• Sun
  • Dec 21, 2014
  • Updated: 10:00am
NewsHong Kong

Plan to give Hong Kong world-class air quality in 7 years

But they caution some pollutants will persist even after new standards are introduced

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 March, 2013, 10:46am

Top officials yesterday unveiled a seven-year plan to cut Hong Kong's notorious roadside air pollution, while admitting some of the targets might be hard to meet.

Billed as an air-quality roadmap to 2020, the plan says that if all measures are fully introduced, roadside pollution will begin to drop in the next two to three years, and see significant improvement in four to five.

But the officials admitted that the level of nitrogen dioxide, the dominant pollutant, will remain almost double the new standards to be introduced next year despite a 40 per cent drop.

"Our goal is for Hong Kong to be among the best in the world in understanding air quality so that we can continue to fight air pollution aggressively," Environment Secretary Wong Kam-sing said.

Our goal is for Hong Kong to be among the best in the world in understanding air quality so that we can continue to fight air pollution aggressively
Environment Secretary Wong Kam-sing

He was joined at a press conference by Transport Minister Anthony Cheung Bing-leung and senior officials from the bureaus for development and food and health in a move Wong said showed co-operation and commitment across government.

Cheung, who oversees public and private transport operators - a key target of many measures - said his bureau aimed to improve air quality but it needed to be balanced with operators' needs.

The measures include phasing out old diesel commercial trucks, retrofitting buses with emission controls and cleaner fuel for ships.

The plan projects that by 2020, the concentration of carcinogenic respirable suspended particles at the roadside will drop by 25 per cent from 60 micrograms per cubic metre of air in 2011 to 45 micrograms - below the new tightened standard.

Officials warned that nitrogen dioxide levels would still exceed the new standard despite falling 40 per cent to 75 micrograms.

Undersecretary for the Environment Christine Loh Kung-wai said the unique character of the city, with its high population and building density, made it difficult to tackle a nitrogen dioxide problem that also plagued London.

Loh said rectifying it might require tougher measures. "We might have to expand the pedestrianised areas or divert some traffic. But we are still exploring these and that's why they are not in the plan now," she said.

The joint approach raises hopes that the lack of policy bureau co-ordination in fighting air pollution - highlighted in the last report of the Audit Commission - will become a thing of the past.

But Friends of the Earth was not convinced as the plan lacked a mechanism for co-operation, while it was unclear what responsibility each bureau would shoulder for not meeting targets.

The group, along with Green Sense, protested outside the government headquarters over what they see as officials' over-emphasis on infrastructure development at the expense of air quality.

Wong said the air targets might still be achieved even with development, while Loh said the whole government would take the blame or credit for missing or meeting the air targets.

Pending legislature approval, a new set of air-quality objectives will be introduced next year to replace those in use since 1987.

A health-based air pollution alert system modelled on that used in Canada will be introduced at the same time.


Measures proposed to fight air pollution in Hong Kong

  • Retrofit 1,400 franchised buses with selective catalytic reduction devices by 2016 to control harmful diesel-engine emissions
  • Mandate a fuel switch for ocean-going vessels berthing at Hong Kong and explore the feasibility of extending the switch to Pearl River Delta ports
  • Update air-quality objectives next year and introduce a new health-based air-pollution alert system
  • Collaborate with Guangdong to cut emissions from factories in the delta region
  • Strengthened emission controls for petrol and LPG vehicles
  • Low-emission zones for franchised buses


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This article is now closed to comments

The government can do better faster:
1. Subsidize the removal of the oldest 20% of franchised busses.
2. Realign bus routes so they make sense with the current layout of Hong Kong not 20 years ago
3. Limit the number of cross boarder busses and private busses used by private housing estates. These run empty most of the time and could be factored for by realigning bus routes.
4. Increase the number of mini busses. Mini buses are convenient and far better on the environment than private cars / taxis as they always seem to have at least 10 passengers on them.
1. Make it more expensive drive. Double the fee at the cross harbor tunnel for private cars and don't reduce the fee at other tunnels.
2. Double the fees at the Kowloon shatin tunnels for private cars.
Reduce fees at all tunnels for busses or don't even charge. Make busses so cost effective and busses so ineffective that people don't drive private cars. (Keep taxis at the current rate as better than private cars)
1. Start the Tung Chung line extension to exhibition station now. Adding 2 extra stations would hit a much larger group.
2. Get rid of the airport express line. Extend the Tung Chung line to the airport. Make every third train have 2 airport express carriages that people pay a premium for just like the KcR lines. This will reduce airport busses by 80% which quite frankly cause allot of pollution due to the long drive.
3. Speed up the South Island line.
World class? Come on.
"Collaborate with Guangdong to cut emissions from factories in the delta region"
I was at a Guangdong factory for a Hong Kong listed company last week that had several coal-fired boilers producing steam. Here's what I heard: "It costs us over RMB 30,000 a day to operate our pollution reduction equipment so we shut it off at night to save money." The fact that the factory admitted this practice so openly to a stranger gives evidence to how brazenly these companies flout the law.
If this practice had been discovered in the U.S. several people at the plant and probably the CEO of the company would be marched off to jail for several years and the company would be fined many millions of dollars. In China, by contrast, all environmental fines in 2012 amounted to just USD 400,000 for the whole country. No matter what Hong Kong does, Hong Kong can't control China.
Relative to Hong Kong, why not mandate all passenger cars be electric. If electric cars can't work in a small, self-confined city like Hong Kong where can they work?
David Dunn www.airmonitor-china.com
Collaborate is a beautiful word means doing nothing. How can you control China given you can't even control HK?
What colonial mindset? Hong Kong has a problem here and now so stop falling back on the same old tired, racial scapegoat. For the last 15 years our wonderful non-colonial politicians have colluded with big business more than ever before and it has taken until now for someone in government to recognise the gravity of the issue and, thankfully, be serious about solving it.
"Cheung, who oversees public and private transport operators - a key target of many measures - said his bureau aimed to improve air quality but it needed to be balanced with operators' needs."
The public's health trumps the operators' needs any day. Retrofitting buses is a joke (remember those stupid filters they tried on taxis a few years back?). The solution to polluting buses is to replace them. Full stop. And fire Cheung while you are at it.
The call for cleaner air from the public has been for over a decade. I don’t know what politic is in Hong Kong that the filthy air lingers for so long. Why is the public’s voice so weak or the government and its colluded greedy interest groups so powerful? From power plant to car exhaust to hands over noses all have been reruns year after year which the feeble new proposal would guarantee to continue even seven years from now? So, there is really no politics—take it or leave.
It actually appears as if someone in Government is serious about tackling the air issue as opposed to the evasion and lies of the past. Good for Christine Loh.
EPD is totally unfit for purpose and needs shaking up. A good start would be if the post of EPD Director were filled by an environmental professional instead of a political crony.
Hong Kong has never been so downbeat. It is like as if time has unlocked the Pandora box. Contradictions become the norm. The costliest house in the world yet cruelest cage living still exists; kids murder parents yet parents slave for family, closing down schools yet still keeping big class size; increasing university graduates yet shrinking employment opportunities; observing Earth Hour yet uncompromising in old ways; knowing property is the scrooge yet bidding up even a parking spot. It is fair to argue that all such malignant are the accumulation of ways of life since Hong Kong stepped up to become a modern world city. History seems has tied the hands of everyone in Hong Kong. While Hong Kong’s illness come to surface in its postcolonial days, Hong Kong also seems to arise from its past and begin to seek different ways to live by public activism telling off the government and tycoons where public opinion will and must count. In particular, the best is for the old guards to take a backseat graciously. Let the younger and fairer minds for Hong Kong to catch up the world – no less even some aspects of mainland China, believe it or not?
I have known KS Wong for several years thru his activities with the HK Institute of Architects. The last thing I would call him is a political crony. He is a respected professional.



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