Let there be darkness: charter on curbing light pollution is a small step forward for Hong Kong

While ‘City of Lights’ is a major draw for tourists, many locals are inconvenienced when night is as bright as day

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 April, 2016, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 April, 2016, 12:00am

The campaign to reduce light pollution by outlawing unnecessary outdoor lighting and signboards at night has proved to be a challenge in a place like Hong Kong. Powerful business interests and commercial considerations mean there is still considerable resistance to such legislation. After years of deliberation, the best the government can do is a non-binding agreement for premises to switch off their lights voluntarily.

Under the Charter on External Lighting announced by the government, the signatories, including developers, shopping malls, hotels, banks and schools, are to switch off external non-static lights used for decoration, promotion or advertising by 11pm or midnight. Lights used for security and during festive seasons will be exempt.

It may be tempting to congratulate the government for having garnered support from about 4,000 businesses and organisations across various sectors. For a voluntary scheme, the response may be considered satisfactory. But there are probably still many premises which do not want to face any restrictions.

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Nonetheless, it is a promising start. Hopefully, more groups will follow.

Hong Kong is not known as the “City of Lights” without reason. The thousands of dazzling signboards and skyscrapers has added to the city’s character and vibrancy. They are the reasons why tourists flock to the city. However, the visual treats can also be a nuisance for residents. Many office towers, shops and outdoor advertising spaces are brightly lit at night, making us one of the most energy-wasteful places on earth. According to previous studies, Tsim Sha Tsui can be nearly 1,200 times brighter than a normal night sky.

Getting the charter in place is only half the job done. The Environment Bureau should further promote public awareness and closely monitor the implementation of the charter. If the situation is still unsatisfactory, officials should not hesitate to introduce legislation.