Civic Exchange: Not disappointed but the Government can do better

hong kong air pollution
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There are basically no new elements this year to tackle air pollution in Hong Kong.  The air quality objectives set in 1987 “have never been fully achieved”.

 

The long road to a pollution-free Hong Kong will not end soon as this year’s Policy Address demonstrated only a modest effort in tackling air pollution. Chief Executive CY Leung cheerfully announced the annual average concentrations of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and respirable suspended particulates have decreased but there was a catch: to think we are enjoying clean air in Hong Kong will be a big mistake.

 

Not even close (hack hack)

 

The comptroller’s report in 2012 criticised performance as air quality objectives (AQOs) in Hong Kong “have never been fully achieved since their adoption in 1987”. Those objectives set out the upper limits of the concentration of seven pollutants in the air that would have an adverse effect on our health. It took over two decades until AQOs were finally updated last year. But the new upper limits were still very lenient compared to EU standards. The obvious question here is whether the Government will step up efforts this year to meet the AQOs it set itself. The answer is no.

 

Air quality objectives (AQOs) in Hong Kong “have never been fully achieved since their adoption in 1987”

 

Smoke, no fire

 

Chief Research Officer of Civic Exchange Simon Ng says there are hardly any new policies in this year’s  policy address. Setting out low emission zones in Causeway Bay, Central and Mong Kok, and allowing only the low-emission buses to cross the zones will seem to be a big move but Mr Ng pointed out 30 to 40% of the buses which are now passing through those three areas are already low-emission buses. Rather than being a new policy, the proposed policy only serves to enhance an existing effort. A small, but welcome measure.

 

“It is clear that the Government has identified the problems and they are moving in the right direction.”

 

Another policy proposed to alleviate air pollution is to mandate ocean-going vessels at berth in Hong Kong switch to low-sulphur diesel. This is idea was proposed by CY Leung in his 2013 Policy Address. Though the legislation is anticipated to be introduced this year, the original schedule was to be implemented on January 1st of this year. The delay disappointed Civic Exchange.

 

However, Mr Ng says they are still encouraged by the efforts taken by the Government but hope for more in the future. “It is clear that the Government has identified the problems and they are moving in the right direction.” That is true, perhaps, but given meagre progress to meeting AQOs, the Government will need to speed up its effort.

 

Other measures in the Policy Address this year concerning air quality include:

 

  • Discussing with the Guangdong authorities to explore the feasibility of requiring ocean-going vessels berthing at the ports in Pearl River Delta to switch to cleaner fuel.
  • Allocating $150 million to extend the Cleaner Production Partnership Programme to encourage Hong Kong-owned factories in Guangdong to adopt cleaner production technologies.


(A featured piece with Simon Ng talking about air pollution in Hong Kong will be published soon. Stay tuned.)