The government is considering adopting tough measures to phase out old diesel-powered commercial vehicles to help tackle declining air quality.
Environment secretary Wong Kam-sing said yesterday that the government would consider policies such as those on the mainland of not renewing licences for diesel-powered vehicles more than 15 years old.
About 60,000 Euro I and Euro II emission-standard vehicles, from 12 to 18 years old, are still operating in the city. Euro I emission standards were introduced for buses and truck in 1992. Euro II levels aimed to reduce permitted emissions by up to 30 per cent compared with Euro I. Euro VI will be introduced next year.
"Roadside pollution is most problematic [in Hong Kong]," Wong said. "We need policies to specifically deal with it [if we need to tackle air pollution [as] 80 per cent of pollutants come from old diesel-run vehicles."
Wong's comments came after Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying told the Legislative Council on Wednesday that tackling pollution would be a major concern. Leung also said the government would implement policies to phase out old diesel-run vehicles.
Government reports show that road transport accounted for 286 tonnes of sulphur dioxide emissions in 2010, up from 271 tonnes in 2009.
"We hope to set some timetables and goals," said Wong, but further communication with the transport industry and Legco would be needed.
Transport unionist and truck driver Stanley Chaing Chi-wai said: "To improve the air quality [in Hong Kong] is not just about tackling transport.
"Right now, if our trucks comply with transport and environmental rules and emissions are below the allowed level, we can continue to drive our vehicles," said Chaing. Trucks were checked on an annually, he said.
If licences were not renewed for diesel vehicles more than 15 years old, this would contradict existing regulations, he said.
Truck driver Tse Long said: "If [there is a 15-year vehicle age limit for licensing], some people will probably go to court about it."
Tse said more incentives were needed, not tough measures.
He said a government scheme to subsidise drivers willing to upgrade to a newer truck model offered inadequate funding.
Increasing subsidies would be more effective in getting old diesel trucks off the road, rather than imposing a new licensing regime.
According to the Environmental Protection Department's latest figures, only 10 per cent of 120,000 commercial diesel vehicles are covered in the subsidy scheme. It only pays for 18 per cent of new vehicles.
In 2010, then acting secretary for the environment Dr Kitty Poon Kit proposed higher fees for older vehicles to get them off the road. But the plan was scrapped.