New clean-air ally joins pollution fight

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 July, 2009, 12:00am

Environmentalists have a new ally in the fight against air pollution.

Some well-known Hongkongers have started Clean Air Network (CAN), a non-governmental organisation aimed at strengthening the efforts of other advocacy groups and mobilising the public.

The group began after a Civic Exchange conference earlier in the year when many attendees realised there was a need to band together on the air pollution issue and try to do something about it.

Mike Kilburn, Civic Exchange's environmental programme director, said: 'Out of that [conference] came a suggestion to my boss [Civic Exchange chief executive] Christine Loh Kung-wai to set up an organisation to capture and amplify the voice of the public. Because if the science isn't doing the trick of persuading the government, then the way to make the government pay greater attention is to put the voice of the public behind the science - particularly in Hong Kong where our politicians don't respond terribly well except when pushed very hard.'

'The idea [of CAN] is to encourage the public to speak out, not necessarily demand or challenge the government, but to speak up in support of measures that will clean up the air.'

People involved with Clean Air Network include Ms Loh; Mr Kilburn; Joanne Ooi, chief marketing officer of Filligent, a local biotech company; environmentalist and businessman Markus Shaw and surgeon Anthony Ng.

Part of CAN's efforts include spreading the word among the city's expatriates and locals about its website,, hoping hundreds of thousands of people will sign up as friends of the network, so they can endorse the group's objectives, receive news and other updates, and have their voices heard.

'This is the first website to actually inform and engage ordinary residents of Hong Kong with the basic threshold knowledge that they really need to know about the state of air quality in Hong Kong today,' Ms Ooi said.

'It's a grass-roots movement to harness public concern about this issue.'

Dr Ng said: 'We try to be a network of individuals, associations, NGOs, other organisations. We try to have a platform that will empower - empowerment in terms of ... various activities they [people] can participate in, discussions.'

Also, the public 'can find out more about what other countries are doing, what other cities did to clean up their air,' Dr Ng said. 'Rather, than a sense of helplessness, there are things people can do.'

Issues people should be concerned about include the government's upcoming proposal for new air quality objectives, the high number of heavy diesel vehicles on the road, outdated buses and pollution-spewing container ships, the group said.

Air pollution 'is the biggest public health issue in Hong Kong today. It has a major impact on our health,' Mr Shaw said.

'Bad air is always with us unless we do something to clear it up. It needs a concerted effort over many years from many, many different aspects to clear up this problem.'

Friends of CAN already include such groups as Clear the Air, Greenpeace, Civic Exchange, Designing Hong Kong and Earth Champions, according to CAN's website.

'The missing puzzle piece is really getting a broad swathe of public concern, explaining to the government that the vast majority of Hongkongers really care,' Ms Ooi said.

'The public knows there's a problem, and it's hungry for more information,' added Mr Kilburn. 'We believe the way to go in Hong Kong is for people to speak up.'