Christine Loh blames poor air quality on past governments' passivity
Government is confident of meeting new targets despite past failings, environment official says
Previous governments have been too passive in updating the city's air quality standards, Undersecretary for the Environment Christine Loh Kung-wai told lawmakers yesterday.
Speaking to the Legislative Council's public accounts committee, she acknowledged that the city had yet to attain its 25-year-old air-quality objectives. Even so, she said the Environment Bureau was confident it could achieve the new, more stringent targets that will be in effect by 2014.
The committee hearing was a response to last month's scathing report from the Audit Commission, which criticised the government's pollution-cutting measures as ineffective, inadequate or stalled by red tape. It also doubted that the proposed new standards were tough enough.
Lawmakers asked officials why it had taken the government so long to amend the air quality objectives. They questioned the government's ability to reach the new targets, given its poor record.
Loh replied: "It would be difficult for us to answer [why it takes 25 years to amend the objectives]. The two previous terms of government had a different set of priorities … In the past, Hong Kong was quite passive in tightening air quality standards."
Deputy Director of Environmental Protection Andrew Lai Chi-wah said the government reviewed its air quality standards in 1997 and considered extending the objectives to cover fine particles. But the idea was shelved because of legal challenges in the United States that delayed Washington's implementation of new standards for airborne particles.
Loh said it was necessary for Hong Kong to see how such cases worked out overseas before pushing ahead with its own amendments.
Anissa Wong Sean-yee, permanent secretary for the environment, said the bureau was confident it could hit the new targets if its suggested measures - such as retiring old and heavily polluting vehicles, and designating low-emission zones - were implemented.
People Power lawmaker Wong Yuk-man asked if the new air quality targets took account of emissions that will be generated by new infrastructure projects. A bureau official replied that the new projects' environmental impact assessments were tied to the new air standards.
Loh said people should think about the balance between the environment and development.
"If the environmental impact assessment for the third runway did not go through, and if the Airport Authority could not come up with effective measures to make it go through, the whole city might have to reduce emissions drastically in other areas to make the third runway happen," she said.