Too many cars in Hong Kong make it difficult to cut levels of roadside pollution

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 November, 2017, 9:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 November, 2017, 11:12pm

I refer to the letter from Catherine Lajeunesse (“Hong Kong’s air quality index smokescreen must be lifted to reveal true pollution levels”, October 25).

The air quality in Hong Kong has undeniably improved in the last few years due to numerous emission reduction measures launched by the Environmental Protection Department (EPD).

However, your correspondent makes a critical point based on personal experience, that the air quality remains unsatisfactory and existing measures to tackle pollution are still inadequate. According to the University of Hong Kong’s Hedley Environmental Index, five people die every day in Hong Kong because of air pollution.

The 2018 clean air plan is unlikely to make much progress if the government continues to lack the political commitment to make significant improvements. Due to the fact that​ the current concentration of PM2.5 fine particulate matter has already achieved World Health Organisation (WHO) interim target two (IT-2), with PM10 reaching IT-3, officials ​do not need to promise any progressive measures to attain such levels.

It is still unclear if the administration will take further measures to improve on these statistics.

Speaking at a public engagement forum, EPD ­deputy director, Alice Cheung, said: “It would be practicable to first evaluate the feasibility of measures by the other departments, before deciding on the new standard for the objectives.”

That ambiguous response implies institutional barriers – EPD cannot solve the environmental problems created by other government departments. Over the last 20 years, roadside pollution levels (nitrogen dioxide) have been double the safety guideline recommended by the WHO. The number of registered vehicles has grown to almost 800,000.

People waste over 38 minutes during their daily commute because of traffic congestion (according to an international traffic index). This congestion is caused by a flawed transport system with too many cars on the road.

The problem cannot be solved unless the chief executive holds the Transport and Housing Bureau accountable. It must deliver a comprehensive transport strategy to reduce traffic congestion and curb roadside pollution levels.

Singapore’s decision to not allow the growth of its car population from February 2018 is bold. The aim of this policy is to protect public health and in the long term reduce the burden on medical services caused by air pollution.

The Hong Kong government keeps saying it wants to curb car growth, but it must take concrete action, instead of paying lip service to this goal.

Winnie Tse, campaign officer, Clean Air Network