Auditor slams Hong Kong's efforts to tackle pollution
Proposed standards not tough enough to protect public health, says auditor
Hong Kong's proposed air quality standards are not tough enough to protect public health, while existing measures to curb harmful emissions are ineffective, inadequate or stalled by red tape, the Audit Commission says.
In its third report since 1997 on Hong Kong's efforts to clean up the air, the government auditor also notes that far from meeting the 24-year-old air quality objectives, pollution has gotten worse.
Echoing green groups' criticism, it says the objectives proposed for 2014, "do not provide adequate protection of public health".
The objectives comprise a mixture of interim targets recommended by the World Health Organisation. But the auditor calls for a clear road map and timetable to boost health protection.
The report, following the second one in 2005, takes stock of efforts during the rule of previous chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen.
It says that while the city aspires to be world class, its air quality has a long way to catch up as the annual concentrations of nitrogen dioxide are up to 279 per cent higher than Sydney, New York and London, which have already met the WHO guidelines on that pollutant.
While failing to meet the objectives set in 1987, the city every year since 2006 also missed the Environmental Protection Department's target of no days with the air pollution index over the "very high" level of 100. Instead, the days with excessive pollution has risen year after year, from 74 in 2007 to 175 last year.
The auditor also put roadside air quality under the spotlight, pointing out that pollution levels were up to 70 per cent higher than the 24-year-old targets.
On the monitoring network, its suggests building stations in Tseung Kwan O and Tuen Mun to serve the growing population.
The report questions the effectiveness of the commercial diesel vehicle replacement schemes introduced by the department in 2000. After an outlay of at least HK$1.8 billion, it says, there are still more than 50,000 highly polluting vehicles on the roads, including 17,000 diesel vehicles more than 17 years old.
It also casts doubt on a scheme to use taxpayers' money to help equip polluting buses close to the end of their lives with devices to remove nitrogen oxides, while raising concern about a meagre 1.1 per cent reduction in bus trips on busy corridors despite a rationalisation programme. The Transport and Housing Bureau and Environmental Protection Department both come under fire for not imposing stricter fuel standards on ocean-going and local vessels.
Welcoming the report, green groups urged swift action but also highlighted the need for co-ordination to implement measures.
Friends of the Earth senior environmental affairs manager Melonie Chau Yuet-cheung said the chief secretary should take up the role of co-ordination.
"The EPD is not in a position to push measures involving other bureaus or departments and Carrie Lam should step in to make interdepartmental co-operation happen," she said.
Responding to the report, the Environmental Protection Department said there had been real improvements in the concentrations of pollutants over the years. It pledged to review the air quality objectives every five years, with the ultimate aim of adopting the WHO guidelines.
It would also reconsider introducing "disincentive schemes" to speed the early retirement to of polluting vehicles. But it noted that a 2009 proposal to increase licence fees for old vehicles was not supported by lawmakers.