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Macao going greener

Sun, 17th Apr 2011
Exhibition sets the stage for better environmental protection. (April 2011)

Macao is a platform for international cooperation not only in tourism and leisure, but also in environmental protection and green industries. Experts, officials and industry leaders from around the world flock to the Special Administrative Region every year to take part in the Macao International Environmental Cooperation Forum and Exhibition (MIECF). This year’s ‘Green Forum’, which took place from 31 March to 2 April, was themed ‘Green Opportunities – Low-Carbon Urban Development’.

While setting the stage for a showcase of some of the best environmentally friendly solutions, Macao has also been laying the groundwork for a long-term ‘green’ commitment. The government is preparing the region’s first Environmental Planning until 2020, based on a government-commissioned report drafted by the South China Institute of Environmental Science. 

As stated by Chief Executive Chui Sai On in the opening address of this year’s MIECF, “Macao will continuously improve the environment, provide a low-carbon, convenient, comfortable, pleasant space for living and activity through integration of urban and environmental planning, transport and environmental infrastructures, to achieve the above goals and objectives.”

A greener Pearl River Delta 

Macao’s green plans are in tandem with the blueprint announced by the Central Government for the integrated development of Guangdong province and the special administrative regions of Macao and Hong Kong. The Plan for the Reform and Development of the Pearl River Delta (2008–2020), which was approved by China’s State Council in 2008, positions Macao as a ‘World tourism and leisure centre’. 

But in order to achieve that goal, the SAR needs to promote a cleaner environment, adopt energy-efficiency solutions and embrace a more sustainable development model. This will result in a better living environment and quality of life for both locals and tourists. 

Macao’s endeavours are being carried out alongside the efforts of the different local governments of the PRD region. Exchange of experiences in green technologies is one of the main areas of cooperation. Authorities from Macao, Hong Kong and Guangdong have drafted a new blueprint focused on sustainable development and quality of life: The Action Plan for the Bay Area of the Pearl River Estuary. 

Learning from China’s best practices 

The director of the Environmental Protection Bureau (DSPA), Cheong Sio Kei, stresses that Macao has been strengthening its links with neighbouring regions and provinces. “We have been exchanging ideas with our counterparts from the Pearl River Delta region on environmental issues and pollution prevention.” Cheong adds that in the future the DSPA will “gradually enhance cooperation on ecological conservation, protection of marine resources, and prevention of air pollution, among other issues”.  

As China strives to produce a more sustainable development model, setting itself ambitious targets, Macao could learn from the mechanisms adopted by the Central Government. In the recently approved 12th Five Year Plan, China rolled out several targets, including cutting energy and carbon intensity by 16 per cent and 17 per cent respectively by the end of 2015. In addition, the Central Government wants to boost the proportion of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to 11.4 per cent.

Local businessman and Executive Councillor Lionel Leong thinks that Macao can use China’s legal framework as a reference point for putting into place suitable regulations adjusted to local needs. “It’s very important to set up an appropriate legal framework in order to foster the growth of renewable energies. In terms of incentives and policies to spur the development of environmental industries, we can emulate some of China’s best solutions,” says Leong. 

Moreover, given the position of Macao as a gateway between China, the European Union and Portuguese-speaking countries, “there is much room for cooperation”. 

Lionel Leong emphasises that Macao “can play a very positive role in promoting green cooperation with Portuguese-speaking countries”. Indeed, some of these nations have taken the lead in developing renewable energies, such as Portugal with wind energy, and Brazil with biofuels. 

The challenges of change 

Given its constraints and the fast pace of the city’s urban development, Macao faces a number of environmental challenges. According to official data, in recent years the number of complaints regarding noise pollution and gas-exhaust emissions have increased steadily. Water and electricity consumption has also gone up dramatically – from 1999 to 2008 consumption climbed 40 per cent and 117 per cent, respectively. Moreover, the level of recycling and reuse of waste is extremely low.

On top of this, according to DSPA, in the coming ten years, water consumption is expected to climb 63 per cent, electricity consumption 29 per cent and greenhouse- effect gas emissions 32 per cent.

António Trindade, president of the Environmental Industry Association, puts it bluntly: “Macao consumes too much electricity and too much water.” Therefore, energy saving and efficiency must be prioritised as “tourism cannot be developed without water and energy efficiency”.

Setting an example 

Lionel Leong, who has also been a long-term advocate of green industries, says the government should set the example. For instance, public infrastructures should follow stricter regulations on energy consumption, and Macao should embrace a “green public-procurement approach”. Leong argues that “environmentally friendly aspects should play a more prominent role”.

To take environmental protection to new heights, it is important to promote awareness amongst people from all walks of life. “Ideally, when any citizen wakes up in the morning, environmental protection should be his primary concern,” says Lionel Leong, who served as president of Macao’s Environment Council, the predecessor of DSPA, for several years. 

The government has been reaching out to civil society and private companies so that everyone can take part in the effort to make Macao a ‘greener’ city. DSPA has been collecting opinions on the Conceptual Blueprint on Environmental Protection in Macao, which sets the foundations for a general Environment Plan as well as specific plans addressing air pollution, water resources, solid waste, noise pollution, radiation, and environmental management. 

Engaging the private sector

Currently, the Bureau is revising laws and regulations on noise pollution and has been holding a series of public consultation sessions on the matter.

Recently, DSPA launched a number of initiatives aimed at engaging private companies. The Green Enterprises Partnership Plan is aimed at raising environmental awareness among the business leaders, staff, and customers of the companies that join the project. Another plan targets one of Macao’s main industries: the Green Hotel Award honours hotels that emulate best practice in terms of energy saving and environmental management. 

Meanwhile, the Bureau is keen on promoting the concept of green public procurement, which entails a rationale beyond the mere cost-benefit analysis. The goal is to encourage government departments to purchase environmentally friendly and energy-efficient goods and services. “In the long term, the objective is to promote the development of a green industry and an eco-market,” says Cheong Sio Kei. With time, there would be an overspill effect, resulting in private companies embracing the concept of green public procurement. 

Nurturing our greens 

António Trindade argues that in order to upgrade the region’s energy efficiency and environmental standards “it’s crucial to nurture a local green industry”.

He thinks that locally established companies should be encouraged to take part in this process through incentives and positive discrimination. This would help when foreign companies are being considered, who are not always in touch with the real needs of and features particular to Macao. 

Despite not having a mass market for the application of green technologies, Macao “is like a laboratory and can host new solutions” that could be tested in a small-scale, highly populated environment. 

Some of these solutions were showcased at the MIECF. Electric cars were among the main attraction of this year’s event, as the number of green vehicles and respective equipment on display increased compared with last year. There were also several large heavy-duty electric vehicles on display, including buses and trucks – an indication that the research and development of electricity-driven cars can be applied to heavy vehicles. Companies involved in research and development of electric and solar energies introduced their latest products. 

This year’s MIECF saw more than 8,800 visitors, and attracted 324 exhibitors from 24 countries and regions. During the three-day event, 31 agreements or pacts were signed on-site.

By José Carlos Matias in Macao

(Issue N. 7, April 2011)