Special Report – Environmental awareness: before and after Hato

Macau residents’ environmental awareness has improved significantly in recent years, but more is needed

MB September 2021 Special Report | Green Macau

Professor Qingbin Song

In Chui Sai On’s time there was much talk of “scientific governance”. One of the tools put forward to achieve this goal was the use of public consultations associated with regular opinion surveys (“scientific decision-making based on the opinions and aspirations of citizens”, as the Government described the idea in 2010).

But if the government of Macau had followed what several scientific studies say about the relationship of residents with the environment, it would already have implemented more radical measures, based less on consensus and awareness.

The truth is that answers in a survey are one thing, and what residents think and really want is another.

Let’s go back to 2015. At the time, the Environmental Protection Bureau (DSPA) was carrying out regular studies on the environmental satisfaction of the population, and the report for that year read: “[there is] a notorious lack of determination and sense of responsibility on the part of citizens with regard to carrying out environmental actions.”

Two years later super typhoon Hato happened, and some (many?) things changed. “People started to feel that they had to do something. The population already feels that there are needs related to the problem of sustainability that have to be fulfilled. In Macau, there is already concern”, Macau’s best-known local ecologist, Annie Lao, remarked in 2019.

In addition to the great effort that the Macau government has made towards environmental education and public policy propaganda, increasingly visible in the Region, the results of several academic investigations, carried out in recent years from population surveys, seem to agree with Annie Lao: according to research led by Professor Qingbin Song, Macau Environmental Research Institute, Macau University of Science and Technology, over 70 per cent of respondents agreed they would pay for food waste collection and treatment, and 85 per cent of respondents were willing to pay for solid waste recycling in Macau.

“Residents’ environmental awareness and attitude have greatly improved in recent years” – Qingbin Song

“More and more residents can recognize the environmental benefits of these governmental measures and are willing to support and participate in them. This is a very good phenomenon,” Professor Song tells Macau Business. “The government’s policy decisions and residents’ ideas can complement each other and jointly promote environmental protection and sustainable development in Macau.”

However, all experts know there are gaps between residents’ environmental awareness and their daily behaviours. “The environmental awareness indicated in surveys is not always equivalent to the actual behaviour,” Professor Song concedes.

In an interview with Macau Business, Mr Song, one of the leading local experts in this field, explains that environmental behaviour is affected by several internal factors (e.g. attitudes, personality variables, and the subject’s cognition) and situational variables (e.g. economic conditions and social pressure). He points to this example: most residents in Macau think electric vehicles are environmentally beneficial, but due to their higher cost and the lack of charging facilities, the market share of electric vehicles in Macau was only 0.55 per cent in 2020.

“In addition, indications are that residents – in order to portray themselves at the particular time of answering as having better environmental ethics – may beautify their cognition and consciousness when responding to the questions,” Professor Song warns. “The environmental awareness of residents indicated in the survey is a comprehensive response of their environmental attitude and cognition, etc., which does not completely determine their behaviour,” he points out.

“Good environmental awareness is often one of the most important preconditions for the solving of environmental issues,” the Macau-based scholar tells Macau Business, concluding with the hopeful proposition that “residents’ environmental awareness and attitude have greatly improved in recent years.”

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