It is quite conceivable to assume that the average person would display a certain degree of surprise if he/she stumbled across the following statement: The EIA system in Hong Kong is regarded as the most transparent system in the world (Dalal-Clayton 2004). Not that Hong Kong is unworthy or incapable of such an achievement, but because this special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China surpasses the European and North American Nations in terms of public access to information and opportunities for public participation (ESD 2006). Two possible interpretations can surface from this reality, one being that Hong Kong merits high praise, the other is to cast a critical glance at all the important economic and political powers in the world and wonder why they are not at equal par or in advance of Hong Kong in terms of public involvement. Let us look at some key characteristics of Hong Kong’s EIA system.
Firstly, it is of testimony to Hong Kong’s efficient environmental framework to point out that it was one of the first Asian countries to apply strategic environmental assessment (SEA) to major development plans (Leng Ng 2005), and it is the only system in East and Southeast Asia which applies SEA to policies (CEAA 2011). In equivalence with most EIA processes around the world, public involvement in Hong Kong is adopted at two stages of the EIA project cycle, which is during a comment period on draft environmental impact statement guidelines and before the finalization of the report (ESD 2006). However, it is the extensive application of public participation which sets Hong Kong apart. For instance, while public participation is usually associated to the pre-decision stages of the EIA process, opportunities for public involvement during post-EIA stages are found to be lacking worldwide (Arts 2001). In 2000, the Environmental Protection Department of Hong Kong “initiated the application of a web-based cyber environmental monitoring and auditing system for major development projects”(Arts 2001). The environmental permits for major development projects now have a standard requirement that monitoring and auditing results need to be uploaded onto a dedicated website for public access (Arts 2001). This website enables the public to compare EIA prediction with results, have real time monitoring and availability of data, and make comments and complaints about projects. The Environmental Protection Department website is truly a thing of beauty, with all legal documentation, guidance materials, and EIA reports available for all to view and comment upon. Here is the link http://www.epd.gov.hk/epd/english/environmentinhk/eia_planning/eia_maincontent.html.
Information disclosure of environmental matters in Hong Kong is highly commendable. It is encouraging to see an example of public involvement going far beyond the minimal EIA requirements which are stipulated in laws and regulations. Other countries should seek to emulate such an in-depth approach, not only to improve the EIA process, but to promote human rights and for social empowerment. The following video is a great illustration of the extent to which Hong Kong citizens value and demand free access to information, which represents a stark contrast to mainland China.
-Arts, Jos, Paula Caldwell and Angus Morrison-Saunders (2001) Environmental impact assessment follow-up: good practice and future directions — findings from a workshop at the IAIA 2000 conference. Impact assessment and project Appraisal. 19:3, 175-185
-CEAA (Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency) (2011) Status and Progress of Environmental Assessment in Hong Kong: Facing the Challenges in the 21st Century. http://www.ceaa.gc.ca
-Dalal-Clayton B. and Sadler B. (2004) Strategic Environmental Assessment: a sourcebook and reference guide to international experiences. IIED, London, UK. (http://www.iied.org/).
-ESD (Environment Social Development) (2006) Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations and Strategic Environmental Assessment Requirements: Practices and Lessons Learned in East and Southeast Asia. SAFEGUARD DISSEMINATION NOTE NO. 2: 1-88
-Ng, Kay Leng and Jeffrey Philip Obbard (2005) Strategic environmental assessment in Hong Kong. Environment International. 31:4, 483-492