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.
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