Grey-Green? The GBA has a long way to go (but policymakers are trying)

The environment chief in Hong Kong met with his counterpart in Guangdong this month to improve environmental protection in the Greater Bay Area (GBA). Both sides touted achievement in making air and water cleaner in the region, while environmental specialists say more can be done.

On December 7, Hong Kong’s Environment Secretary Mr KS Wong and Guangdong’s Department of Ecology & Environment Director-General Mr Lu Xiulu said both sides will step up efforts in tackling air and water pollution.

Volatile situation

Both Hong Kong and Guangdong will add volatile organic compounds concentration to the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Pearl Delta Regional Air Quality Monitoring Network to monitor air quality on a regular basis.

The network was established in 2006 to track six major air pollutants, namely sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, respirable suspended particulates, fine suspended particulates and carbon monoxide.

The latest data shows that from 2006 to 2017, the annual concentration levels of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and respirable suspended particulates in the pearl delta region have dropped 77 percent, 26 percent, and 34 percent, respectively.

To keep the work going, next year both sides will conduct a study on regional air pollutant emission reduction targets and concentration levels after 2020.

Besides the cross-border collaboration, both Hong Kong and Guangdong have implemented new local measures to keep the air clean.

Gassy is good – for now

Hong Kong is using more natural gas to generate power. Also, starting next year, vessels within Hong Kong waters must use low-sulphur marine fuel with sulphur content not exceeding 0.5 percent, and newly approved non-road vehicles must also set the emission standards to Euro VI.

On the other hand, Guangdong has set specific air pollutants emission limits for steel, petrochemical and cement industry, and promoted the electrification of public transport and the use of motor fuels meeting the National VI standard.

In terms of water protection, Hong Kong and Guangdong will continue to monitor water quality of the Pearl River, Deep Bay and Mirs Bay.

Both sides will also maintain the notification and alert system on marine refuse, which has been in place since May 2017. The system will notify authorities of the massive amounts of marine refuse in the waters of Hong Kong and the vicinity of the Pearl River Estuary.

Ms Wu Qing, lawyer of King & Wood Mallesons, says cities in the GBA can take aim at the factories to solve air pollution.

“The GBA cities should eliminate factories with low productivity and require inspection to be done at factories that are big emitter of pollutants and energy consumer,” Ms Wu says.

“There can also be low-carbon pilot zones in the GBA to promote carbon emission permit trading and create a market in the region,” she adds.

Meanwhile, Ms Lam Shuk Yee, honorary president of the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, says multi-leveled policies are needed for better governance.

“Approaches should be made based on the holistic planning of the GBA at central, regional and local levels to foster multilateral agreements and policies,” says Ms Lam.

She believes a unified planning and a cooperative mechanism would better solve cross-border environmental issues in the GBA.

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