It will take several years for the government to introduce onshore electricity power facilities at the Kai Tak cruise terminal but a law requiring ocean-going vessels berthing at the city to use cleaner fuel can be in place next year at the earliest.
Undersecretary for the Environment Christine Loh Kung-wai made these remarks at a forum yesterday when challenged by green activists about emission levels after the Kai Tak cruise terminal opens in June.
According to the think tank Civic Exchange, vessels visiting Ocean Terminal emitted 252 tonnes of sulphur dioxide in 2007 - comparable to the 286 tonnes of vehicle emissions in Hong Kong in 2010.
Loh said the government planned to build onshore electricity facilities for cruises berthing at the Kai Tak terminal as soon as possible, but it could take several years.
She said the government first needed to draft a proposal, which then has to be passed by the Legislative Council's environmental affairs panel and the Finance Committee. The next step would be to invite a tender. The whole process would take several years, she said.
Explaining why the government had not introduced the measure before now, Loh said: "There had been no international standard on how it should be done until around the middle of last year. Now that we know how to do it, it [the standard] will be very useful to us in the future."
Loh also said that the government planned to introduce a law next year at the earliest requiring all ocean-going vessels - not just cruises - to use fuel with a cleaner sulphur content when in the city.
Hong Kong would be the first city in Asia to have this law if it were passed, although some European countries already had it, Loh said.
"We are determined … we need to protect Hongkongers' health," she said.
Other speakers at the forum, including Friends of the Earth's senior environmental affairs officer Melonie Chau Yuet-cheung, agreed these two measures needed to be taken.
But they wanted more to be done as the Kai Tak cruise terminal will open in June, meaning there will be a "time gap" in between.
"Vehicles do not generate the most pollution. They are only the third on the list. Topping the list are the vessels," Chau said.
Labour sector lawmaker Kwok Wai-keung, from the Federation of Trade Unions, said the situation was "worrying", and suggested that the government charge a higher fee for vessels using more polluting fuel than those using cleaner fuel when they berth at the city.
Loh said that the government had introduced a programme in which vessels switching to low-sulphur fuel could get a 50 per cent reduction on port and navigation charges. She also said that there was already a voluntary scheme, the Fair Winds Charter, under which vessel operators agreed to switch to low-sulphur fuel to the maximum extent possible for two years from January 2011.
The public should not underestimate the effectiveness of these programmes, Loh said.