Ferry firms must play part in clearing the air
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The unsightly black smoke that pours from ferries as they churn across the harbour tells much about the Hong Kong government's approach to air pollution. It is a clear sign of the need for greater urgency. Such emissions are from another era, an age when the world had little concern for the environment. Visitors look at the pall and in an instant think our city is out of step with global concerns about climate change, sustainability and public health.
This is not the case, of course. Lawmakers are only too aware of what they should be doing to clean our air. The Environmental Protection Department is staffed with highly skilled officers who are not short of facts, figures and solutions. What is holding up action is an unelected government under pressure from interest groups: in this instance, ferry companies.
A government with a popular mandate could quickly fix the problem by making it law that ferry operators use clean diesel to fuel their craft. There is no reason why our leaders could not also do the same in the name of the common good. We must remember, though, that the companies have been hit hard by the economic crisis and unstable fuel prices. Any move to get them to switch has to involve cajoling, convincing, incentives and help with infrastructure.
The nine-month trial of ultra-low-sulphur diesel involving three ferry companies announced yesterday fits with such a strategy. Passing it off as a technical and economic feasibility study lays the groundwork. The best locations for refuelling depots can be determined during the trial. From the initial five ferries, the programme can be broadened. During the nine months, the benefits that are already so obvious will be made plain to the ferry industry.
Ferry companies have to use cleaner fuel; on this there can be no argument. Higher fares may be necessary to help offset increased fuel costs. The trial will help determine the details. Unlike other schemes, though, this one must not be left high and dry after it ends or is implemented on a voluntary basis. Getting rid of such pollution is an integral part of cleaning Hong Kong's air.