Hong Kong, Guangdong lower pollution reduction targets for 2020
Under eight-year plan, HK and Guangdong set separate reduction rates on emissions, which is a departure from ambitious goals set previously
Stuart Lau, Li Jing in Guangzhou and Emily Tsang
Hong Kong and Guangdong have decided on reduction targets for air pollutants up to 2020 that are much less ambitious than goals set in the previous phase.
Under the new eight-year plan starting this year, authorities from each side will also work towards separate mid- and long-term reduction rates of emission.
That decision marked a departure from the 2002-2010 phase, in which both places shared common emission targets for four pollutants.
In that phase, Guangdong failed by 2010 to achieve a promised cut in volatile organic compounds and marginally attained the target for nitrogen oxides.
Hong Kong, meanwhile, had met all four targets, which also include sulphur dioxide and respirable suspended particulates.
"Obviously, there's not enough momentum for Guangdong officials to take emissions of volatile organic compounds very seriously," a mainland analyst said.
Representatives from the Environment Bureau met their provincial counterparts in Guangzhou yesterday to thrash out 2012-2020 targets in the hope of alleviating regional air pollution. It is understood that Guangdong spent the past two years compiling data from its thousands of factories and vehicles, among other polluting sources.
Zhang Ruifeng, an official of the Guangdong provincial environmental protection bureau, said: "Without national standards and regulations on volatile organic compounds, it is extremely difficult to rein in polluting businesses."
Zhong Liuju, an air pollution prevention expert linked to the provincial government, said pollution worsened at an "unexpected" pace as 2010 economic output turned out to be 1.26 times the original estimates.
Both regions laid down new specific reduction targets on emissions yesterday that would apply only until 2015, while setting ranges for 2015 to 2020.
In the three years ahead, Hong Kong will have a tighter sulphur dioxide target than Guangdong, but will ease up on scrutiny of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds. Both places endorse the same target for respirable suspended particulates, or particles of 10 microns or less.
The latest targets are less aggressive than in the previous endeavour. For example, in the last phase, the two places wanted to cut respirable suspended particulates and volatile organic compounds by 55 per cent on 1997 levels; this time, Hong Kong is aiming at 10 and 5 per cent less than the 2010 levels, while Guangdong seeks 10 per cent for both pollutants. Officials claimed room for further improvement was limited.
By 2020, Hong Kong hopes to see emission drops in all four pollutants of 15 to 75 per cent, and Guangdong 15 and 40 per cent.
Meeting the lower range for Hong Kong would be in line with proposed air-quality objectives to be introduced in 2014, a bureau official said.
Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing said legislation - though effective - would have to take into account business concerns. The city would consider phasing out old diesel vehicles and tighten car emissions standards, he said.
Melonie Chau Yuet-cheung, of green group Friends of the Earth, said the 2020 target ranges were too broad. "It is questionable whether officials are determined to achieve [the ambitious upper ends of the ranges]."