As President of a professional body that aims to provide the community with engineering services of the highest quality, I always feel an obligation to shed light on public issues relating to engineers’ work in a professional, scientific, objective and impartial manner.
Recently, the public deliberation on the Kau Yi Chau Artificial Island (KYCAI) provided exactly such an occasion for my reflection. It is indicative of a society’s openness that differing opinions on the same subject matter can co-exist and flourish—provided, of course, that the information on science and engineering matters are accurate and objective. The profuse commentaries on KYCAI, coming from all quarters of our society, indicate such an openness. I appeal to everyone to maintain this state of affairs in this, the freest of cities.
It goes without saying, however, that I would not be in perfect agreement with some of the commentaries in the current public discourse. To be more specific, I see some of them as having sprung up from standpoints that are extraneous to science. With all due respect to the parties involved, therefore, I would like to advocate establishing the discussions on more scientific, technical, and rational footings.
Hong Kong’s expertise and experience regarding reclamation has a long history and is well-documented: after all, nearly 7,000 hectares of developable land, including artificial islands, originated from it. The public’s worries seem concentrated on sea level rise (SLR) and the risk of settlement within the reclamation area. It has to be understood, though, that the laws of nature dictate that a controllable amount of settlement (both vertical and horizontal) is inevitable during the construction period, with some residues after this period as well. I stress the word “controllable”: in reclamation projects, engineers would make predictions about the extent of settlement. Within those predicted bounds, settlement is natural. The case at hand is not analogous to the settlement occurring in Kansai Airport simply because the geological structures of the two are fundamentally different.
True, to deal with SLR, concerted effort from the whole human race, including individuals, organisations, and governments worldwide, is needed. While technology and innovation can certainly play a role in mitigating climate change, individual human actions and behavioral changes are equally crucial. I thus appeal all our fellow members and citizens to adopt the “begin with me ¥Ñ§Ú°µ°_” mindset and reduce our own carbon footprint. This is also certainly why the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of the United Nations had to come up with reduction measures and targets for countries. In doing so, the IPCC provided predictions on SLR under different probabilistic scenarios that are closely related to the degree of future carbon emission. While building with reference to these design scenarios, engineers would make allowances for the “unexpected”; and adopt various seawall designs to reduce the impacts of the extreme weather, on the one hand, and leave room in the foundation for further future enhancement of the seawall on the other. As a matter of fact, governments of developed cities like New York and Copenhagen are using reclamation to curb SLR-induced inundation problems in developed areas. It could be that the KYCAI would become a safe Ark in Hong Kong compared with the low-lying areas.
The latest government proposal apparently has given due consideration to concerns over the impact on ecology and water quality. The proposed Y-shaped channel was designed to maintain a sufficient level of water current and prevent excessive sedimentation of marine deposits. The urban heat island effect would also be reduced by provision of the 250-metre ventilation corridor formed by the channels. For more on my thoughts on KYCAI, please refer to this article I submitted in March.
The Institution realises, as much as I do, that it is important to take part in this rational discussion and present the public with professional and objective comments. In our views shared with the Administration, we expressed our strong belief in the importance of sustainability and environmental protection, and that there are ways to balance development and conservation. We also advocated for liveability, connectivity, resilience, biodiversity, and sustainability considerations to be streamed in a deliberated development and implementation plan. Opinions on areas from the coastal design, use of reclamation material, pedestrian and cycle track networks, to transportation infrastructure etc. were also given.
More notably affecting the engineering industry is the project schedule. We urged the Administration to coordinate and prioritise the projects in a way that the available resources, whether it is manpower, capital, or material, be best allocated and utilised. On this front, the Institution compiled three reports last year and made recommendations to the Administration on how the industry and the relevant authorities can get better prepared for the future. Here are the reports:
Research on Procurement Policy Review for Works Contracts and Consultancy Contracts, March 2022
Research on Augmenting Engineer Manpower to Cope with the Foreseeable Surge in Demand, April 2022
Recommendations on Streamlining Building Works and Infrastructure Development Processes, September 2022
As engineers, we should always place an emphasis on addressing societal issues and improving people’s quality of life. In addressing and resolving problems, we should always look ahead. With our unique perspective and skill set that can be applied to a wide range of public issues, we are problem-solvers by nature. Let’s make good use of our expertise to contribute to the betterment of society.
I encourage all members to speak out and actively engage in discussions and share your thoughts on these and other important societal issues. Your input is invaluable in shaping our collective efforts that are aligned with the needs and aspirations of the community that we serve.
Ir Aaron BOK Kwok-ming