Leung Chun-ying must deliver on cleaner air for Hong Kong
We do not need environmental and health experts to remind us that the quality of the air we breathe has a direct impact on public heath. For a small but populous city like Hong Kong, the importance of clean air cannot be overstated. Over the years, the public has been repeatedly assured by successive governments that officials are sparing no efforts in fighting air pollution. Despite research and reforms, however, our air quality still leaves a lot to be desired.
It remains to be seen whether the recent remarks made by the new team represent a breath of fresh air in the city's strategy to combat pollution. In response to the Audit Commission's criticism that air quality objectives have never been fully achieved over the past 25 years, deputy environment chief Christine Loh Kung-wai said previous governments had been too passive in updating the standards. But the new government was confident of achieving more stringent targets, which will be in place by 2014, she said.
Whether the problems have been given due attention and priority in the past is open to debate. Arguably, there is always room to do more. With the benefit of hindsight, many would probably agree that a lot more could have been done. It is hardly surprising to see incumbents attributing policy failures of their predecessors to a lack of political will. But when they criticise and vow to do better, public expectations are also raised accordingly. Failing to deliver will open themselves to similar attack in due course.
It takes more than rhetoric to convince the people that clean air is not an elusive goal. That Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is to deliver a comprehensive strategy in his policy address next month should be welcome news. Loh rightly pointed out that a more holistic approach is needed to reduce air pollution. Phasing out polluting diesel vehicles and upgrading the bus fleet are not enough. Elsewhere, strategies such as electronic road pricing have long been proved an effective tool to ease congestion and reduce road emissions. Loh seems to share the view, though she would not be drawn on whether the measure, first raised in 1982 but shelved because of a lack of consensus, would be back on the agenda.
The job of cleaning up the air falls squarely on Leung's shoulders now. He needs to demonstrate stronger political will and, above all, the ability to deliver.