Christine Loh wants a more holistic strategy to fight air pollution
Christine Loh says government must go beyond reducing exhaust emissions and take a more holistic approach to reducing air pollution
Efforts to clean up vehicle exhaust fumes must go hand in hand with other measures, such as car-free zones and road tolls, if the air in pollution hot spots is to become more breathable, the undersecretary for the environment says.
Christine Loh Kung-wai highlighted steps that would complement the city's focus on phasing out old diesel vehicles, upgrading bus fleets and improving fuel and emission standards.
"It is just no longer possible to work on tailpipe emissions to improve air quality," Loh told hundreds of overseas guests and air pollution specialists during the Better Air Quality conference held at Polytechnic University yesterday.
She added after the conference: "If we want to tackle roadside pollution, we need to do several things."
A comprehensive plan to clean up the air would feature in Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's policy address in January, Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing said at the same event.
Last month, the Audit Commission reported that the city's proposed air quality standards were not tough enough to protect public health, while controls on harmful emissions were ineffective or stalled by red tape.
The auditor called for a clear road map and timetable to boost health protection.
Every year since 2006 the city had missed the Environmental Protection Department's target of no days with the air pollution index over the "very high" level of 100, the report noted.
Instead, the days with excessive air pollution rose rapidly year after year, from 74 in 2007 to 175 last year.
Loh said that in 1982, Hong Kong conducted the world's first study on electronic road pricing, but had yet to reach a consensus 30 years later.
London and Singapore had used road pricing to reduce traffic congestion and air pollution, she noted.
However, Loh refused to be drawn on whether the Environment Bureau wanted to revive public debate on road pricing, saying only that the bureau and relevant departments must share a long-term goal of improving air quality.
In 2009, road pricing was listed as one of three dozen short- to long-term measures aimed at cleaning up the air. At the time, the government said toll charges would not work in Hong Kong until enough roads were built to divert traffic and ease congestion.
Apart from road tolls, Loh also supported pedestrianising more roads to protect people from the effects of roadside air pollution.
She said Hong Kong was far better equipped than many developing regions in Asia - where 800,000 premature deaths each year are blamed on air pollution - to combat the problem, given its rich resources and knowledge.
What was needed was better co-ordination within the government to work out long-term plans for new transport measures, she said.
She also highlighted the importance of conducting long-term research into the health effects and costs of air pollution.
A green network, Clean Air Asia, launched a "hairy nose" campaign yesterday to raise public awareness of air pollution and urge people "not to adapt to air pollution".
The group showed a series of pictures at the conference venue, including one of Loh wearing a fake nose with long nasal hair to symbolise the need for long hair to filter bad air.
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