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Hong Kong can create its own smog, researchers say

Scientists from Hong Kong and Macau found one day in which pollutants were formed when dirty air was not blowing from the north

Smoggy days are often blamed on regional pollution and weather, but at least one recent scientific study has shown that the city can, under the right conditions, “form its own smog”.

The study by Hong Kong and Macau air scientists argued that a rapid build-up of particulate matter in the air – a key component of smog – was possible even in the absence of northerly winds that can transport pollutants from afar.

The evidence boiled down to at least one particular sunny September day in Hong Kong in which a “land-sea breeze” pattern formed along with weak winds far below average speeds.

The scientists observed a rapid rise of photochemical activity during mid-afternoon, in which ozone and nitrogen dioxide skyrocketed along with increasing sunshine.

“It is clear that there was a rapid increase in particulate matter (PM) concentration on this day when we were not really affected by external meteorological conditions. It’s not easy to argue in this case that winds were blowing PM to Hong Kong from the region ,” said co-author Professor Chan Chak-keung, dean of City University’s school of energy and environment.

The culprits, he said, were most likely local sources such as vehicles or industrial emissions, which contain nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds. The latter pollutant is also found in products such as organic solvents, paints and printer inks.

Chan’s team investigated “episodes” – days with high PM concentrations – in one-month periods in each of the four seasons from 2011 to 2012 at the University of Science and Technology’s air quality research supersite.

Other episodes across the seasons were also observed with high local photochemical activity, but those days also came under the influence of transported air from the north, making it less clear what was actually local or regional.

The paper was published in scientific journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics in November.

“Of course, regional sources play a role but [this research] shows that under the right conditions, PM can build up and Hong Kong can form its own photochemical smog.”

Photochemical smog is created when nitrogen oxides react with volatile organic compounds in the air under sunlight. It leads to the formation of ozone. This hazardous pollutant facilitates the formation of the tiny particles, small enough to be inhaled deep into the lungs and even into the bloodstream.

The particulate matter in the air lowers visibility, turning the sky smoggy and gives it a lurid orange tint at dusk.

The Environmental Protection Department usually points to meteorological influences such as northeast monsoons when the air quality health index hits “very high” health risk levels.

During a bout of high pollution last Thursday, it said: “Hong Kong is being affected by an airstream with higher background pollutant concentrations. The light wind hinders effective dispersion of air pollutants.”

It added that the formation of ozone and fine particulates during the daytime resulted in high pollution in the region.

Chan said most smoggy days were doubtless a result of regional factors or pollution. But he said the study’s findings warranted more research on how PM was formed and pinpointing its sources.

Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2076236/hong-kong-can-create-its-own-smog-researchers-say

Drop in roadside air pollutants in Hong Kong thanks to government measures

I refer to Natalie Siu Hoi-tung’s letter on pollution in Hong Kong (“Air pollution impact can’t be ignored [1]”, January 27).

We can’t agree more that air pollution must not be ignored. The government has been taking action to improve air quality.

Locally, we have capped the emissions of power plants via statutory technical memorandums (TM) since 2008 and have been progressively tightening the caps. Since 2014, we have implemented an incentive-cum-regulatory scheme to progressively phase out 82,000 pre-Euro IV diesel commercial vehicles by the end of 2019.

We have also deployed remote sensors to strengthen emission control for petrol and liquefied petroleum gas vehicles.

In July 2015, Hong Kong became the first Asian city to mandate ocean-going vessels at berth to switch to low-sulphur fuel. A new regulation was introduced in June 2015 requiring newly imported non-road mobile machinery to comply with statutory emission standards.

Regionally, we have been collaborating with the mainland authorities to reduce emissions in the whole Pearl River Delta region. Emission reduction targets have been set for key air pollutants for 2015 and 2020.

Joint efforts have been made in various scientific studies/programmes, for example, the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Joint Regional PM2.5 Study, which will help provide a scientific base in formulating policies to alleviate regional air pollution.

The above measures have borne fruit. From 2012 to 2016, our roadside and ambient air pollutants have dropped by up to 30 per cent and 21 per cent, respectively, while the ambient level of ozone has seen a slight decline of 3 per cent. However, amid the improvement trends, there are still episodes of high pollution when pollutants are transported from the delta region under unfavourable meteorological conditions. Hence, we have to continue our efforts to improve air quality.

We will continue to review the emission caps under the TM for power plants and we are preparing to tighten the emission standards for newly registered vehicles to Euro VI.

We will collaborate with the mainland authorities to set up a domestic emission control area in the Pearl River Delta waters in 2019, such that all vessels in the area will have to use low-sulphur fuel. Furthermore, we have embarked on a review of the air quality objectives (AQOs) to identify new practicable air quality improvement measures and assess the scope of tightening the AQOs made possible by their implementation. The review will be completed next year.

Mok Wai-chuen, assistant director (air policy), Environmental Protection Department
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Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/comment/letters/article/2070763/drop-roadside-air-pollutants-hong-kong-thanks-government-measures

Waste management problems are getting worse in Hong Kong

http://www.scmp.com/comment/letters/article/2064988/waste-management-problems-are-getting-worse-hong-kong#add-comment

Rarely has an organisation performed as miserably, every year, as the Environmental Protection Department in its waste management programme.

Its failure was highlighted in reports by the Audit Commission and the Legislative Council’s Public Accounts Committee last year. Predictably, the department’s latest waste management report, for 2015, is no different.

Its two major targets have moved in the wrong direction five years in a row – the amount of waste per person disposed daily increased, while the waste recovery rate decreased. From 2014 to 2015, waste disposed went up (from 1.35 to 1.39kg), while waste recovered went down (from 36.5 to 35.4 per cent). That’s the worst performance in a decade.

In the Environment Bureau’s waste-management blueprint issued in 2013, the objective for the amount of waste per person disposed daily was set at 1kg by 2017 and 0.8kg by 2022. The recovery rate was to be 55 per cent by 2022.

Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing has talked up the blueprint for the past two years. But at a January 17 press conference, he was mum about waste management performance, except for an 8 per cent decrease in food waste, which is just 30 per cent of total domestic waste.

I have long argued that the blueprint’s waste disposal and recovery targets are unattainable.

Wong and his department seem incapable of grasping the simple equation governing waste management: waste disposed is equal to waste generated less waste recovered.

Imposing a waste-charging scheme cannot lower significantly the amount of waste disposed, unless there’s a commensurate increase in the amount of waste recovered.

And the waste recovery rate cannot increase much without waste separation at source.

Wong cited the success of South Korea and Taipei in reducing waste disposed by imposing waste charging. He omitted the crucial factor in their success: waste separation at source is required by law.

Waste-recovery companies in Hong Kong have to sell paper, plastic and metal to the mainland at market prices, which cannot be controlled by the Environment Bureau.

This means the current 36 per cent waste recovery rate cannot realistically increase to 55 per cent, which is the rate achieved by countries that successfully manage their waste.

At its 36 per cent waste recovery rate, Hong Kong needs to reduce waste generation by 40 per cent from the current level to achieve the 0.8kg average amount of waste per person disposed daily by 2022. In their dreams.

Tom Yam, Lantau

Hong Kong’s ‘producer pays’ e-waste levy to range from HK$15 to HK$165 per item

A long-awaited “producer pays” levy fee covering certain waste electrical and electronic equipment is likely to range between HK$15 and HK$165, according to a government paper.

Once fully implemented, manufacturers and importers will have to be registered and must bear the costs of properly recycling the items.

The proposed charges are HK$15 per item for computers, printers and scanners, HK$45 for monitors, HK$125 for washing machines and air-conditioning units, and HK$165 for television sets and refrigerators. They must be paid to the government on a quarterly basis.

Appliance sellers are also required to collect old appliances upon request from purchasers of new ones and deliver them to a licensed recycler for free.

Environmental Protection Department assistant director Samson Lai said the charges recovered the full costs of recycling and the scheme could be reviewed when appropriate. But he admitted that some retailers might try to pass some of the costs to consumers.

“The idea is based on a ‘polluter pays’ principle and creating a closed-loop recycling system in which e-waste is collected, processed and turned into resources via proper treatment,” he said. “It will also help reduce pressure on landfills.”

About 70,000 tonnes of e-waste is disposed of in the city each year, 80 per cent of which is exported and the rest usually landfilled locally – a situation the government says is unsustainable.

The government’s new treatment and recycling facility in Tuen Mun, scheduled for commissioning this year and operated by ALBA IWS, will have the capacity to handle 30,000 tonnes.

The latest updates will be discussed at the Legislative Council environmental affairs panel next week. Draft legislative amendments will be tabled to the council for scrutiny in the second quarter, with implementation expected in the third.

Hahn Chu Hon-keung, director of environmental advocacy at the Green Earth, welcomed the updates but believed the levy rates were still quite low and would have minimal impact on producers.

Meanwhile, a report released on Sunday by United Nations University, the UN’s academic arm, found Hong Kong to have the highest e-waste per capita generation out of a dozen Asian countries, followed by Singapore and Taiwan.

The report attributed the average increase in e-waste generation over the region – 63 per cent from 2010 to 2015 – to more gadgets and consumers and devices being replaced more frequently.

Hong Kong and Singapore’s levels, it said, were particularly high because they did not yet have specific e-waste legislation. Both also had significant trans-boundary movements of e-waste generated domestically and in transit from other countries.

“Increasing the burden on existing waste collection and treatment systems results in flows towards environmentally unsound recycling and disposal,” co-author Ruediger Kuehr said.

An investigation by environmental group ¬Basel Action Network last year found Hong Kong to be a dumping ground for unwanted e-waste from the US [3].

Under the new scheme, a permit will be required for the importing and exporting of regulated e- waste. Regulated e-waste will also no longer be accepted at landfills.
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Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2062599/hong-kongs-producer-pays-e-waste-levy-range-hk15

Hong Kong’s official air quality index failing to warn on deadly health hazard

Paul Stapleton warns that the Air Quality Health Index is creating a false sense of security by consistently failing to consider dangerous levels of PM2.5, the fine particulate matter associated with lung disease

Each morning after waking up, I look out of the window at the clarity of the air and then check two websites that give air pollution readings for Hong Kong.

Admittedly, my first action is very subjective. Air clarity is a crude way to measure pollution levels, especially during months that tend to be foggy. This is why I check the indexes on those two sites. Then, I decide whether to go out for a jog or stay indoors on the treadmill.

One of the websites is run by the Environmental Protection Department. It makes air-quality forecasts and generates a real-time Air Quality Health Index [2] scaled from 1 to 10+, or “low” to “serious”. The other site is the reputable World Air Quality Index (aqicn.org) [3], which measures only particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in diameter (PM2.5), one-thirtieth the width of a human hair.

These microscopic particles that just hang in the air are known to penetrate deep into our lungs when we breathe. They mostly come from vehicle exhausts, the burning of coal to make electricity and other industrial activities.

They are also known to be hazardous to health, especially of children; PM2.5 is associated with lung diseases, including cancer, as well as cardiovascular disease.

During the past week, the air pollution forecast on the local TV news each day, presumably taken from the government service, was for “low” to “medium” levels. However, at the World Air Quality Index, PM2.5 levels have been in excess of 100 for several days running. The US Environmental Protection Agency puts the 24-hour and annual standard for PM2.5 at 35 and 15 respectively. Thus, on days when Hong Kong’s Environmental Protection Department was informing the public that the level of air pollution was forecast to be low to medium, the amount of PM2.5 – arguably the mostly deadly pollutant – exceeded safe levels by a big margin.

In defence of the Air Quality Health Index, many other pollutants, such as ozone, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, are included in its composite measure, and their levels may have been “low”. However, even if their levels are low and only the PM2.5 is high, that does not mean it is safe to be outdoors for extended periods, especially for young children whose lungs are particularly prone to damage [6] by pollutants in the air.

Unfortunately, the discrepancy I noticed this past week is not an isolated incident. Regularly, the index forecasts the level of air pollution in Hong Kong to be “low to moderate” on the following day when the PM2.5 reading turns out to be at levels much higher than that acceptable by international standards. Sadly, the government’s daily forecast lends a false sense of security about air quality. In the end, it may be best to look out of the window and judge for oneself.

Paul Stapleton is an associate professor at the Education University of Hong Kong

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Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/2061239/hong-kongs-official-air-quality-index-failing-warn-deadly

Easterly wind spares Hong Kong from Pearl River Delta smog

City’s air to remain relatively clean despite heavy pollution in nearby Foshan, Shenzhen and Guangzhou

The severe smog enveloping the Pearl River Delta will not affect Hong Kong for now thanks to the favourable wind direction, a representative from an environmental group said.

Despite high concentrations of harmful pollutants recently recorded in nearby Foshan, Shenzhen and Guangzhou, which saw the air quality index hit the hazardous 300 benchmark in some areas, Hong Kong has been able to enjoy a breath of fresh air because the easterly wind currently blowing through the city does not pass through the smoggy areas.

But a government official said regional efforts were needed to maintain healthy air quality in the city as New Territories West was vulnerable to pollutants produced in the adjacent mainland industrial zone.

“We don’t exclude the possibility that the smog might be blown into Hong Kong under favourable conditions,” Clean Air Network campaign officer Winnie Tse Wing-lam said during a radio programme on Friday. “But will Hong Kong turn into a smoggy city like Foshan? I don’t think so.”

Tse said the city will continue to be controlled by the easterly wind in the next couple of weeks, while the severe smog mainly affects cities located to the northwest of Hong Kong.

This means the air brought to the city will be relatively fresh.

Speaking on the same radio programme, Mok Wai-chuen, assistant director of air policy at the government’s environmental protection department, said cooperation with mainland cities in the Pearl River Delta was necessary to improve the air quality in Hong Kong.

He said the government had been working with the Guangdong provincial government to set emission reduction targets, and both sides will review the results in the first quarter of this year.

Lower concentrations of harmful pollutants were recorded last year, including the tiny particulates that can penetrate deep into the lungs, but roadside-dominant nitrogen dioxide remains a headache for the city, with most figures failing annual air quality targets, according to preliminary air quality data for 2016 released by the department.

However, much of the decline was due to wetter, windier weather in what are traditionally two of the most polluted months, January and October, according to Dr Cheng Luk-ki, head of scientific research and conservation at Green Power.

Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2059905/easterly-wind-spares-hong-kong-pearl-river-delta

Hong Kong enjoys a breath of fresh air but it’s not enough to meet annual quality goals

Lower concentrations of harmful pollutants were recorded last year but roadside-dominant nitrogen dioxide remains a headache for the city

Lower concentrations of harmful pollutants were recorded last year, including the tiny particulates that can penetrate deep into the lungs – but roadside- dominant nitrogen dioxide remains a headache for the city, with most figures failing annual air quality targets.

And while ambient concentrations of hazardous ozone fell for the second consecutive year, they are proving stubbornly hard to cut having increased 15 per cent since 1999.

The preliminary air quality data for 2016 was released by the Environmental Protection Department yesterday.

At roadsides, concentrations of respirable suspended particulates (PM10) dropped by 15 per cent, fine suspended particulates (PM2.5) by 12 per cent, and sulphur dioxide
(SO2) by 10 per cent.

Similar drops were recorded at general stations. Fewer hours and days of high health risk air were recorded at both ambient and roadside stations last year.

But although roadside concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) – a product of fuel combustion – fell by 17 per cent, the average annual concentration of 82 micrograms per cubic metre of air was still more than double the annual air quality objective target of just 40.

All three roadside monitoring stations also fell short of the air quality objectives for acceptable annual NO2 levels last year.

“Roadside NO2 remains a very big challenge as reduction technologies available now are not that sophisticated,” assistant director of air policy Mok Wai-chuen said.

At roadsides, concentrations of respirable suspended particulates (PM10) dropped by 15 per cent, fine suspended particulates (PM2.5) by 12 per cent, and sulphur dioxide
(SO2) by 10 per cent.

Similar drops were recorded at general stations. Fewer hours and days of high health risk air were recorded at both ambient and roadside stations last year.

But although roadside concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) – a product of fuel combustion – fell by 17 per cent, the average annual concentration of 82 micrograms per cubic metre of air was still more than double the annual air quality objective target of just 40.

All three roadside monitoring stations also fell short of the air quality objectives for acceptable annual NO2 levels last year.

“Roadside NO2 remains a very big challenge as reduction technologies available now are not that sophisticated,” assistant director of air policy Mok Wai-chuen said.

He believed improvements in particulate pollution were a result of policy measures such as an ongoing scheme to phase out old diesel commercial vehicles progressively and new laws requiring ships at berth to switch to low- sulphur fuel.

“This proves our policies to tackle particulate matter have been effective,” he said, adding that other measures such as tightening emission controls are being looked at.

Mok claimed the most severely polluted days were a result of ozone, a regional problem, either from pollution blowing in from the Pearl River Delta or meteorological
conditions such as tropical cyclones.

Ozone is formed through a reaction of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the air and under sunlight. It is a main component of photochemical smog – which gives a dusk sky a lurid, orange tint – and at elevated levels, can cause or aggravate respiratory diseases.

Asked if the toxic smog plaguing northern China could have drifted south, he said “it could not be ruled out” but “was of low possibility”.

The Clean Air Network’s Loong Tsz-wai said Mok’s meteorological explanations diverted attention from the most pressing issue, which was roadside pollution and the
“uncontrolled growth” of road vehicles.

“Most of our exposure to bad air is at roadside,” he said. “NO2 concentrations may be going down but the effectiveness of exhaust pipe policies could be easily offset over the years if the number of private cars is not curbed.”

Wang Tao, chair professor of atmospheric environment at Polytechnic University, said the increase in regional ozone had indeed slowed since 2013, but not fallen. More control of precursors, such as VOC and NOX, were needed on both sides of the border, he said.

Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/healthenvironment/article/2059691/hong-kong-enjoys-breath-fresh-air-its-not-enough

How shrinking dolphin numbers off Hong Kong’s largest island point up environmental impact assessments

City’s third runway plan, controversial bridge among projects sparking debate

On paper, residents of Kat Hing Gardens, a cluster of small village houses near Kam Sheung Road railway station in Kam Tin should have a phenomenal view – one of sprawling wetlands full of waterbirds and rare butterflies.

After all, the then Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation (KCRC) had built them to compensate for 12 hectares of natural wetland between Kam Tin and Yuen Long that was permanently lost during the construction of the Kam Sheung Road section of the West Rail Line.

The reality however, is a fragmented collection of swamps, isolated from functional wetland systems. Some of them wither in the shade of the viaduct. Most measure just a few thousand square feet and are barricaded from the public by a hostile wall of steel and wire fencing. Apart from mosquitoes, there is minimal life. There are even times when the wetlands are not even wet at all.

“This was just compensation for the sake of compensation,” said Dr Ng Cho-nam an associate professor of geography at the University of Hong Kong. “It is meaningless.

These wetlands have no ecological value.”

The West Rail was the first large-scale project to require a managed wetland compensation project under the requirement of the project’s environmental permit, which was based on approval of its environmental impact assessment (EIA).

The example has entered Ng’s educational canon – he teaches EIA at university – as a classic case of short-sighted ecological mitigation and compensation planning as well as the shortcomings of the impact assessment system. “I bring all my students here on field trips,” Ng said.

The West Rail was built more than a decade ago. But as development projects across the city get bigger, more complex and political, critics have raised questions.

Calls for an overhaul of the EIA system have been growing in recent years, with lawmakers on the environmental affairs panel of the Legislative Council demanding that a complete review of the 18-year-old EIA Ordinance be placed on their discussion agenda this term.

“The weakest components of the EIA system are mitigation measures for ecology and the environmental monitoring and auditing [EM&A],” said Dr Michael Lau Wai-neng, assistant director of conservation at WWFHong Kong and a member of the Advisory Council on the Environment, which must vet EIA reports and make recommendations to the government.

He was referring to the chapter of the EIA technical memorandum that requires “verification of predictions or measures” to mitigate environmental impacts upon completion of the project.

Dr Gordon Maxwell, an ecologist an Open University and a former EIA appeal board member, agreed and said the ordinance needed to be enhanced as it currently “excluded more things than it included”. “It doesn’t take into account or pay attention to the ecological function,” he said. “We should be trying to enhance the ecological
quality.”

Mitigation mishaps

Coming under intense public scrutiny in recent years has undoubtedly been the city’s HK$141.5 billion third runway [3] system. It is Hong Kong’s biggest infrastructure project since the new airport was built.

Activists have slammed the issuing of an environmental permit to the Airport Authority as a breach of “procedural justice”. The EIA, they claim, had left several environmental and ecological questions unanswered but had still been approved.

A judicial review over the decision was recently thrown out by the High Court.

The judicial challengers believed there had been a lack of immediate mitigation measures in the EIA to compensate for the more than 650 hectares of permanent habitat loss – mainly to the protected Chinese white dolphin. Issues such as the accumulative impacts from surrounding projects such as the bridge connecting Hong Kong, Macau and Zhuhai had also been ignored.

One of the 250 mitigation measures was the creation of an enlarged protected marine park for dolphins – but only when the project was completed in 2023. The authority’s experts claim displaced dolphins will come back eventually but conservationists believe this is “wishful thinking”.

Spelling doom for dolphins

Dr Samuel Hung Ka-yiu, chairman of the Dolphin Conservation Society, has been one of the project’s biggest critics. He said it was disappointing the city had not learned from the experience of the EIA for the bridge. The project had also been subject to judicial review over unaddressed issues of pollution and the use of faulty methodology in
the EIA.

The project was delayed after the Court of First Instance ruled the assessment failed to meet the government’s own standards in 2011. But the government appealed and the ruling was overturned by the Court of Appeal.

Chinese white dolphin numbers in northern Lantau have tanked since construction work began in 2011, driven to waters further away or to death by deafening noise pollution and declining fish stocks.

Elaborate mitigation measures were introduced in the EIA from silt curtains to action and limit levels. But dolphin numbers are still going down and nobody can be held
responsible.

From an average encounter rate of 7.7 sightings per 100km in 2011, the figure dropped to just 1.4 in 2015. Their abundance in north Lantau has nearly halved since 2010.

Since 2015, the number of dolphins seen in northern Lantau waters has fallen by 60 per cent.

“The [bridge project] pretty much opened the Pandora’s box of easy to pass EIAs,” said Hung. His theory, he claimed, had been confirmed by the judicial decision on the runway EIA.

Hung said the biggest problem with EIA reports was that they were commissioned to “independent” consultants by project proponents and were almost always approved by the government. “Their main job is to make sure their client’s EIA is passed, not to ensure that the environment is protected,” he said, pointing out that in many cases such as in the third runway, the same consultant was hired to help do the EM&A. “The question arises: are they truly independent?”

Since the ordinance was introduced, the director for environmental protection has received 240 EIA reports. Of these, 38 had failed to either meet certain criteria or were withdrawn before consultation. Just one was rejected.

Role of gatekeeper in doubt

It doesn’t help that the gatekeeper for the EIA, the director, also holds the position of permanent secretary for the environment, a post at risk of coming under political
pressure.

“There are too many interests involved in EIAs,” said Dr Billy Hau Chi-hang, a University of Hong Kong ecologist and a member of the Advisory Council on the Environment, who has been calling for a review of the system rather than the ordinance.

“In this political environment there is always the chance of political manipulation. Even if a review of the ordinance is conducted, will it actually strengthen it?” he said.

Because most designated projects are proposed by the Hong Kong government, Hau believed it would be difficult for a director, who was also a member of the policy bureau, to split his professional and political roles in making decisions on EIAs.

The perceived conflict of interest is most apparent when it comes to government projects – the planned controversial waste incinerator on Shek Kwu Chau, for instance, was floated by the Environmental Protection Department, the body that would scrutinise and approve its EIA.

In defence of the ordinance

Those involved in EIAs, however, are quick to defend the system and brand much of the criticism as “unfair”. Built on the backs of those in the Netherlands, Australia and Canada, the system is hailed as a pioneering development for Asia that helped inspire others.

Introduced in 1998, the EIA Ordinance was seen as a way to avoid, minimise and control adverse environmental impacts from designated projects through a thorough process and a permit system. The principles were avoidance, minimisation, compensation and enhancement.

“The process has been shown to be solid over 18 years. It works, it has given the accepted result that they wanted in the legislation, and the professionalism has increased, I would say, by an order of 10,” said Dr Glenn Frommer, a former head of corporate sustainability for the MTR Corporation [6], who helped develop the assessment for the airport railway project in the early 1990s.

“Environmental protection is now a common theme. You cannot build a large scale infrastructure project in Hong Kong without having environmental professionals involved to do the adequate planning, implementation and operation.”

Clara U Kam-wa, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Institute of Environmental Impact Assessment and a senior assessor with the Environmental Protection Department, points out that over 200 EIAs have been approved since the ordinance was implemented and many developments in environmental engineering and design were adopted after being put through the EIA process. She did not believe there were conflicts of interest in the department’s dual positions as all EIAs were assessed strictly according to the technical memorandums.

“There have been so many hidden successes and unexpected consequences [of EIAs],” U said. She pointed to the influence of the Lok Ma Chau Spur Line project in altering engineering preferences from tunnels to viaducts and the evolution of excavation works to favour non-dredging methods.

In 1998, an EIA study brief set requirements on greenhouse gases at a time when climate change was not as hot a topic, influencing a decision by applicant HK Electric to opt for a gas-fired generating facility in its extension to the Lamma Island power station.

“It’s actually a very interesting story as, at that time, no one considered greenhouse gases as a pollution source,” said Freeman Cheung Chun-ming, a senior vice president for environment at engineering consultancy AECOM and a former institute chair. “They basically set the frame that new generation units would have to run on natural gas and not coal.”

Frommer highlighted two fundamental developments over the decades that EIAs will have to keep up with: the “de-siloisation” of issues set out in the memorandums and the evolution of public participation in the EIA process.

“We’re now seeing more connections between air, noise, water, waste, agricultural risk, chemical usage issues,” he said.

A frequent criticism of the ordinance has been the lax public engagement requirements.

A project proponent, for instance, is only required to consult the public and advisory council on project profiles for 14 days and on their EIA reports for one to two months.

The way forward

Conservationists like Hung believe there will be a significant “deterioration of trust” in EIAs. “After the bridge EIA was approved, I knew the third runway would finish off the dolphins,” he said. “The[project proponents] have become just too good at gaming the system.”

EIA scholars are relatively more sanguine. Ng of HKU supports “mitigation banking” – a system similar to carbon banking in which habitat loss from one project is banked as credits and used for off-site mitigation somewhere more feasible.

Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/healthenvironment/article/2058628/how-shrinking-dolphin-numbers-hong-kongs-largest

Hong Kong environment professionals call for accreditation scheme to improve impact assessment quality

With more complex development projects, institute says improved accountability is also needed

A professionals institute has called for the creation of a government-recognised chartership scheme that would accredit qualified environmental impact assessors and raise industry standards.

It comes amid increasing demand for environmental impact assessment studies as more and more complex development projects are proposed for the city.

The Institute of Qualified Environmental Professionals (HKIQEP) said the scheme would be similar to those offered by professional institutes for local surveyors, architects or engineers.

“There are many ways to substantiate your technical expertise, but under the current system there is no recognition for the environmental discipline,” institute vice-chair Freeman Cheung Chun-ming, a senior environmental manager at engineering consultancy Aecom, said.

“The purpose will be to upgrade the professional recognition of environmental professionals… to make sure members are well qualified and have a good ethics and quality.”

Cheung said the HKIQEP would be empowered by ordinance to issue Qualified Environmental Professional credentials to members who meet the experience requirements and pass a trade test and interview. Project proponents could then request to hire only those who have the relevant qualification.

He said discussions had been held with lawmakers and the government on the proposal.

The HKIQEP is made up of a number of related institutions, including the staff union for the government’s environmental protection officers.

The quality of environmental impact assessments, has come under scrutiny in recent years with multiple judicial reviews lodged against different projects, including the most recent regarding the airport’s third runway.

Over 200 environmental impact assessment studies have been approved since the ordinance came into effect in 1998.

Clara U Kam-wa, who chairs the Institute of Environmental Impact Assessment welcomed the proposed scheme.

“Accreditation doesn’t necessarily mean things will be better, but with a qualified professional, environmental consultants would be held accountable for their work,” she said.

Ecologist Dr Billy Hau Chi-hang, a member of the government Advisory Council on the Environment also commended the idea, but hoped it would improve quality control in studies.

“It’s better than nothing,” he said, questioninghow the qualification would cover such a varied field of expertise, including air and water quality, noise or ecology.
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Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/2058554/hong-kong-environment-professionals-call-accreditation

Hong Kong’s Climate Action Plan Report

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