Border of ecologies – Pollution

By Loïc Daubresse July 25, 2017 Discover Ilanga project

The « Chinese » part of the China Hardware Innovation Camp is soon reaching to an end, leaving us with wonderful memories. It is probably for most of us one of the richest experiences we have had the chance to live as students. As you could read on this blog the last two weeks, we had very packed and challenging schedule, but it was exciting and we managed to have a lot of fun all the same. It is a good time to step back and think about what we have discovered on the cultural aspect in Hong Kong and Shenzhen.


During the Kickoff-day, each one of us had to choose a topic we would like to focus on during this trip, aside of our respective main projects of connected device. The idea is to compare the similarities and the differences between Hong Kong and Shenzhen from different perspectives in order to illustrate the “one country, two systems” framework. Nicolas (member of Livelo team) and I (member of Ilanga team) chose to focus on pollution. Pollution is a major concern nowadays, especially with the COP21 agreement heading the news this last year for different reasons. Leaving for China with some received idea about pollution in this country, it was interesting to confront them to academic articles as well as our personal experience during CHIC to write this article.


Before diving deeper into details, it is important to note that from the geographical characteristics of the region, Hong Kong and the Guangdong province (in which Shenzhen is located) are neighbors and therefore have an impact on each other on the pollution level. There is for example the Pearl River (Zhujiang) that discharges in the South China Sea on the western marine waters of Hong Kong. Another clear respective impact is the air pollution.


During the past decades, “the rapid development of the Pearl River Delta Region (PRDR) has had major implications for its environment. “ [1] One of the main implications is the conversion of agricultural lands to industrial and/or residential uses. The reasons behind that is the high industrialization of this region led by the “race” to become a “world-class” region. As a consequence, issues linked to growth management have emerged, notably environmental issues.


In the early 2000, a transition of the manufacturing activities from Hong Kong to the Guangdong province occurred. This move implied that air pollution in Hong Kong was progressively mainly caused by the manufacturing activities in the Guangdong province. According to C. Y. Jo and L. White, two Princeton researchers, two-thirds of the pollutants come from Hong Kong–owned factories in Guangdong. This phenomenon called for the need to integrate policies in the two systems in order to enable a sustainable development. These policies should push sustainability at the heart of the development, allowing reducing pollution without impacting growth. Officially, Hong Kong and Guangdong province have started common efforts to tackle this issue around 2005 and signed agreements, but these are constrained by the “one country, two systems” framework. This is to say that concretely, this resembles more to a simple exchange of information and ideas than concrete actions.

Y. Jo and L. White discuss the possibility of putting in place a emission trade scheme (ETS) in Polluted air or Policy advance in Hong Kong – Guangdong? (2013). This scheme is in effect since 2005 in certain sectors in the European Union and consists in defining how much a certain industry is allowed to pollute. Then, each company in the industry is allowed to buy the right to pollute more to another company that has extra emission rights. However the “one country, two systems” framework makes it difficult for the moment. The main efforts should then be on promoting sustainable development.


A first step to do so could be to promote innovation and environmental technologies. Concretely it could happen by stronger ties between industry and academia for example. Also, the government could take measures to promote renewable energies. To put the best chance of resulting in a success, particularly in this region, P. T.I. Lama, H.X. Yangb, Jack, S. Yua discuss critical success factors in Critical Success Factors for integrating renewable energy development in a country with 2 systems: The case of Pearl River Delta and Hong Kong SAR in China.


These critical success factors include capital investments, the need to meet quality requirements of customers, building up of technology, R & D capabilities, as well as reaching parity of competition with conventional power.


Practically speaking, it is interesting to note that most of these new environmental policies have mostly been launched after 2000. In today’s China, some cities keep developing based on the 1980s model, developing as fast as possible. But most cities, have started to switch their developing mode into a more environmental friendly one. Such a contrast can be found in Shenzhen and Hong-Kong.


Shenzhen was the first special economic zone. As such, its development was incredibly fast at the expense of environmental caring. If you hang out in Shenzhen, you might end up in typical neighborhoods where buildings have at most 5 floors but do not look as shiny and beautiful as the new ones. In these places, few tourists come, and a foreigner like Tobia Wyss will be scrutinized by locals with wide-opened eyes. People’s habits are very different from those in more “modern” neighbourhoods: the place is messy, trashes are almost everywhere and people simply throw their plastic bags on the street when they are done with it. As a first impression, the locals seem not to care much about any environmental issue. This mentality may be related to the hypothesis that the Chinese’s main priority until the 1990s was to survive and to catch up with the West, no matter how serious nature was damaged. On the other hand, the contrast is striking when we look at the newest part of Shenzhen, where our hotel is located for instance. Brand new buildings, streets, beautiful gardens, trash bins everywhere… : a completely different urban design was born recently influenced by Western models, and including, this time, ecological measures.

In Hong-Kong, the latter trend is also visible. Indeed, the city has been governed by the British until 1997 and as such, its developing policies were different from mainland. When we were there, many facilities to sort trashes could be seen. Streets were relatively clean and it could be felt that the mindset was different, mainly because it was deeply influenced by the colonization and the cosmopolitanism, still effective today. Moreover, the city did not suffer as much as mainland cities from Mao’s disastrous policies so that environmental issues could be highlighted earlier. It is interesting to note that countries/cities with a situation similar to Hong-Kong’s have all carried out drastic « clean city » policies. For instance, people cannot spit, nor chew any gum in Singapore.


These statements are all interpretations based on what we observed during our stay, our readings and our knowledge. It was quite hard though to analyze the real impact of the policies described in the mentionned papers.


Loïc and Nicolas