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Climate Change Forum to be held on 15 Oct 2013

The Hong Kong Observatory and World Green Organisation are jointly organising “Climate Change Forum: Overview of Latest Scientific Findings of IPCC AR5 Report” on 15th October, 2013 (Tuesday). This forum will present a number of highlights from the new report. Academicians and professionals will then exchange their ideas about the possible threats to our economy and human health, which will lead us to the discussions on community initiatives.

* IPCC : Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change

The forum will be presented in Cantonese. It is free of charge but registration is needed. Click here for more details.

Clear The Air agrees with and endorses the conclusions and recommendations in Civic Exchange’s: “Green Harbours:

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Clear The Air

22 Feb, 2010

Clear The Air agrees with and endorses the conclusions and recommendations in Civic Exchange’s:  “Green Harbours:  Hong Kong and Shenzhen – Reducing Marine and Port Related Emissions” report of June 2008 – as summarized in the Executive Summary below. (The Report can be download from:

Executive Summary

Busy ports, high pollution and public health Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta (PRD) have some of the busiest ports in the world and throughput is expected to grow. Millions of people in the region live and work in close proximity to port facilities and are directly exposed to harmful levels of shipping and port-related emissions. Toxic emissions from ships and port-operations represent a danger to public health and a long-term threat to the economy.

Local and regional initiatives

Governments and the various players in the maritime sectors of Hong Kong and the PRD have already implemented some positive measures including: encouraging the use of low-sulphur fuels by ships, barges, port vehicles and equipment; using electricity to power port machinery; reducing fuel consumption; and using quay-side electrification. The more progressive companies are looking at how to reduce their carbon footprint.

Low-hanging fruit available

Although these measures in themselves are not sufficient toreduce emissions on a scale necessary to protect public health, they do form a solid foundation on which to do more. There is also low-hanging fruit available for the authorities to harvest, such as those recommendations noted below.

Other ports are dealing with pollution

The health impact of marine and port-related air pollution is not a problem unique to Hong Kong and southern China. In North America and Europe in particular, ports, governments and maritime industries are developing solutions to protect public health by way of regulations, incentive programmes, award and recognition schemes, comprehensive plans and policies, research and cross-interest collaborations. The report’s key recommendations draw on that international experience, as follows:

(1) In the short-term: Foster greater cross-border, cross-port and cross-sector collaboration

• Implement fast and easy wins, such as requiring vessels to slow down to reduce fuel consumption.

• Fast-track collaboration across jurisdictions and amongst diverse stakeholder groups, such as port authorities, maritime industry associations, public and non-government environmental agencies, and public health specialists.

• Establish a regional, cross-industry body to manage port- and marine-related environmental issues.

The HKSAR Government is well-placed to convene this group.

• Create exchange programmes with international ports with green port policies to share international best practice.

(2) In the medium-term: Develop a comprehensive green ports strategy and related policy measures

• Develop an overarching regulatory and planning framework for implementing green port policies through cross-industry-cross-jurisdiction dialogue recommended above.

• Use regulatory processes under international treaties such as Emissions Control Areas (ECAs) to engage Hong Kong, the PRD and Beijing.

(3) Look at cleaner fuels initiatives

• Consider imposing fees on high-sulphur fuels and lowering taxes and duties on ultra low sulphur diesel (ULSD).

• Improve fuel distribution infrastructure to decrease the actual cost of ULSD for local craft.

• Encourage the use and availability of cleaner fuels.

(4) Ongoing training programmes for industry

• Offer government-sponsored training programmes through the Hong Kong Productivity Council to refresh and upgrade end-users’ knowledge of equipment efficiency and proper usage to reduce fuel consumption.

(5) Research

• Conduct a government-led detailed inventory of maritime-related pollutants, including greenhouse gases to provide a strong technical foundation for both policy decisions and on-going research and monitoring in the PRD.

• Undertake research on the health effects of marine and port related emissions to determine subsequent policy measures to reduce the impacts.

SCMP Sep 17, 2009

Reducing highly toxic emissions from ships must be a key part of the government’s clean-air strategy. Right now, shipping emissions are regarded as a problem that can wait. Officials have not given this a higher priority because they take a total-quantity approach rather than a public health one. Total emissions from power plants and road vehicles are many times higher than that from ships. But this approach misses the high toxicity of bunker fuel. Data from the maritime industry shows that the 15 biggest ships in the world today may emit the same amount of pollution as all the cars in the world.

Imagine a large container ship coming into Kwai Chung terminal. It stays there for, say, a day to load and unload cargo. While the ship is docked, it is still burning bunker fuel to generate electricity. Under international agreements, oceangoing vessels can burn bunker fuel with up to 4.5 per cent sulphur content, although the average is about 3 per cent. This is extremely high compared to the 0.005 per cent sulphur content of ultra-low sulphur diesel that road vehicles burn in Hong Kong. Kwai Chung is close to the homes and workplaces of millions of people. Even light breezes can blow the emissions to heavily populated areas.

The issue, then, is straightforward. The government must multitask – while it prepares plans to drive down power and vehicular emissions, it must at the same time deal with ships. So far, officials have only proposed to deal with local vessels. These are the smaller vessels operating in local waters, such as pleasure boats, ferries, hydrofoils and barges. They are already burning much cleaner fuels, with 0.5 per cent sulphur content. The government is proposing that all local vessels should use ultra-low sulphur diesel, which will help. A refinement to this proposal is to set a limit on emissions and allow owners to use other means to achieve the same emission levels as ultra-low sulphur diesel, since other technology may be able to achieve the same results.

The problem remains that oceangoing vessels are not included in this proposal and they are the heavy polluters burning bunker fuel. Let’s face facts. The container ports of Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Guangzhou handle about 12 per cent of the global container traffic. This is an awful lot for a small body of water. Hong Kong and Shenzhen are, in fact, sister ports because of their proximity, and also because they share essentially the same investors and operators. And even if ships are heading for Shenzhen, many pass through Hong Kong waters and their emissions affect our residents.

In fact, all major port cities and cross-jurisdiction regions face the same problems. International maritime agreements on emissions have moved quite slowly. For example, oceangoing ships will only have to meet fuel standards with 3.5 per cent sulphur content by 2012, and perhaps 0.5 per cent by 2020. This is far too slow, so port authorities are taking the initiative to clean up marine emissions and related container-truck pollution.

The US ports of Seattle and Tacoma and their neighbouring Canadian port of Vancouver have formed an extensive partnership to maintain clean waterways and air quality. Its members include port operators, local environmental authorities and public health experts. The ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are also co-operating to find solutions that include using financial incentives for ships to burn cleaner fuel as they enter Californian waters. European ports are exploring similar initiatives.

Hong Kong and Shenzhen are ideal partners to devise green port policies. The public should insist that it becomes part of the government’s push to work with Guangdong to improve air quality, and also make it an important element of cross-border collaboration. The good news is that many ship owners, liners and terminal operators are ready to act because their ships and overseas operations have already been forced to clean up. They know the global trend. The authorities here need to demand action so there is a level playing field. In other words, discriminate against the laggards, not those who can lead.

Hong Kong’s port is an economic lifeline – and one of its worst sources of pollution, writes Christine Loh

Low-hanging fruit is ripe for picking. But it can only be harvested at the optimal time. And, so, the government must move ahead to deal with marine and port-related emissions now because emission levels are rising, yet many stakeholders are ready to perform at a higher environmental level. By taking decisive action in the near future, the government will win political kudos.

The authorities have a duty to act if they are serious about protecting public health. Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta have some of the busiest ports in the world. Between 2001 and 2006, Hong Kong’s container throughput increased by about 32 per cent, from 17.8 million to 23.5 million 20-foot equivalent units (teus), a measurement for containerised tonnage. Our neighbour, Shenzhen, has also seen massive increases, from about 5 million teus in 2001 to nearly 18.5 million teus in 2006.

Millions of people in the region live and work close to ports and are directly exposed to very harmful levels of shipping and port-related emissions. After all, ship emissions come from the burning of bunker fuel, which is highly toxic. While in total tonnage terms, marine emissions are much less than from power plants, bunker fuel is nevertheless very dirty and its emissions affect more than 3 million people in Hong Kong, according to a government-commissioned study. Despite the lower quantity, ship emissions have a large negative impact on people’s health.

Moreover, port activities include the operation of many types of equipment, such as cranes, as well as tens of thousands of barges and trucks moving goods round the clock. They all burn lower-quality diesel and thus contribute to Hong Kong’s and the delta’s poor air quality. There is no doubt that old, polluting lorries are a major contributor to this city’s roadside pollution, which is desperately high.

While long-term predictions are less precise, current government-sponsored estimates show that our city may handle a staggering 40 million teus by 2030. With Shenzhen’s ports also growing quickly – some believe they will grow even faster – there is, in fact, an urgent need to clean up, otherwise the rising tonnage of cargo will become an even bigger public health threat.

Our ship owners know Hong Kong can do better. This is because their ships sail around the world and, in European and North American ports, there have been much greater efforts in recent years to promote green port policies to reduce the public health impact on port cities. Their ships have to improve their environmental performance when they dock at those ports, for example, by using cleaner fuels and reducing speed.

So, ship owners know they can do the same when their ships sail into Hong Kong and Shenzhen, and it would mean lower emissions for the residents of this region.

There is an additional cost component to using cleaner fuel. But if all ships entering a port have to meet the same tighter emissions levels, it is a new, level playing field. The ship owners insist that voluntary measures don’t work because there will always be the temptation for some to save costs by continuing to use dirtier fuel, for example.

Cargo terminal operators in Hong Kong have also started to use cleaner fuels for their equipment as part of their corporate social responsibility programmes. Since they are in fact global port operators, these companies are also affected by international trends. Some of the larger companies that operate various types of harbour craft – tugs and ferries – are also looking at what emissions improvements they can make and are providing key staff with environmental management training. The most difficult stakeholder group is the lorry operators, many of whom feel they are in a sunset industry. But, even here, better driving skills can help with fuel efficiency, leading to lower costs at a time when energy prices are very high.

The government needs to be willing to convene ongoing dialogue with the stakeholders to press home green port policies and work with the marine and port operation sector to explore a range of clean-up options.

A Clear Vision

SCMP – Jun 25, 2009

Hong Kong has better visibility during the summer because prevailing winds blow pollution away. Unfortunately, the thick smog will return later and much of the Pearl River Delta will be enveloped by the ugly yellow-brown haze once more.

With Hong Kong investment, the delta became one of the world’s busiest industrial hubs, so it should come as no surprise that air pollution has risen substantially over the past two decades. The task now is to clean it up quickly to protect the health of some 50 million people.

The loss of blue sky in the region has much to do with two pollutants – particulates and ozone. Particulates are derived from the burning of fossil fuels by vehicles, and in industrial processes and power generation; ozone is formed when other pollutants react in the presence of sunlight.

Complex chemical reactions are involved, which makes these two pollutants among the hardest to control.

We are not alone in facing this problem. Many cities and regions around the world are struggling to find solutions, too. It is therefore important to understand the specific regional conditions for us to devise directly relevant solutions. Moreover, the types and mix of pollutants change constantly as the industrial profile of the region alters.

For example, the change in the region’s fuel mix and quality will have an impact, as will the increasein the number of vehicles.

While Hong Kong has already done solid research on the nature of local emissions, and there have been publicly and privately funded studies on cross-border emissions, we are not yet carrying out the kind of inquiries that others do as a matter of course. Despite Hong Kong’s status as a developed city, the science necessary for policymaking remains patchy.

This is easy to correct but our environmental officials need to give priority to setting up the right structure and ensure continued funding. The government as a whole needs to focus on upgrading its ability to regulate.

For example, the United States set up “supersites” monitoring programmes more than a decade ago to conduct detailed and wide-ranging air pollution and health-related studies in various locations. This was done to inform policymakers about the cost and methods to control particulates. Supersites take into account more than just regular monitoring of air pollution, and include factors such as human exposure to pollution. The sites include areas with unique climate, emissions or population characteristics, for example. This way, regional aspects of pollution problems can be better understood and dealt with.

Between 2002 and 2005, Taiwan set up four supersites to gain a better understanding of the characteristics and amount of particulates in both the north and south of the island.

In the Pearl River Delta, there have been several supersite studies between 2004 and last year, and the results are being used for planning similar programmes in the rest of Guangdong province. This is all the more reason why Hong Kong needs to set up its own data-gathering programme as a way to collaborate with our regional neighbours.

As the mainland builds it regulatory system, Hong Kong must push ahead even faster to improve its ability to gather and evaluate data and consider strategies to control the problem.

Such research is cost effective: a few million dollars a year goes a long way, and authorities can call on universities to help. The results are critical to policymaking based on evidence. If there is no data, there is no science.

The expensive part is the measures to control the problem that are eventually rolled out by the government; the research is relatively cheap.

A quick look at what others are doing should help the Hong Kong government chart a course. With resources and talent on the ground, there is no reason not to push ahead.

Christine Loh Kung-wai is chief executive of the think-tank Civic Exchange.

Air Of Detachment

CHRISTINE LOH, SCMP – Mar 26, 2009

The government ought to do the work itself. By palming off a review of Hong Kong’s outdated air quality objectives to a consultant, the administration has shown its disconnectedness from a critical task. This is not its intention, of course. Presumably, the government wanted to appear independent, but this was not how it came across last Friday at the “public consultation” organised by the consultant.

About 450 people showed up despite having less than two weeks’ notice of an event that was held during working hours. The timing alone created the impression that the “consultation” was not being taken seriously. The crowd was told the gathering was part of what the consultant was obliged to do under its contract with the government. So, it wasn’t the government, but the consultant, consulting the people. The director of environmental protection was there to start the event, but left early. Lower-ranking officials stayed but it was a team from the consultancy firm that presented its initial recommendations and answered questions from the public.

The consultant is a big international firm, although what appeared strange right from the start, to people familiar with air-quality management, was its local team’s relative inexperience in the subject. The firm had apparently invited a panel of local experts to provide assistance, and numerous meetings were held, but it appears a number of those with science and public-health backgrounds did not agree with the firm’s recommendations.

Is the government an independent party to all that? Of course not. First, upon questioning from the public, it turned out that public health was not the key priority in the consultant’s brief. This was a shock to those who showed up. People naturally thought Hong Kong was finally revising the air quality objectives because current standards have become a licence to pollute and health should be the new driver.

Second, the way the consultant constructed its presentation gave the impression that its recommendation on resetting the objectives was already close to the World Health Organisation guidelines, which are the most authoritative in the world in terms of health protection. The presenter said that some permitted pollutant levels would be set at WHO levels while others would be based on interim targets. What the presenter didn’t say was that there are, in fact, no interim targets under WHO guidelines for some pollutants, and what was at issue was whether the consultant recommended unambitious interim targets.

The consultant also talked about costs related to its cleanup plan but did not release the details of how those costs were calculated. There were benefits, too, but the presentation was focused on costs, presumably to emphasise that clean air doesn’t come free. Not unexpectedly, almost every question from the public had to do with those assumptions on costs and benefits. The information was not released, presumably because the client – the government – did not authorise it. The inevitable happened (in fact, it had already happened the day before, when the consultant appeared before legislators): the government official present had to agree to release the information. This will happen on April 16, when the administration gives it to legislators.

It was no way to organise a public consultation. Without releasing critical information ahead of time, the event was bound to fail. It was not possible to have a meaningful exchange. The consultation was an afterthought. No wonder people went away thinking it was a disaster.

The consultant’s recommended revisions are unlikely to be tough enough to lead to policy changes that will dramatically clean up local pollution – such as at the roadside – in the foreseeable future. The government should have conducted the review instead of shielding itself behind the consultant. Neither the government nor its hired guns can ever appear neutral. The long-standing habit of giving critical policymaking functions to consultants does nothing to strengthen the government’s own capacity.

Christine Loh Kung-wai is chief executive of the think-tank Civic Exchange.

A Fresh Start

Updated on Mar 05, 2009 – SCMP

Some things will need to change as Hong Kong people demand a more healthy living environment. The sooner our government and politicians respond to this, the sooner their popularity will rise. Even during tough economic times, people still want to protect their health. Inaction on this issue cannot be excused simply because “it costs more”.

A headline in the Sunday Morning Post sounded a warning: “Parents question decision to build MTR air vent next to school”. Parents of students attending Bonham Road Government Primary School are fighting the railway operator’s plan to site a ventilation shaft next to the school. The company and government say the shaft acts like a window to improve air exchange and will not spew out pollution.

What is interesting is the concern of parents. A few years ago, such a protest would probably not have happened. Today, people are far more concerned about public health. They are asking questions and demanding answers.

Parents should focus on how far away schools are from major roads; vehicle emissions are a health hazard for everyone, but especially children.

In the US, a school sited within 400 metres of a highway is considered within an air-pollution danger zone. If we were to apply this standard to Hong Kong, many of our schools situated right by busy roads with very high daytime pollution levels would not pass muster. Equally threatening to health is the undesirable “street canyon effect” that traps pollution between tall buildings.

Planners and officials might protest that it is impossible to ensure schools in Hong Kong are sited further away from busy roads because of the high urban density, but this assumption should not be taken at face value. We should at least ask how, in a city like ours, we can protect public health, especially of youngsters whose physical development can be impaired by pollution.

Children are not just miniature adults: they eat, drink and breathe at much higher rates; their growing bodies more readily absorb contaminants; and their developing immune systems make them more prone to diseases and disorders caused by exposure to toxins. Polluting emissions near schools, where children spend many hours a day, pose a huge threat to students’ health. Although the science is clear, we have not yet taken public health into account when planning our city.

Turning on air filter systems indoors will help, to a point. But, if the overall air quality is poor, all of us suffer.

In such a dense and built-up city, shouldn’t the attitude be “we need to work harder to minimise health risks” rather than “we can’t do much about it”? The political will of our leaders is paramount. Very little will change from a “business-as-usual” approach. Much more can be done if they adopt the Hong Kong “can-do” attitude our officials so loudly crow about when it comes to business matters.

For Hong Kong to have a chance to be a healthier city, the Development Bureau (which is in charge of urban planning), the Transport and Housing Bureau and the Environment Bureau first need to work together, rather than stay in their own bunkers. The heads of these policy bodies need to know, through legislation, what Hong Kong’s priorities are.

Laws such as the Air Pollution Control Ordinance need to be overhauled so that public health becomes the clear driver for planning and emissions control. Air quality standards must also be drastically tightened to make them at least consistent with modern health standards in science.

The government will argue that it is “reviewing the standards” but, if the whole of the government is not given a unifying vision and mission to make health a top priority through strong policy and laws, it won’t be enough.

Parents arise! We owe nothing less to our children.

Christine Loh Kung-wai is chief executive of the think-tank Civic Exchange.

Waiting To Inhale

Hong Kong’s worsening air quality has many looking for the exit.

By Matt Driskill – GlobalPost – Published: February 20, 2009 13:35 ET

HONG KONG – Air pollution in Hong Kong is so bad that one-in-five residents in a recent poll said they were considering leaving the city. That has some here calling that exodus the biggest brain drain threat since the British handed the city back to China in 1997 when 450,000 people are estimated to have left.

The poll, conducted by the Hong Kong Transition Project at Baptist University on behalf of the Civic Exchange non-governmental organization, showed public concern about air pollution rose dramatically from 2001 to 2008. It also showed that people believe air pollution is making Hong Kong an “undesirable location for both locals and prospective international talent.”

“People from all sectors of society know that air pollution is making them sick,” said Prof. Michael DeGolyer, director of the transition project. “However, almost no one is expressing their concerns to government leaders or the media. This silence indicates a serious breakdown in communication and trust and a need to review the public consultation system.”

The survey was taken during September and October 2008 and polled 1,020 Hong Kong adults in Cantonese, Mandarin, English, and the Chinese dialects of Hakka and Fujianese.

“If there are people who still think poor air quality is mainly a concern of the expatriate community, they need to look at the evidence,” said Christine Loh, chief executive of the Civic Exchange. “The survey shows local people are extremely concerned about the bad air they have to breath every day. It is also no comfort to them to know that our air is better than that in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.”

For its part, the government of Hong Kong says it is working to improve air quality. In his 2008 policy address, similar to a U.S. president’s State of the Union speech, Hong Kong’s chief executive, Donald Tsang, said the government was reviewing its air quality objectives and would adopt targets in line with those proposed by the World Health Organization.

Those targets however, fall within the so-called “entry level, interim target 1” objectives, which Loh says will not offer any meaningful improvement.

“The government is concerned tighter standards would lead to Hong Kong failing them by an even larger margin” than the standards currently employed, Loh said. “This mindset sees the air quality objectives as administrative hurdles rather than health-based standards,” he added.

“The government’s view on this needs to be brought in line with international thinking.”

Greener Paths

SCMP – Updated on Feb 19, 2009

It is fashionable, the world over, to talk about government budget-stimulus measures and job-creation packages. There is also a trend promoting the transformation to a “green” and “low carbon” economy, as well as creating “green” jobs. What might work in Hong Kong? A green economic approach needs to be defined for policymaking purposes. Now is the right time to shape a new kind of prosperity, based on quality of life rather than materialism. If the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak in 2003 and the current financial crisis have taught us anything, it is to treasure how we live rather than to define ourselves by what we buy. Good health and well-being have become much more important to Hong Kong people, and they will only become more important. The green agenda reminds us that our good health depends on ecological health. Therefore, protecting the environment and reversing climate change are vital. A degraded environment will definitely compromise our health.

Thus, a green economy is one based on creating prosperity and jobs while stabilising the climate, protecting the environment, reversing its degradation and promoting people’s health. This new economic vision works within ecological boundaries of resource renewal and waste absorption, while people’s health is also a key focus. This means we must pay more attention to what the planet is telling us about ecological tipping points.

Mainland China has several strategies, which are already national policies, that Hong Kong can adopt while making the transition to a green economy.

First, Hong Kong must strive to be more resource efficient, which means conserving all raw materials, including water. When we use raw materials, we must do so as efficiently as modern technology and good management allow us. For example, we must become much more energy efficient in everything, from power generation to transport, manufacturing, property development and consumer choices.

Second, we should aim to achieve the greatest number of benefits across the board. For example, as policymakers seek ways to improve energy efficiency, they could also address the impact of air pollution and climate change. Third, we must reduce waste massively, by redesigning products, improving their durability, and promoting reuse and recycling. National policymakers call this the “circular economy”.

Such concepts aim to achieve the greatest climate, ecological and health benefits through saving resources, which can also result in financial gains. In other words, use less, spend less, pollute less. To get there, the government has numerous tools at its disposal. A good start is better standards. Tightening the city’s air-quality standards, for example, would promote technical innovation and new management approaches, while improving air quality and public health. By reforming energy and building codes, Hong Kong will get a new generation of much better buildings in return.

Another powerful tool is for the government to use its procurement and public works as levers for a green revolution. Public-sector spending, coupled with wide consumer-product labelling and public-information campaigns, can play a very important role in ramping up economies of scale and therefore achieving cost competitiveness.

Public works offer a large range of green projects and jobs. There are many opportunities for green “intelligent” government buildings and public housing, to propel the economy out of its current inefficient, “business-as-usual”, mode.

More green jobs could be created on the design side of development. Thoughtfully designed buildings and districts require more services like architecture, urban planning, landscaping, electrical and mechanical services, and indoor air-and water-quality control. Many buildings will need to be retrofitted to make them more energy efficient, for

Christine Loh Kung-wai is chief executive of the think-tank Civic Exchange.

Community Concern About Air Pollution

Sellout Conference Reflects Community Concern about Air Pollution

The Air We Breath – 20th Jan 2009

A sellout crowd of over 400 people attended Saturday’s conference highlighted the deep concern, and interesting finding solutions to Hong Kong’s air pollution.

The heavily oversubscribed event:

• delivered an up–to-date expert information on Hong Kong’s situation,
• introduced th Hedley Environmental Index
• introduced best practices in tackling pollution from overseas.

Most importantly, it provided an opportunity for delegates to discuss the issues with local and global experts and to propose solutions for Hong Kong to a panel of stakeholders that included Secretary for the Environment, Edward Yau and Legislators Audrey Eu (Chair of LegCo’s Environmental Affairs Panel), Tanya Chan, and Kam Nai Wai.

“Hong Kong has internationally-recognised experts on air pollution and public health. We are also able to tap overseas best practices to solve problems,” said Christine Loh, CEO Civic Exchange. “This tremendous gathering of knowledge – coupled with the community’s desire to participate – should send a very positive message to the Government that policies which improve public health by reducing air pollution will be strongly supported by the public and by experts”, she added.

“We are delighted to have such an enthusiastic response to this conference,” said William Yiu, Executive Director, Charities, Hong Kong Jockey Club. “The aim today is to transform our concerns about the health impacts of air pollution into positive energy to develop the solutions that will give us all cleaner, healthier air.” Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust generous funded the conference

Looking beyond the conference we hope that delegates will make use of what they have learned to participate in the government’s ongoing review of Hong Kong’s air quality objectives. These are the standards set by the Environmental Protection Department to control air pollution. Anyone wishing to comment can email the review team on

Hong Kong’s Economic Growth Spluttering On Filthy Air

20th Jan 2009 – AFP

HONG KONG (AFP) — In recent years, a thick haze originating from factories in southern China has enveloped Hong Kong for large chunks of the year, blocking views of its famous harbour and raising health fears.

Combined with the city’s home-grown pollution, scientists and business leaders say [air pollution] presents a serious economic risk to the financial hub, both for its ability to attract and retain talent and the associated health costs.

When Teena Goulet moved to Hong Kong in 1995 she thought she would never leave but five years after moving here, the keen outdoorswoman developed a chronic cough.

For someone who spent all her spare time outside — hiking, dragon boating, rowing — health was a major concern and after being diagnosed with adult onset asthma, Goulet, 45, decided last year to leave.

“It is just so vibrant and so safe,” the US banker said of Hong Kong.

“There is an amazing quality to it. Doing business is so easy, the low tax is great, the food and restaurants are great.

“I would have retired there,” said Goulet, speaking by phone from her new home in California. “But when you cannot breath, it kind of tells you what to do.”

Within a week of moving to California last March, her cough stopped.

US investment guru Jim Rogers, who moved to Asia in 2007 with his family because of his conviction that China would be the major driver of the world economy, chose to live in Singapore.

“I don’t want to breathe Hong Kong air,” he said.

A report for the City of London last October about the potential challenges from Asian financial centres, said the “only consistently negative issue” cited by professionals about Hong Kong related to environmental pollution.

The Hedley Environmental Index, a new website set up by a group of academics that combines air quality and public health data, puts the associated costs of the city’s poor air at 12.5 billion Hong Kong dollars (1.6 billion US) since the start of 2004.

[Air pollution in Hong Kong] caused 6,108 premature deaths.

Anthony Hedley, the public health professor at Hong Kong University after whom the index is named, said the website’s figures were conservative, as they excluded the long-term health effects of breathing toxic air.

“We are building up an enormous debt of trouble, which will manifest itself in one, two, three decades and could rear a huge toll on our children,” said Hedley.

‘Hong Kong is choking on its own greed’ —

A recent study commissioned by think tank Civic Exchange said one in five residents were considering leaving Hong Kong because of its dire air. Of the more than 1,000 people surveyed, 97 percent were local Chinese.

Michael DeGolyer, a political science professor at Hong Kong Baptist University who did the study, said the mood was such that one “tipping point” could provoke an exodus, particularly among managers and administrators.

“And Singapore wants them,” said DeGolyer.

The American Chamber of Commerce found in a recent member survey that 70 percent knew of professionals who had either left or were considering leaving because of the pollution.

“Hong Kong needs to lead the way (to improve air quality). That is what being a world city stands for,” said chamber chairman David Cunningham.

While the filth from thousands of toy, clothing and electronics factories in neighbouring Guangdong province dominates headlines, Alexis Lau, an atmospheric sciences professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said home-grown emissions from coal-fired power stations and dirty trucks were a more serious problem.

“We still believe the local pollution is more important for health,” Lau told a recent conference.

Hedley, who is leaving Hong Kong after 21 years here partly over worries about the air — he was diagnosed with adult onset asthma in his 60s — said the government must wake up to the time bomb.

“(The question for the government is) how many premature deaths are you prepared to accept?” said Hedley.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang said in 2007 improving air quality was “a matter of life and death,” and the government is currently reviewing its air quality guidelines, 20 years after they were last revised.

A spokeswoman for the Environmental Protection Department said tough measures had already helped reduce levels of several roadside pollutants and it was working with Guangdong authorities to reduce the haze.

New technology was being introduced to reduce emissions from power plants.

The department said the number of overseas companies with regional headquarters, offices or local operations in Hong Kong had increased to 6,612 in 2008 from 5,414 in 2003.

Any tougher regulations are likely to face opposition from sections of the local business community, which operates around 55,000 factories in Guangdong.

Goulet, who is now planning a move to Japan, said such intransigence was short-sighted: “Hong Kong is choking on its own greed.”

Youth Speak Truth On State Of Air Quality

Updated on Jan 19, 2009 – SCMP

Sometimes it takes youth to speak the truth to those in power. Such was the case when 500 Hong Kong residents gathered on January 10 to discuss the growing epidemic of air pollution.

Hong Kong’s air is toxic and getting worse.

Recent studies reveal sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter 200 to 400 per cent above the levels recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to protect basic health. The Hedley Environmental Index, developed by University of Hong Kong professor Anthony Hedley, shows the real costs in monetary and health terms.

Hong Kong suffers an average of four additional unnecessary deaths a day due to airborne toxins.

Hongkongers get the message. A survey released last month by the Hong Kong Transition Project reported that 81 per cent of local adults want the government to make reversing air pollution a priority – an almost 200 per cent increase from public opinion in 2001.

Two thirds of Hong Kong residents regularly avoid outdoor exercise and shield themselves with air conditioning; 500,000 are seriously considering leaving the city permanently.

The participants at the Air We Breathe conference, organised by Civic Exchange, sought more comprehensive solutions. Their suggestions were numerous, innovative and thoughtful, yet none seem to be on the government’s radar.

Refreshingly, it was the teenage contingent who put the issues to Secretary for the Environment Edward Yau Tang-wah most clearly. Their message to Mr Yau, who attended the conference, was: “You have the power; you should act. This is an issue of life and death, and the lives are ours. Fix it – now.”

Among the numerous fixes suggested, the top three were:

  • Set legally binding standards (not unenforced guidelines) for air quality, using human health as the guiding principle;
  • Adopt the latest WHO standards, which are based on the best science available to mankind; and
  • Commit to a near-term target for reaching the pollutant levels (say, 2011) and assign a blue-ribbon team, amply supported by government experts, to come up with a plan.

The people of Hong Kong have spoken. It’s time for the government to act.

Rachel Fleishman, Mid-Levels