Air pollution in Hong Kong

Air pollution in Hong Kong is considered a serious problem. It affects flora and fauna in the area, and the health of residents living there. Visibility is currently less than eight kilometers for 30% of the year. Cases of asthma and bronchial infections have soared in recent years due to reduced air quality.

ources of pollution

The dense population, smoke-belching factories and power stations, ceaseless construction and large numbers of diesel vehicles have made for dangerous levels of particulate matter (RSP) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

Whilst the Government has in the past maintained that the Mainland was an important source of airborne pollutants, experts have estimated that most of Hong Kong's acid rain comes from its own industry and transport: Most of Hong Kong’s power is generated by burning coal. Electricity generation produces half of Hong Kong’s total emissions of nitrogen oxide and particulates, and 92 per cent of its total sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions. Most local power stations do not yet have flue gas desulphurisation, although equipment is being installed and the government has required that all new generation capacity should come from natural gas.

In terms of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, the city's Castle Peak power plant, run by China Light and Power, was named the third most polluting electricity generator in the world by Washington-based group Carbon Monitoring for Action (CARMA), which estimated that the power station produced 35.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in order to generate 28.2 million MWh of energy. The generator, however, claims emissions were one-third of that level. [Patsy Moy, [http://www.thestandard.com.hk/news_detail.asp?pp_cat=11&art_id=56993&sid=16324657&con_type=1&d_str=20071116&sear_year=2007 "CLP `world's No 3 polluter'"] , "The Standard", 16 November 2007]

Hong Kong’s roads are also the most crowded in the world, with almost 280 vehicles for every kilometre of road.Fact|date=August 2008 The city’s vehicle fleet is dominated by heavily polluting, aging goods vehicles, most of which run between the city and the Pearl River Delta/Shenzhen. Diesel commercial vehicles are responsible 90% of RSPs and 80% of NO2 emissions from the entire road transport sector, despite making up only 23% of the vehicle fleet. Double-decker diesel buses and a steadily growing fleet of private cars have also added to congestion and pollution.

Declining regional air quality means visibility has also decreased dramatically. In 2004, low visibility occurred 18% of the time – the highest on record, according to the Hong Kong Observatory. [http://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/820-Hong-Kong-how-to-breathe-easier Hong Kong: how to breathe easier] , Christine Loh, China Dialogue 5 March 2007] The number of days in which visibility was less than eight kilometers rose to 102 in 2005 from 40 in 1997.Ying Lou, [http://www.thestandard.com.hk/news_detail.asp?pp_cat=13&art_id=41405&sid=12898380&con_type=1&d_str=20070402&sear_year=2007 Blue skies may cost dolphins dear] , The Standard, 02 April 2007]

According to research at the University of Hong Kong, the air in Hong Kong contains almost three times more soot and other pollutants than New York's and more than twice of that in London. Environmentalists blame principally the electricity companies, which have been ordered by the government to cut emissions. Hong Kong has declared the goal of reducing levels of four major pollutants by 55 percent by 2010.

Air pollution figures for the very wet June 2008 were higher than for corresponding periods in the last two years, causing scientists to be mystified as to its unexpected behaviour. [cite news|author=Elaine Wu|title=Thought clean air was the silver lining in rainy June? Think again|date= 13 June 2008|publisher = South China Morning Post]

Controversy about monitoring

The Environmental Protection Department in Hong Kong was established to solve problems and provide for a long lasting acceptable level of air quality [http://hk.rd.yahoo.com/govsearch/result/SIG=11ta3u5tt/*http%3A//www.epd.gov.hk/epd/misc/ehk06/eng/text/e06.04.html 6.4 Air Quality Objectives - Environment Hong Kong 2006] , Environmental Protection Department, Accessed 2007-05-22] .

In June 1995, instead of adopting internationally accepted benchmark index for pollution, it set up the Air Pollution Index as in indicator to pollution levels, both "General" and "Roadside".

Air Quality Objectives (AQOs) for seven widespread air pollutants were established in 1987 under the Air Pollution Control Ordinance (APCO), and have not been reviewed since it was set up. It is not clear how the levels are determined.

In October 2005, "Task Force on Air Pollution" criticised the Government for deluding itself with a pollution index that is a "meaningless" indicator of health risks. Professor Wong Tze-wai, at the Chinese University commented that the current air pollution index "gives a false sense of security". Gary Wong, a professor at the Chinese University's Department of Paediatrics and School of Public Health, said that under the current index, "some harmful pollution components aren't even recorded." In addition, he pointed out that there is no strategic plan or a timetable to tackle the problem, unlike in other countriesAlbert Wong, [http://www.thestandard.com.hk/news_detail.asp?pp_cat=12&art_id=24573&sid=5239053&con_type=1&d_str=20051029&sear_year=2005 Our air is killing us] , The Standard, 29 October 2005]

Street-level air quality regularly falls short of the government’s Air Quality Objectives (AQOs), and even further short of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Air Quality Guidelines, revised in October.

Academics called for Hong Kong Government to immediately update its air quality objectives set almost twenty years ago. For example, on 19 and 20 November 2006, roadside levels of respirable suspended particulates (RSPs – equivalent to PM10) exceeded the WHO guidelines by at least 300%. Prof Anthony Hedley of the University of Hong Kong said in September 2007 that if Hong Kong's API was based on WHO recommended levels, our readings would be "absolutely sky high" for most of the year.Pollution index based on index set 20 years ago, p5, South China Morning Post, 30 September 2007] Secretary for Environment, Transport and Works Sarah Liao Sau-tung said the WHO targets were too stringent.

In September 2008, Greenpeace China's Hong Kong office launched its Real Air Pollution Index as part of a campaign to get the government to update the API to match WHO guidelines. The Real Air Pollution Index reports hourly pollution levels from 14 monitoring stations across the region and compares them to WHO standards.

Health implication

The mortality rate from vehicular pollution can be twice as high near heavily traveled roads, based on a study conducted in Holland at residences 50 meters from a main road and 100 meters from a freeway. Since millions of people in Hong Kong live and work in close proximity to busy roads, this presents a major health risk to city residents. The Hong Kong Medical Association estimates that air pollution can exacerbate asthma, impair lung function and raise the risk of cardio-respiratory death by 2 to 3 percent for every increase of 10 micrograms per cubic metre of pollutants. Studies by local public health experts have found that these roadside pollution levels are responsible for 90,000 hospital admissions and 2,800 premature deaths every year.

Donald Tsang's comments

Chief Executive Donald Tsang declared that the high life-expectancy of Hong Kong demonstrates that concerns over air quality were not justified.

Professor Anthony Hedley, chair of community medicine at Hong Kong University, said "Tsang is badly advised on current public health issues." Hedley added that air pollution levels in the SAR were extremely high, and could affect the lungs, blood vessels and heart. James Tien, whose party represents big business interests, retorted: "Can [Tsang] really be confident that, if pollution continues to worsen, he will be able to promise the same life expectancy for our children and for our grandchildren?"

Economic impact

Even as early as 2000, the total negative impact to the Hong Kong Economy, including cardiorespiratory disease was in excess of HK$11.1 billion (http://ec.hku.hk/improvehk/Issues/Vol_3/IHK_Vol_3.pdf). Research by three universities and a think-tank estimates that the pollution is costing Hong Kong about HK$21.2 billion a year in hospital admissions and lost productivity. In addition, about 1,600 deaths a year might be avoided if air quality improves.

Made aware of fresh statistical and anecdotal evidence that pollution is driving away business and hurting Hong Kong's global competitiveness, James Tien called air pollution "a health issue, a lifestyle issue, a tourism issue, a business issue, and increasingly a political issue."Jonathan Cheng, [http://www.thestandard.com.hk/news_detail.asp?pp_cat=11&art_id=33289&sid=11176569&con_type=1&d_str=20061204&sear_year=2006 Lot of hot air on pollution, claims Tien] , The Standard, 04 December 2006]

Merrill Lynch downgraded several Hong Kong property companies because of air quality concerns, and there have been warnings from the head of the Stock Exchange that pollution was scaring investors away. It said that the air quality in Hong Kong is now regularly so poor that its "long-term competitiveness is in some doubt", and advised clients to switch into developers in Singapore instead. [http://www.thestandard.com.hk/news_detail.asp?pp_cat=15&art_id=33647&sid=11224813&con_type=1&d_str=20061208&sear_year=2006 Our future up in the air] , William Pesek, The Standard, 08 December 2006]

Pollution is dramatically harming not only the health of citizens of Hong Kong but also its economy, particularly relating to the ability to attract skilled foreign labour. [ [http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=10000080&sid=aDVzcB_D2zFQ&refer=asia Hong Kong Wheezes as China's Industrial Economy Belches Smog] , Bloomberg, 13 October 2005]

The chairman of the Danish Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong said each year at least two or three people decline offers to work in the Hong Kong offices of member companies because of pollution: "It's going to cost us in the future if we don't clean up here".

"Five years ago, air quality wasn't a concern when people considered whether to relocate to Hong Kong", said Jardine Engineering Corp. Chief Executive James Graham. " [In the past, o] ne of the advantages was clean air. We can no longer say that". A London-based human resources consultant recommends that companies pay a 10 percent hardship allowance to lure expatriates, partly because of air quality. [ [http://www.thestalwart.com/the_stalwart/2006/05/hong_kong_pollu.html Hong Kong Pollution Sends Expats to Singapore] , The Stalwart, 23 May 2006]

Actions

Motor fuels

All diesel stations have been successfully converted to Ultra-Low Sulphuric Diesel ones.

In 1996, the government initiated a test project for LPG as an alternative fuel. Factory-built LPG taxis have been available since 1999. Since 1 January 2006, driving a diesel taxi on the streets of Hong Kong became illegal.

Indoor pollution

The Smoking (Public Health) (Amendment) Ordinance 2006 bans smoking indoors in restaurants, workplaces, schools, karaoke lounges, as well as beaches, swimming pools, sports grounds and public parks with effect from 1 January 2007.

Action Blue Sky Campaign

The Action Blue Sky Campaign (藍天行動) is an environmental campaign in Hong Kong, organised by the Environmental Protection Department, to clean up the city's air pollution officially launched by Chief Executive Donald Tsang in July 2006. Its campaign slogan in Chinese is "全城投入 為藍天打氣" ("All of the city participate to fight for a blue sky"), [cite web|url=http://www3.news.gov.hk/ISD/ebulletin/tc/category/environment/060725/html/060725tc04002.htm|title=曾蔭權冀政府大樓再減1.5%用電|publisher=Hong Kong SAR Information Services Department|date=2006-07-25|accessdate=2007-05-13|language=Traditional Chinese] while its campaign slogan in English is "Clean Air for a Cool Hong Kong!" [cite web|url=http://news.gov.hk/en/category/environment/060725/html/060725en04001.htm|title=CE launches Action Blue Sky Campaign|publisher=Hong Kong SAR Information Services Department|date=2006-07-25|accessdate=2007-05-13] The campaign hopes to win support from the public as well as the business community, including those businesses investing in the Pearl River Delta Region.

Idling ban

In November 2007, the government launched a public consultation on the proposal which would impose a fixed penalty of HK$320 on drivers who would violate a ban on idling, with taxi and minibus drivers likely to bear the brunt of the ban. The government said its action is due to the failure of motorists to heed many past campaigns switch off engines while waiting. Taxi and minibus drivers are opposed to the proposal. [Winnie Chong, [http://www.thestandard.com.hk/news_detail.asp?pp_cat=11&art_id=56225&sid=16121633&con_type=3&d_str=20071103&sear_year=2007 "'Idle' talk sparks heated debate"] , "The Standard", 03 November 2007]

Currently it is illegal for any driver to leave their engine running if they get out of their vehicle. [http://www.legislation.gov.hk/blis_export.nsf/home.htm Cap 374G Reg 44] The courts have been awarding fines of [http://www.minispot.org HK$700] . It is also illegal for taxis to loiter and minibuses to stop longer than necessary to pick up or put down passengers. It is also illegal to park anywhere except in a designated parking place. This means that the vast majority of drivers who idle their engines are already in violation of at least one existing Traffic Safety Law.

However, Traffic Wardens are under strict policy guidelines not to give out any tickets unless there has already developed a "serious" obstruction of the roadway or there have been multiple complaints made by the public. This is called [http://www.police.gov.hk/hkp-home/english/cop/2008 STEP] (Selective Traffic Enforcement Policy)

Traffic Safety policing of idling vehicles, therefore, falls to private organisations like Mini Spotters who act as volunteer traffic wardens, making statements to Police that can be prosecuted without Police Traffic Wardens having to issue tickets directly to the Transport Trade.

2008-2009 Budget

In the 08-09 Budget, Financial Secretary John Tsang proposed a 100% profits tax deduction for capital expenditure on environment-friendly machinery and equipment in the first year of purchase to encourage the business community to use more environmental-friendly equipment. He also suggested shortening the depreciation period of this equipment from the usual 25 years to 5 years.

References

ee also

*Air pollution
*Ecology of Hong Kong
*Environmental organisation

External links

* [http://www.epd.gov.hk/epd/ Environmental Protection Department Web site]
* [http://www.cleartheair.org.hk/ Clear the Air]
* [http://www.minispot.org/ Mini Spotters]
* [http://www.greenpeace.org/china/en/campaigns/air-pollution/real-index?utm_id=007&utm_content=air_pollution_index Greenpeace China's Real Air Pollution Index]


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