Hong Kong is known as the city of lights. Our night skyline sets it apart from other cities and is what tourists expect to see. Lights are also tools of promotion and advertising - important in a city jostling with commercial competition. It was always going to be difficult to strike a balance with concerns about light pollution, an environmental issue for an increasing number of urban residents.
Environmentalists have dismissed as weak and ineffective a set of voluntary guidelines issued by the Environment Bureau to control external commercial light pollution. These include switching off lights after business hours, installing timer switches and choosing energy saving devices. They are intended to provide a reference for lighting designers, contractors and owners. As Friends of the Earth director and lighting task force member Edwin Lau Che-fun says, some are just common sense, and they do not include a suggestion backed by most of the task force to dim or switch off lighting from 11pm to 7am.
The bureau is to hold briefing sessions for stakeholders to promote awareness of the guidelines, which are to be given a three-year trial while the task force creates technical standards for the possible regulation of commercial lighting.
A study by the University of Hong Kong found that urban night skies can be up to 500 times brighter than those in the countryside. Lighting on buildings, illuminated signboards and in shop windows that is too bright, poorly designed or left on overnight for no good reason contribute to this.
Excessive lighting has been linked to insomnia, high blood pressure, headaches and increased anxiety, which can be precursors to more serious ailments. If the three-year trial of the guidelines does not show a positive response and a moderation in the soaring incidence of complaints about light pollution, sooner rather than later, the government should consider fast-tracking regulation.