But Paul Zimmerman, who has been district councillor for Pokfulam since 2010, thinks another reason it is hard to make progress in environmental protection in Hong Kong is because the government also finds it hard to make changes.
Zimmerman, who has lived in Hong Kong since 1984, says the city has always been very slow in adjusting its policies to its circumstances.
“The problem is that since 1982, Hong Kong, as a city, has been very busy with something that no other cities have – to negotiate the future of being with England or with China,” he explains.
Zimmerman says that even now, more than 18 years after the 1997 handover, the government constantly has to deal with the city’s relationship with the Mainland.
“This has taken up so much time of senior management that they are not helping departments with changes that need to be done.”
The government has tried to show it is serious about promoting green development. Instead of appointing career civil servants like Edward Yau Tang-wah to head the Environment Bureau, the Leung Chun-ying government has appointed specialists and professionals known for being active on green issues, like Wong Kam-sing and Christine Loh Kung-wai to the top environmental jobs in the administration.
But the result has been a “real disappointment” for Zimmerman. He says the government still cannot resolve the conflict between environmental protection and development, and he sees little effort being made to do so.
He points out that the government is still working with voluntary green building guidelines instead of mandatory ones to control residential and commercial energy consumption.
“Clearly, KS [Wong Kam-sing] and Christine have not been able to achieve a lot in that sense,” he says. “Property developers and landowners are definitely still ruling the town.”
In many countries, environmentalists and politicians form political groups that clearly advocate for green policies and stand in elections on green platforms. Green parties are a regular fixture in many European nations and in North America, Australia and New Zealand. Germany’s Green Party has had members of parliament since 1983 and parties in Europe have ruled in coalition governments at both national and state levels. Not as successful at such a high level but closer to home, Taiwan’s Green Party won two seats in the 2014 local elections.