"Our Solutions are in Nature"
| Dr. Jeffrey Hung, Senior Manager, Policy Research and Advocacy, Friends of the Earth (HK)
As the local spread of coronavirus slows, many people are choosing to escape to the countryside for a breath of fresh air. Country parks not only serve as shelters for Hong Kong people but also provide an ideal habitat for wildlife. With the impact of climate change however, wildlife habitat is being destroyed, increasing the opportunities for people to contact animals. Global warming will induce various illnesses, exacerbate the spread of vectors and waterborne infectious diseases, and threaten humans and the entire ecosystem.
Although Hong Kong is small, its unique topography and subtropical climate nurture a rich biodiversity. Statistics show that there are more than 3,300 plant species in Hong Kong, a number comparable to that of the United Kingdom. The bird species number more than 500, accounting for a third of China’s numbers. The importance of nature and trees to the ecosystem is evident.
The benefits of trees are endless. In addition to alleviating greenhouse effect by absorbing carbon dioxide, they can also filter out pollutants in the air. Further, urban greening is one of the important elements of a sponge city. Trees can absorb rainwater that seeps into soil and reduce runoff, lowering the risk of urban flooding. The average green area per capita in Hong Kong is around 105 square meters, which is ranked highly by the Asian Green City Index, but most of this green area is located in the countryside. Excluding the country parks that cover 40% of the city, the per capita green area is significantly reduced.
In order to achieve sustainable development, many countries and cities around the world, such as the United Kingdom, Singapore, and even China, have incorporated green space and forest cover into their urban planning. Although Singapore and Hong Kong both lack land resources, Singapore has begun developing itself into a "garden city" as early as 1960s. Green area is incorporated into residential planning and design by their local government, making housing and greening inseparable. In China, the National Greening Committee (全國綠化委員會) and State Forestry Administration (國家林業局) have formulated indicators for national forest city since 2004. Currently, 194 cities across the country have been awarded the title of "national forest city”, which not only enhances the city’s image but also promote sustainable development for the local economy, advocating harmony between people and nature.
Trees are an important asset to the city and an important element maintaining an urban ecosystem. With proper planning and management, trees bring various benefits to us and nature, such as purifying the air, conserving water resources, mitigating climate change, enhancing biodiversity, and bringing other economic, social, and health benefits. Trees are certainly an indispensable part of urban planning. Hong Kong should draw on the successful experience of Mainland China and Singapore to blend green elements into urban planning, and at the same time, strengthen tree management to integrate nature into the urban sustainable development blueprint.
May 22nd is the International Day for Biological Diversity proclaimed by the United Nations. This year’s theme is "Our Solutions are in Nature", which calls on the international community to reexamine our relationship with nature. Biodiversity is essential to maintain the balance of the ecosystem; enriching native tree species can enhance the long-term sustainability, health, and adaptability of urban forests. To enhance young people’s knowledge of tree management and conservation, Friends of the Earth (HK) organised the "Jockey Club Smart City Tree Management Project – Painting and Essay Contest". The contest was well-received with students using their creativity to promote the concept of harmony between people and trees.