20. Mr. Thomas Chow informed the meeting that the Bureau would invite the consultant and subject officers of EPD to brief Members on the study in detail at a future meeting.
21. A Member welcomed the joint initiatives to improve the regional air quality. She asked whether the study had considered the issues of cross-boundary traffic planning and emissions from aircrafts and marine vessels. To improve local air quality, she suggested that more thought should be given to controlling idling engines and empty buses running on roads; better planning on pedestrianization; urban and building design; and tree planting.
22. In response, Mrs. Yam said that the consultant had put forward the recommended measures on the basis of effectiveness and technical feasibility. Vehicle emissions from cross-boundary traffic would be greatly reduced after implementing the recommended measures on tightening the emission standard. On emissions from marine vessels, the Government did examine the issue but considered it too complex an area to tackle with marginal benefits, as it would touch on the regulation of international shipping. The Transport Department had cut down the number of bus routes going through Central, and franchised bus companies had been deploying more environmentally friendly buses on those routes. As regards greening, she chaired a co-ordinating committee on greening and substantial improvement could be seen in the landscape of urban areas.
23. A Member said that there was no doubt that the technical aspect of the initiatives could be overcome, but he was not optimistic about the time to be taken by the Guangdong authority to reduce industrial emissions. Even with the support of the Central and Provincial Governments, he had experienced difficulty in persuading some cement plants in the rural areas of Guangdong to switch to a more environmentally friendly technology.
24. In response to that Member's comments, Mrs. Yam said that despite anticipated difficulties, the Guangdong Provincial Government was committed to achieving improvements. With a stringent joint monitoring mechanism, the action plan would be carried out effectively.
25. In response to the Chairman's enquiry, Mrs. Yam said that the dates of the Joint Working Group meetings were publicized through the media. The paper could not be circulated to Members earlier because the study report and the way forward were only endorsed at a meeting held that morning. The Bureau would keep the Council informed of the progress of the action plan in future.
26. To ensure the success of the action plan, a Member suggested that the green groups should help arouse public awareness on regional air quality and the consensus reached between the two Governments so that there would be a high degree of public scrutiny and support from the community. Another Member informed the meeting that the green groups had been working on that front and would continue to do so.
27. A Member commented that one effective way to arouse public awareness was to keep them informed of the situation. He asked whether the air quality monitoring data of the Guangdong side were available to the public. In response, Mrs. Yam said that the expert group to be set up would consider the point raised.
28. A Member noted that the Executive Summary contained a lot of information on emissions and emphasised their compliance with the Air Quality Objectives or other equivalent standards. He considered it more useful if the relationship between the concentration of such emissions and the effects on human health could be studied and established. Another Member concurred with that Member's viewpoint and asked whether the impacts of emissions on public health could be incorporated in the monitoring mechanism.
29. Mrs. Yam thanked the two Members for their suggestions. Priority would be accorded to achieving the emission reductions as recommended in the study. Other aspects such as the incorporation of the impact on public health into the monitoring system could be examined in due course.
30. The Chairman informed the meeting that the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology had recently held a conference on water quality. He hoped that the Administration would make reference to the publications and materials of the conference in planning water quality improvement work. In response, Mrs. Yam said that one of the expert groups set up under the Joint Working Group was responsible for examining regional water quality. She anticipated that water quality would be the next major area that the Joint Working Group would work on.
Agenda Item 3 : Opening up of ACE meetings to the public
(ACE Paper 6/2002)
31. Ms. Jessie Wong briefed Members on the paper.
32. The Chairman suggested setting aside the physical constraints of the meeting venue, and focusing the discussion on the merits or otherwise of opening up the meetings of the Council to the public. He said that the issues considered by the Council could be broadly divided into two categories, viz. presentations and discussion items (e.g. EIA reports). The first category might not attract much public interest. The second category involved interactive deliberations between Members and proponents of designated projects that might have direct impact on the environment. He was therefore of the view that consideration might be given to opening up some of the meetings of the EIA Subcommittee to the public.
33. A Member said that the Council was an advisory group. Discussion during meetings should be conducted in a frank manner. It was possible that issues and viewpoints that might be construed as defamatory at open meetings would be raised during meetings. The quality of the discussion would be compromised if meetings were to be opened to the public.
34. A Member said that at the beginning of each EIA Subcommittee meeting, there were bound to be different views on the EIA report under discussion. It was therefore important that there was a proper meeting environment for those views to be mediated and resolved through discussion. He was worried that opening Subcommittee meetings to the public would restrict the room for negotiation and result in more lobbying on individual Members before the meeting. Thus he preferred maintaining the status quo for Subcommittee meetings. On the other hand, he did not see the reason not to allow the public to sit in the meetings of the full Council when the Subcommittee's recommendations were considered and the final decision regarding an EIA report was made.
35. A Member shared the viewpoints of both the Chairman and that Member and suggested that the EIA Subcommittee Chairman could decide on which part of the meeting should be closed and which part could be opened.
36. A Member said that the ultimate function of the Council was to serve the community. Since the issues raised at Council meetings were related to the livelihood and the well being of the community, Members' deliberations on such matters should be made in a transparent manner. Also, the pressure of public scrutiny would expedite development projects.
37. A Member believed that opening up meetings to the public would achieve an educational function, as the public would notice how divergent views eventually came to a consensus. Furthermore, it would give the public an opportunity to better understand the work of the Council. She quoted the Country and Marine Parks Board as an example and said that after opening up the Board meetings to the public, the media was better informed of the issues under discussion and as a result there was higher accuracy of reporting on those issues. Knowing that they were responsible for what they said at meetings, the Board members were also more prudent when expressing views and making comments. Though normal meetings were open to the public, the Country and Marine Parks Board did reserve the right to have closed-door discussion when necessary.
38. A Member shared that Member's views and said that the best approach of public education was to let them hear different sides of an issue and go through the process of deliberation. Such an approach would win support from the community. That said, she agreed that the Council could discuss certain issues behind closed-door but there should be clear criteria to follow.
39. A Member appreciated the merits of opening up meetings to the public and agreed that transparency was important. However, he considered that the Council had adopted sufficient measures to enhance transparency, e.g. briefing the press after each Council meeting and uploading the minutes on the internet. He shared Prof. Hedley's concern that opening up the meetings would compromise the quality of discussion. Members would be hesitant in making certain observations that might provoke challenges from the public or the media. In addition, he was not comfortable with the quality and the standard of local media and had doubts about their objectivity in reporting. He preferred maintaining the status quo. Another Member agreed with that Member's views on the objectivity of media reporting.
40. A Member considered that the role of the Council as perceived by the Government was an important consideration when deciding whether meetings should be open to the public. As far as the legal obligation of the Council under the EIA Ordinance was concerned, Subcommittee meetings on discussing EIA reports should be open because they were part of the public participation process. On the other hand, if the advisory role of the Council was similar to that of the Central Policy Unit, then the Council could follow the latter's practice in not disclosing the exchange of views on issues at the preliminary stage. That said, he reminded Members that under the new accountability system, the role and functions of government advisory boards and committees would be reviewed. It was therefore doubtful whether it was an appropriate time for the Council to make a decision now on the opening up issue.
41. Mrs. Yam confirmed that under the accountability system, the new Secretary would review the function and modus operandi of advisory bodies operating within his/her Bureau's remit.
42. A Member agreed with a previous Member and added that the uncertainty about the remit of the Council on Sustainable Development was another point to support deferring the decision until there was a clearer picture of the new administrative structure. At the present stage, he shared the view of two other Members that opening up meetings to the public would compromise the quality of discussion.
43. A Member said it was understandable that in a democratic community like Hong Kong, the public would expect more transparency during the public decision-making process. However, apart from the public and the media, there were radical groups on environmental matters. The Council should note the potential disorder of conduct during meetings if those groups would petition to the Council when sensitive subjects were debated.
44. A Member commented that in a way opening up Council meetings to the public was commendable. However, the general public would not be as interested in environmental matters as the press. Hence, it would likely be the case that only the press would sit in Council meetings. As such, the chance of public education was slim. He also echoed the viewpoints of two other Members about the timing of making such a decision.
45. A Member said that most subjects discussed at Council meetings were not confidential. The public was aware of those issues before Council meetings. An advantage of opening up meetings was to avoid mis-quoting other Members' views made at meetings. On the last point, another Member cautioned that individual Members should only disclose their own viewpoints to the media after meetings.
46. Having regard to the divergent views of Members and the uncertainty in the future role and functions of the Council, the Chairman concluded that the subject should be brought up for consideration next year. He further suggested that the possibility of opening up meetings to the public should be made clear to future Council Members before they agreed to take up the appointment.
Agenda Item 4: Proposed Clinical Waste Control Scheme
(ACE Paper 12/2002)
47 The Chairman welcomed Ms. Annie Choi, Messrs Patrick Lei, Conrad Lam and David Ha to the meeting. Ms. Choi briefed Members on the proposed scheme.
48. A Member declared interest since the Hong Kong Productivity Council had been cooperating with a company that was promoting the plasma-based technology.
49. In response to the Chairman's enquiry, Ms. Choi said that the two Hospital Authority incinerators would cease to operate after the implementation of the proposed scheme.
50. A Member supported the proposed scheme and commended that it was a big step forward in waste management. However, the Administration should take into account the concept of integrated waste management, particularly waste reduction.
51. A Member noted that the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) had recently adopted a more stringent set of standards for clinical waste incineration. She asked how the Hong Kong standards would compare with the new standards in the United States. She also noted that a research conducted by the USEPA suggested that clinical waste was more a problem of occupational hazards than of environmental pollution. In that regard, she queried whether it was justified to modify CWTC for the incineration of clinical waste. She urged the Administration to explore and consider alternative disposal technologies before jumping to the conclusion of incineration simply because of the availability of the CWTC.
52. In response to that Member's comments, Ms. Choi said that the current emission standard of dioxin in Hong Kong was 0.1 ng I-TEG/m3 which was among the most stringent requirement in the world. The CWTC with an average emission of 0.0075 ng I-TEG /m3 in 2001 would have no problem in meeting that standard. Regarding alternative technologies, the review report had covered assessment of possible alternatives but suggested that they would either require post-treatment land-filling or incineration, or were not capable of killing all infectious microorganisms. Incineration was recommended because it was by far the most proven technology in the world for treating clinical waste.
53. A Member said that that if clinical waste was really an issue of occupational hazard, preventive measures like training the staff on proper handling should be pursued instead of spending the taxpayers' money on modifying the CWTC and incinerating the clinical waste. Following her argument, another Member asked how the risk of dioxin emission would compare with the risk of medical staff handling clinical waste.
54. In response to the comments of those two Members, Ms. Choi explained that according to the findings of a survey carried out by the Hospital Authority, only 3% of clinical waste contained PVC which was the major element that would generate dioxin upon combustion. In view of the small percentage of PVC in clinical waste and the comprehensive pollution control devices at CWTC (such as high temperature combustion chamber, quenching system to prevent dioxin reformation, bag filter system, activated carbon injection system, etc.), the risk of dioxin emission was not a major issue in the proposal. The $51M mentioned in para. 20 of the paper was to improve the reception and storage facilities of CWTC to handle clinical waste rather than to upgrade CWTC which was already well equipped to control emissions of pollutants.
55. A Member asked whether alternative technologies and methods had been considered in the EIA report endorsed by the Council three years ago. In response, Ms. Choi said that the report contained the assessment of the impact of the modification of CWTC for treating clinical waste only. However, the review conducted by Mr. Townend had covered alternative technologies and methods that were available.
56. Noting that the Hospital Authority generated over half of the total quantity of clinical waste in Hong Kong, the Chairman asked whether the Administration would consider recovering full operating cost from the Hospital Authority. In response, Ms. Choi said that the Administration intended to gradually raise the fee to achieve full cost recovery.
57. A Member said that apart from PVCs, other materials used in manufacturing medical apparatus might contain dioxin-formation chemicals. Therefore, the Administration should monitor the manufacturing of new plastic medical apparatus. On that point, the Chairman reckoned that the procurement policy of the Hospital Authority and the Department of Health could address the problem mentioned by that Member. In response, Ms. Choi said that the two bodies were closely involved in the exercise. EFB and EPD would maintain close contact with them in that regard.
58. A Member referred to the long-term solution mentioned in the paper for treating clinical waste and asked when such strategy would be ready. Ms. Choi said that as the designed life of CWTC would end in 2012, the Administration would need to review the strategy within the decade.
59. In view of the public concern on the risk of dioxin emission, a Member suggested that the monitoring of dioxin emission at CWTC should be made at least once a month. In response, Ms. Choi clarified that the emission monitoring at CWTC was done on a monthly basis. The emission data were available for public inspection on the internet and were submitted to Kwai Tsing District Council for information.
60. The Chairman thanked Ms. Choi and the presentation team for the briefing and concluded that the Council supported the proposals. A Member registered her reservation.
Agenda Item 5: Ecological Surveys and Database
(ACE Paper 13/2002)
61. The Chairman welcomed Dr. P M So to the meeting. Mr. C C Lay and Dr. So briefed Members on the details of the ecological surveys and the database.
62. In response to the Chairman's question, Mr. Lay said that the database when completed would be available on the internet for inspection by the public free of charge.
63. A Member, on behalf of Conservancy Association and the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society, welcomed the initiative. He asked whether the surveys and the maintenance of the database would require additional resources from Government. In response, Mr. Lay said that resources had been earmarked for the proposed exercise from 2002-03 to 2005-06. Whilst some surveys would be conducted by existing AFCD staff, additional posts would be created to oversee the consultancy studies, manage the surveys and supervise the contractors.
64. In response to that Member's enquiry, Mr. Lay said that the degree of details of the database would be comparable to those in major developed countries.
65. A Member welcomed the initiative as the database would be useful in mapping conservation strategy as well as facilitating the EIA process. He suggested that AFCD should update the database on a regular basis and make it a long-term product.
66. The Chairman noted that the proposed database was not very comprehensive as some species groups such as beetles were not included. He asked whether the findings from surveys conducted by other organizations could be incorporated into the database. In response, Mr. Lay explained that the present proposal was not an academic exercise, it was rather a tool to generate information that would be useful in making decisions on nature conservation matters. Therefore, only species commonly used as indicators of the ecological value of a site would be included in the survey programme. The database could be expanded to incorporate information of additional species groups as necessary.
67. A Member welcomed the initiative. She pointed out that as sites of conservation importance might be identified during the surveys, the Administration should expedite the formulation of nature conservation policy so that those new sites could be properly protected. For formulating the conservation programme, the locations of the habitats or species of ecologically importance must be precise. The proposed resolution of up to 1km2 grids seemed to be too coarse for that purpose. Also, though the precise location of marine species was meaningless, knowing more about their whereabouts would be useful. Hence, marine biodiversity as well as species outside the indicator groups should be included in the database in future. She also emphasized the importance of having accurate data for building up such database and asked whether AFCD could enlist the assistance of outside experts in verifying the data.
68. A Member concurred with that Member's suggestion about ascertaining the precise locations of species because that would serve the purpose of "avoidance" in the initial planning stage of a development project. He considered it worthwhile for the Government to invest in the database as it might save resources required later to assess and mitigate ecological impacts during the EIA process of designated development projects. He made reference to a database called Heritage Programme in the United States through which consultants and developers could obtain information at a charge on sites that were sensitive to developments. He suggested that whilst general information in the proposed database could be made available to the public free of charge, specific information should only be provided at a charge so as to support the maintenance of the database.
69. In response to a Member's enquiry regarding assistance from outside experts, Mr. Lay said that the consultants engaged in the surveys and AFCD in-house professional staff would help verify the accuracy of the data. Relevant local specialist organizations and tertiary institutions would be involved as appropriate. As regards the precisions of the location of the habitat or species, Mr. Lay advised that surveying all the target indicator groups at 1km2 resolutions was adequate for providing baseline information. For specific species, e.g. individuals of rare plants, they would make use of the Global Position System which had an accuracy of 1-2m.
70. In response to a Member's suggestion, Mr. Lay said that some experts might not be willing to share their expertise as it was considered their assets. They might even be more reluctant if the information of the database would later be made available at a charge.
71. The Chairman suggested setting up a steering committee which would comprise all interested stakeholders to oversee the whole exercise. In response, Mr. Lay said that there were already 11 working groups established within AFCD to take forward the project.
72. A Member welcomed the initiative and looked forward to effective measures, for example, land-use restrictions to preserve ecologically sensitive sites. But for the purpose of statutory land use control, the database had to be more specific than 1km grid. She hoped that the public information would help prevent time-consuming review and appeal procedures in future planning applications. As it was pointed out by others that dragonflies would mutate at a rapid rate, she wondered how the Administration could effectively identify and protect the newly mutated species in the territory. In response, Mr. Lay said that dragonflies would not mutate easily. The major difficulties with the proposed surveys were the dynamic nature of the ecosystem. Due to the natural process of succession and the changing human activities (e.g. agricultural practices), the biodiversity also changed as a result of the changing habitats. In addition, many of the species covered in the surveys were inconspicuous and/or secretive in behaviour. It was, therefore, not always easy to ascertain the rarity and status of some species. He was, however, optimistic that the result of the present proposed surveys would produce useful information.
73. In response to a Member's enquiry, Mr. Lay said that the rough estimated budget of the database would be about $2M for 2002-03 and $4M each year from 2003-04 to 2005-06 for establishing the database and $3M from 2005-06 onwards for maintaining the system.
74. Two Members cautioned that the release of detailed information on sites of ecologically importance to the public might defeat the purpose of conserving those sites. The Administration should be careful when providing such information to the public.
75. A Member asked who would be responsible for determining the ecological value of species, whether the time taken to set up the database could be shortened and whether the data of previous EIA studies would be included in the database. She was disappointed that compared to the amount spent on other environmental protection programmes, only a few million dollars were earmarked for the proposed exercise.
76. In response to that Member's questions, Mr. Lay said that upon completion of the surveys, AFCD would consult relevant groups and experts regarding the relative ecological value of the species identified. Regarding the timeframe, since the surveys involved detailed field investigations which could not be fast-tracked, it was difficult to advance the completion date of the database. Information contained in EIA reports put under the EIA register was in the public domain and therefore could be included in the database without question.
77. In response to that Member's comments on the meager resources available for the project, Mrs. Lily Yam said that given the financial constraints of the Government, it had not been easy to secure funding for new initiatives. The plan to consult the public on the review of the nature conservation policy within the year still stood. The new Secretary for the Environment, Health and Welfare would draw up his own work agenda for the coming five years.
78. The Chairman thanked Mr. Lay and Dr. So for the presentation and concluded that the Council fully supported the proposed surveys and database.
Agenda Item 6 : Any Other Business
Farewell lunch for Mrs. Lily Yam
79. The Chairman reminded Members that a lunch would be held on 17 June 2002 to bid farewell to Mrs. Lily Yam who would retire from the civil service on 1 July 2002.
Tentative items for discussion at the next meeting
80. The Chairman informed Members that two items were tentatively scheduled for the next meeting, namely the 2001 Implementation Report of the Waste Reduction Framework Plan and the briefing by the Green Council on the operation of the Hong Kong Green Label Scheme.
Agenda Item 7 : Date of Next Meeting
81. The next meeting was scheduled for Tuesday, 21 May 2002.