laws (Article 23 of the Basic Law), our community has repeatedly stepped forward to strike for better treatment from the government.

Take a look at the campaign led by the post-80s'generation in 2009-2010 against the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link. It shows that this tradition continues. This campaign clearly let the citizens know the social and environmental impacts of the project. Besides, it pointed out the need for democratization of Hong Kong policy making.

This campaign demonstrates a growing demand for sustainability among the general society. Combining with activists monitoring illegal activities in rural areas and opinion poll, it is not difficult for us to know there is growing environmental concern and awareness in Hong Kong. It can be predicted that civil society will finally escalate pressure for environmental responsibility. It is hoped the corporate sector appears to be leading the government on some issues (such as water pollution and air pollution), for the sake of taking a social responsibility. The Business, educational sector, NGOS and citizens work hand in hand to strike for better environment in Hong Kong.