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July, 2002:

Street-side pollution problems

Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Street-side pollution problems cannot be ignored

We should all welcome Dr Sarah Liao to the position of Secretary for the Environment, Transport and Works. It is arguably one of the most important of Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa’s ministerial selections, because of the increasing impact the environment will have on our economy.

One of her first focal points could be to reconsider a recent decision by the government that seemed to go unnoticed by the public – not to convert more than 70,000 diesel light goods vehicles, school buses and vans to liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) for at least another six years. This reminds me of a decision about 10 years ago when the government failed to make the initial change to LPG for our taxi fleet, putting us at least 10 years behind other developed world cities in terms of street-side pollution.

Dr Liao should address this situation head-on and quickly. She mistakenly said that 90 per cent of our air pollution is a result of our neighbours across the border. Many studies have shown that at least 50 per cent of our bad air is of our own making. This is easy to understand when people are seen gasping for air at pedestrian crossings. This problem is not coming from across the border, but from the more than 70,000 diesel vehicles in our streets, literally gassing people as they move.

As this city fights to re-invent itself and become more integrated into the Pearl River Delta, issues of quality will become important differentiators in our economy. When the industrialists have their way, integration with the cities in the delta will mean that people can decide between ”quantity” and ”quality”. This will have a direct impact on real estate prices and our overall economic growth potential. ”Quantity” will be across the border, but will we have ”quality” here to keep Hong Kong a step ahead?

Short-term gains from Disneyland and land-filled developments will not improve our long-term competitive advantage, but an improved quality of life will, and this puts Dr Liao directly in the spotlight as the SAR’s most important minister.

Attending immediately to the more than 70,000 diesel vehicles will be a great step forward, since they are responsible for more than 50 per cent of Hong Kong’s locally-produced air pollution.

This would lead to substantial economic improvements. I hope Dr Liao can rise to the occasion.