Friday, November 16, 2012

Clean Air Network: Hong Kong has continually failed to meet the air quality targets set twenty five years ago

 Press Release: Hong Kong has continually failed to meet the air quality targets set twenty five years ago

Yesterday, the Audit Commission released a report criticizing the Hong Kong Government’s lack of effective action in tackling the city’s air pollution. Hong Kong’s air quality has worsened year-on-year, with the number of days when the air pollution index exceeded 100 increasing from 2007 to 2011. This, despite the Environmental Protection Department’s (EPD) goal that the air pollution index not exceed the health risk level of 100 on any day of the year. Clean Air Network (CAN) hopes that this new report will trigger a measured and appropriate response from the Government.

Measurements of air pollutant levels have shown that the concentrations of nitrogen dioxide and respirable suspended particulates (PM10) at the roadside have “persistently and significantly” exceeded the Air Quality Objectives (AQOs) originally set by the EPD in 1987. The report writes that reasons for this include little implementation of measures to mitigate roadside pollution, poor control of marine emissions and failure to take effective steps to ensure that air quality can meet the proposed 2014 Air Quality Objectives.

Implementation of measures to improve air quality often involve many different sectors of society and, therefore, CAN recommends that the current administration consult all relevant Government departments (e.g. the Environmental Protection Department, the Department of Health, the Transport Department, the Hong Kong Observatory, etc.) in order to create the most effective air quality policies possible, such as bus-route rationalization, as mentioned in the Audit Commission’s report.
The report expresses concern that the proposed 2014 AQOs are set too low to provide adequate protection of public health when compared to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Air Quality Guidelines. CAN has previously pointed out that the air quality targets outlined by the 2014 AQOs allow levels of pollutants comparable to those allowed by less developed cities in the Asia-Pacific region: Hong Kong’s proposed 2014 PM2.5 (24-hour average) air quality objective is the most lax within the Asia-Pacific region, even more lax than that of Bangalore, India. Even the Mainland’s recently announced AQOs (implementation estimated for 2016) are more stringent than Hong Kong’s 2014 AQOs in terms of allowances of all monitored pollutants.

The Audit Commission recommends that the EPD set a long-term goal of adoption of the WHO’s Air Quality Guidelines as targets for Hong Kong. As part of providing adequate protection of public health, CAN additionally suggests that the Hong Kong air pollution index should be updated to take into account the impacts of air pollution on public health.

CAN also urges the Government to work quickly to improve roadside pollution conditions using a two-pronged approach of carrots and sticks, such as was mentioned by Secretary for the Environment K.S. Wong earlier this year. Measures he proposed included no longer issuing licenses to commercial diesel vehicles that are over fifteen years old and implementing a scrapping subsidy – these are both policies that would make a marked difference in cleaning up the city’s air.
Other measures CAN would like to see are the twenty two air quality measures proposed by the EPD in January of this year, including emission caps, infrastructure development and planning and energy efficiency. CAN hopes that the Government will provide a timeline for how and when they will implement these various measures.

It is the responsibility of the EPD to effectively target the root causes of Hong Kong’s air pollution and reduce roadside emissions. However, little to no improvement has been seen on this front in the last few years and evidence of the EPD’s commitment to turning a new leaf continues to disappoint.
Last month, the EPD released the “Third Technical Memorandum for Allocation of Emission Allowances in Respect of Specified Licenses,” which aims to further reduce the emissions from the power generation sector from 2017 onwards. Calculations based on the 2010 emissions inventory revealed that the percentage of nitrogen oxide emissions that will be reduced from 2010 to 2017 will be only four percent – an annual decrease of less than one percent – a very small figure.
Looking at the actions of other cities in China further underlines the EPD’s lackluster efforts. In 2011, the Beijing Government invested HK$2.1 billion towards reducing air pollution and Guangzhou committed HK$860 million for the replacement of high-polluting older vehicles. In contrast, the Hong Kong Government has budgeted only HK$390 million for carrying out air quality policies in 2012 – 2013.

Clean Air Network campaign manager Patrick Fung says, “Air pollution causes 3,200 deaths per year in Hong Kong, as calculated by the Hedley Environmental Index, and hurts Hong Kong’s reputation as a world class city, yet the Government continues to take little effective action. CAN hopes that this new report will encourage the Government to prioritize this issue, Hong Kong’s biggest public health problem, more highly.”

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