Pollution set to stay
Hong Kong's dated clean-air targets will be toughened - for the first time in 25 years - starting in 2014, but green groups say they will still fall short of World Health Organisation standards.
The Executive Council on Tuesday endorsed 22 new air quality objectives first put out for public consultation in 2009.
'We have to understand that the ultimate WHO guidelines are a distant target,' Secretary for the Environment Edward Yau Tang-wah said. 'Even the European Union cannot fully adopt all of them. Given the surrounding environment of Hong Kong, we cannot set a goal that is unachievable.'
The new objectives, which lay down atmospheric concentrations for seven pollutants, are more stringent than existing ones. Among them, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide will be monitored at the higher end of three WHO standards.
However, standards of respirable and fine particulates will be in line with the loosest of the WHO targets. These are harmful as they can penetrate deep into people's lungs.
Other measures include more car-free zones, phasing out heavily polluting vehicles and promoting hybrid or electric vehicles.
The Airport Authority, which backed the proposal, says it will apply the new guidelines to the environmental impact assessment on the proposed third runway.
James Middleton, chairman of Clean the Air, said there was an urgent need to fight air pollution and that the new measures were 25 years overdue and still insufficient. 'Our standards are in line with those set by third world countries, like Bangladesh,' he said.
According to an environmental index run by the University of Hong Kong, an estimated 3,200 people die prematurely each year from pollution-related diseases. Pollution costs the city HK$40 billion per year.