Hong Kong environmental group calls for stricter air quality targets citing recent pollution figures
Next five-yearly review of city’s Air Quality Objectives to be completed early 2018
Hong Kong’s air quality targets need to be made stricter immediately to bring them closer to international health standards, according to an environmental group citing recent pollution figures.
The call came as the Legislative Council environmental affairs panel heard on Monday that a five-yearly periodic review of the city’s Air Quality Objectives (AQOs) would be completed early next year, and a public consultation on recommendations would follow.
The most recent tweak to the AQOs came in 2014, and the next one should come into effect by mid-2019.
It is not known how or if the objectives would be tightened, but most are currently still far below the World Health Organisation’s ultimate air quality guidelines, which are widely recognised as the benchmark for safe air. In addition to the ultimate guidelines, the WHO sets three interim targets for governments to achieve progressively.
Clean Air Network community relations manager Loong Tsz-wai noted that Hong Kong’s fine particulates (PM2.5) and respirable particulates (PM10) levels had fallen over the past five years and were in line with or close to WHO interim targets.
Both pollutants are small particles that can get into the air. Once inhaled, these particles – one smaller than 2.5 microns and the other smaller than 10 – can enter the lungs and seriously harm health.
The city’s average annual PM2.5 concentration has fallen to 24.9 micrograms (mcg) per cubic metre of air, and that of PM10 to 38mcg.
The former figure is slightly below the WHO’s second PM2.5 interim target of 25mcg, while the latter is nearing the third PM10 interim target of 30mcg.
Average annual concentrations of PM2.5 and PM10 measured at roadside monitoring stations fell 28 per cent from 2012 to 2016, according the Environmental Protection Department.
Hong Kong’s current objectives for both pollutants are set at loose targets of 35mcg and 50mcg respectively.
“Singapore has already set out to reduce annual average concentrations of PM2.5 to 12mcg and PM10 to 20mcg by 2020, which is already very near the WHO’s ultimate guidelines,” Loong said. “If the government can’t even tighten standards one notch further, then this is completely unacceptable.”
A working group under the Environment Bureau tasked with leading the AQO review said the WHO’s ultimate guidelines would continue to be referenced and that it would continue evaluating possible scope for further tightening.
A paper presented to the Legco panel on Monday said the working group had discussed 69 possible new “air quality improvement measures”, covering a wide range of policies from transport measures to lessen road congestion; increasing bicycle track networks and walking space; and using cleaner fuels to make electricity.
Of these measures, 26 were ongoing or measures already under consideration and likely to produce results by 2025 or earlier. Four medium-term measures were ready for consideration in the next review beginning 2019, while 14, including electronic road pricing, needed “detailed planning or further study”.
The rest of the proposals, including suggestions such as raising the first registration tax for private cars, were considered impracticable.