Sustainability of Hong Kong

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Sustainability, a concept that can be defined in many different ways by specialists. In general, it composes of three key elements, the environment, the economy and the social system (Kuhlman & Farrington, 2010). To achieve sustainability, people are trying to maintain a balance between them and finally sustain well-being in not only the current generation but also the future generations. Although there is a strong interconnection among three dimensions, the paper is mainly focusing on the environmental aspect over the other two dimensions (economic and social) to evaluate the sustainability of a city and point out the issues more in detailed. There are lots of sustainability challenges going on in a city or country, such as air pollution, water pollution, land contamination, biodiversity loss, climate change, energy and food security, species invasion and so on (Kuhlman & Farrington, 2010). All these issues may contribute to deteriorating environment and loss of natural resources, thus results in unsustainability.

Environmental concerns have arisen everywhere around the world in the era of globalization such that global sustainability is the common goal of the world community (Bhore, 2016). People have recognized the collective responsibility of protecting the environment and understood the importance of healthy lifestyle in order to sustain the natural resources for our future generations (Bhore, 2016). However, it is challenging to keep a balance between socio-economic development and environmental protection. More often, environmental consumption appears to meet the need of socio-economic development which perhaps brings more benefits to human beings. It is also reflected by a common phenomenon all around the world that is urbanization. Owing to the increasing population and demand of natural resources, the establishment of urban area is more rapidly. The side effects followed by such rapid urbanization also brought huge concerns to lots of countries and cities (Bhore, 2016). For instance, the global environmental problems, like climate change and global warming, affect not only people’s living environment but also human’s health (Bhore, 2016). Thus, people started to consider the importance of environmental sustainability. They may not just satisfy with a good socio-economic status but also demand natural environmental space within that bustling urban area, especially need some green elements around the living spaces.

In order to evaluate the sustainability in a more concrete manner, the sustainability model is often been adopted to assess the environmental conditions of a place. Multicriteria assessment were deployed to quantifying sustainability including ecological footprint, surplus biocapacity, environmental sustainability index, wellbeing index, and ecosystem services product (Giannetti, 2019). However, to attain primary thoughts, the use of simple-criteria approach in the sustainability assessment can also potentially help to evaluate the environmental situation (Giannetti, 2019). Perhaps there will be a preliminary analysis and need further in-depth investigation. Therefore, with respect to biodiversity and urban green spaces, these two will be used to discuss critically whether Hong Kong is considered as a sustainable city.

With respect to urban green space, Hong Kong is not considered as a sustainable city. Hong Kong is a typical high-density city with more than 7 million residents resided in a total land and sea area of 2,754 kilometers (Gong, 2018). It is unavoidable that there are lots of negative environmental impacts arisen in the city. The urban green spaces can actually help to alleviate such negative impacts of high density (Xue et al., 2017). They are interacting spatially and more importantly provide environmental services. For instance, it can help purifying air and water, improving the urban climates (Tian et al., 2011). In the urban area, it also provides foods and habitats for numerous species for maintaining ecological functions which in fact are highly related to human health and play an important role in sustainability (Tian, 2011).

However, the continuous increase of population and the shortage of land space lead to a limited green space constructed within the urban area in Hong Kong, as the majority of open space was converted into residential and business area for human usage. To be clear, green space here refers to urban green area like green parks that are accessible by the public. The country parks situated far from urban center like the countryside of New Territories would not be counted. According to the green space data (a statistical description and landscape fragmentation index) shown, the density of green space patch is 22.9 patches per kilometers in Hong Kong with more than half of them are smaller than 1000 square meters (Gong et al., 2018). Also, the total degree of landscape fragmentation is high such that the spatial distribution of green space is scattered and therefore in a poor connection in the urban area (Tian, 2011; Gong et al., 2018). From these study results, it can be concluded that the green space like green parks is insufficient such that Hong Kong is not sustainable with its low livability and high urban densification.

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With regard to biodiversity, Hong Kong is found to be sustainable. Although Hong Kong is a highly urbanized city with prosperous economic development and high population density, the conservation works are still performed well with more than 5,600 species recorded (Hau, Dudgeon & Corlett, 2005; Planning Department, 2018). By comparing Hong Kong to another similar area, Singapore, the documented species extinctions in Hong Kong were far lower than that of Singapore over the past century (Hau, Dudgeon & Corlett, 2005). Also, it is surprising that within a small space of Hong Kong, the biodiversity is considered as rich in its territory and supported by variety of plants and animals. There are plenty of natural environment preserved in the city, like mountain, woodlands, wetlands, coral reefs and so on (Cheung, 2002). They are served as the natural habitats of species and provide great environmental conditions for their sustainability.

People do give a good protection of the biodiversity in Hong Kong. Taking country parks as an example, they are valuable for people from both entertaining and ecological aspects. About three quarters of total land area is country parks, and there is a total of 24 country parks and 22 special areas designated for the purpose of nature conservation (AFCD, 2019; Planning department, 2018). The conservation jobs done by the non-governmental green parties were greatly appreciated such that the country park area can be managed properly. The country park system therefore is regarded as support the majority of the biodiversity. Besides, Hong Kong is under international obligations to conserve the nature and follow the international treaty on the conservation of biodiversity, which in turns contribute to a good management of natural resources and ecology development (AFCD, 2019). Biodiversity can lead to sustainability from different routes. For instance, it supports the proper functions of ecosystem services. A higher biodiversity is associated with increased ecosystem stability and thus sustainability of human well-being (Mace, Norris & Fitter, 2011). Hong Kong, in general, achieve a rich level of biodiversity which conforms to a sustainable city image.

In fact, Hong Kong was a relatively safe and clean city although the air quality has been criticized by the local and international communities. Unfortunately, it has become dangerous and more polluted due to political conflict and social unrest until recently. There are different aspects of negative impacts arisen from such incident. Since the protest actions changed from peaceful marches to escalating violent, thousands of rounds of tear gas have been used by the police force to dispel the protestors in almost all districts of the city over the last 5 months (Parry, 2019). The impacts on environment and hence human health will be mainly discussed. Environmental specialists have found that tear gas contains toxic chemicals (i.e., aluminum and magnesium) concentrated in the air can be harmful and potentially harm people’s health, especially for those young children, the elderly and the pregnant (Karagama, Newton & Newbegin, 2003). For instance, exposure to tear gas causes immediate reactions like streaming eyes, runny nose, shortness of breath, coughing or even burning skin (Karagama, Newton & Newbegin, 2003). More seriously, it might cause skin diseases linked to dioxin exposure that a frontline Hong Kong reporter have been diagnosed with chloracne after tear gas exposure (Parry, 2019). Therefore, local communities started to criticize rigorously due the deteriorating air quality and the increasing risks of exposure to dioxin.

Moreover, due to the humid subtropical environment of Hong Kong, it further intensifies the potential harmful effects of tear gas and poses severe public health risks, as well as environmental risks. Health expert in Hong Kong thus suggested that people should keep their children and themselves indoors (Parry, 2019). It is not easy to dilute the concentration of tear gas toxins within a short time due to the stuffy climate and the dense urban distribution in Hong Kong. Also, apart from the use of tear gas by the police, the protestors also generate some polluted sources when they fight for their rights. For example, they burned the plastic road barriers that is the major causes of toxic dioxins and increase the PM concentration in the air of the city (Parry, 2019). It not only causes the above direct effects on damaging the environment, but also some other indirect impacts like waste production which contribute to environmental degradation. These make Hong Kong turn into a more polluted environment that is inadaptable for human and other creatures like birds. Therefore, it is no doubt that such social unrest will definitely impact the sustainable development of the city environmentally.

All in all, Hong Kong can be considered a sustainable city in general comparing to other Southeast Asian countries like the Philippine, Indonesia and so on. In term of urban green area, although the urban green cover is not dense, the majority of land space is covered by residential and business kinds of buildings. There are still large percentage (75%) of total land area is country parks which contributes to a strong biodiversity. Also, it provides a fresh air and green environment for local citizens. The current unrest might affect the environment to some extend due to the use of tear gas contained toxic chemicals. It is a short-term impact which will be resolved in a short time. It is believed that Hong Kong will still be a safe and vibrant city in the future.

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Sustainability of Hong Kong. (2022, October 28). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 20, 2024, from
“Sustainability of Hong Kong.” Edubirdie, 28 Oct. 2022,
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