More time needed to reach consensus on clean air programme

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 June, 2010, 12:00am

After nearly two years of consultancy study, and four months of public consultation that ended in November, environment officials are still no nearer to hammering out a clear road map on how Hong Kong should move towards better air quality.

Reporting progress on revamping outdated air quality objectives, officials told lawmakers yesterday that they have found, as expected, diverse views in the community on both target-setting and measures required to achieve them.

But they said nothing about how these differences could be resolved and what steps were required to move forward amid growing impatience in the community over lack of progress towards cleaner air.

Dr Kitty Poon Kit, undersecretary for the environment, said time was needed to reach consensus on a basket of 19 measures proposed last year to reach a set of interim targets.

Each of these measures, such as rationalising bus routes and early replacement of diesel buses, had varying support from different sectors - and financial implications - and they had to address this carefully.

'As to timetables, we have to see whether society can reach consensus on the measures so that we can prioritise and schedule them. If it takes a long time to build the consensus, it is going to affect how the targets are set,' Poon told lawmakers at the Environmental Affairs panel.

The targets recommended by the Environment Bureau are described by clean air advocates as modest compared to World Health Organisation guidelines.

Among the 1,716 completed questionnaires received by the bureau during the public consultation, 1,182 were submitted through Clean Air Network and Greenpeace and the remainder from individuals. Fewer than one per cent of the submissions made through the Clean Air Network and Greenpeace agreed to the proposed targets, compared to 67 per cent of the individual submissions that agreed with the targets.

Legislator Chan Kin-por, who represents the insurance functional constituency, had doubts over the prospect of reaching a consensus. 'Given the differences of views, who are you going to listen to and how do you make decisions?' he asked.

Another lawmaker, Cyd Ho Sau-lan said that he found it unacceptable that the government had failed to come up with its own views on the way forward.

'After all these consultations, the Bureau should tell us how they are going to resolve the differences and what measures face the least political obstacles while bringing us the greatest benefits. But the government simply has no stance now,' she said.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Department will roll out on Thursday a HK$540 million one-off grant scheme to encourage Euro II diesel commercial vehicles owners to replace their vehicles with vehicles that comply with Euro IV emission standards.

The scheme will last 36 months and eligible owners are entitled to grants ranging in size from HK$17,000 up to HK$203,000.

Grant scheme

This is the fund set aside for grants to upgrade vehicles to higher emission standards: $540m