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December, 2007:

Pollution Control Measures

SCMP Dec 30, 2007

With pollution control measures there must be a level playing field

For a long time I resisted buying a domestic air filter on ethical grounds.

It seems quite repellent that well-off families can cocoon their children and provide them with better air to breathe, whilst the extra electricity they use to do this is adding to the environmental problem for the majority of people.

Over my 14 years in Hong Kong I have seen the pollution worsen and as I became a mother to two young boys (the youngest of whom is asthmatic) this began to cause me more and more concern. So of course, I finally cracked and bought one too.

How could I let my personal stance cause my children to suffer and refuse to perhaps limit the long-term damage to them.

Now I am using one I am even more concerned about the environmental impact as obviously the effect of keeping windows shut on days which would be cool enough for a breeze, inevitably lead to more use of the air-conditioner too.

Your paper has carried stories and letters about road pricing – which is effectively exactly the same thing.

The well-off won’t think twice about driving/being chauffeured around town, just as they don’t in London.

In fact it creates a completely two-tier society, where some are able to move freely about the centre of the city laughing and making jokes about how they are privileged to enjoy the effects of keeping others off the streets.

For those other people, especially those with young families living on the fringes of the zone, it has caused a logistical nightmare – causing people to drive further in the terrible congestion just outside the zone to, for example, alternative supermarkets and swimming pools.

Pollution and energy consumption are literally vital issues and should be addressed strongly, quickly and on an egalitarian basis by the government and the whole population for the benefit of the whole population.

Emma Hurlston-Tseng, Pok Fu Lam

Compulsory Energy Codes Help Clear The Air

SCMP LEADER Dec 29, 2007

The link between buildings and air pollution is not readily apparent. You cannot see it by looking at a building, as you can by looking at vehicles with smoky engine exhausts, or easily apportion blame as you can to emissions from coal-burning power stations. But these emissions reflect the link. Government figures show that buildings account for up to 89 per cent of Hong Kong’s total energy consumption. Energy efficient buildings that consume less power therefore help combat pollution by power stations. That is not a revelation. It has long been a pet subject of environmental groups, and Hong Kong has had building standards for higher energy efficiency for nearly 10 years. As we report today, however, compliance is voluntary and very patchy. As a result, the government feels compelled to issue mandatory codes that would apply to new commercial buildings, public space in new residential and industrial buildings, and renovations of existing buildings covering more than half the public space and key

The proposal has been released for public consultation. It is estimated that extra building costs of up to 5 per cent to ensure air conditioning, lifts and escalators, lighting and electrical installations comply with the codes would be recovered within six years through smaller energy bills, which would then represent savings. That is a proposition for bringing a modern city up to the world’s best practice that seems hard to reject. With the cost-benefit argument here, the consultation should be little more than a formality. That should clear the way for the government to turn its mind to older buildings that have been exempted from the codes because space or design constraints would make compliance onerous. Given that they are more likely to be energy inefficient, incentives should be considered where compliance with the codes would make a big difference. Hong Kong has also been notorious for being too brightly lit at night and for its chilling shopping malls. If mandatory building codes could push us to cut wasteful lighting and turn down freezing air conditioning, so much the better.

Smoke And Mirrors On Pollution

Stephen Brown – Friday, December 21, 2007 – The Standard

It must have come as a bit of a surprise to the administration during the week when the Council for Sustainable Development announced it had carried out a public opinion survey on air pollution.

The survey of 81,000 people assessed their views on air quality. The findings showed a high degree of concern, indicating this may have been one of the few public opinion surveys on a sensitive topic in Hong Kong’s history that has not had its results conveniently doctored before publication.

Even more surprising than the frank findings of the survey was the fact that this organization, populated as it is by administration appointees, managed to come up with some firm policy proposals after completing the poll, recommendations that did not necessarily fit neatly into the political agenda of its masters.

The council highlighted the inconvenient truth that people here are fed up to the back teeth with the air pollution that we have to live with.

Forty-two percent of the respondents wanted road pricing introduced, while 77 percent wanted higher transport fees if that meant that our air quality could be improved.

But, with our political system fundamentally flawed, as the functional constituency system ensures that public policy takes no real account of anything other than the narrow vested interests of the incumbents of these rotten boroughs, it still remains to be seen whether Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam- kuen can raise his policy game to meet heightened public expectations.

The future of electronic road pricing, in particular, looks as uncertain here as ever, despite the evidently beneficial impact that it has had on London and its long-standing role as a plank of transport policy in Singapore.

This old policy kernel has been around for years and why it cannot be implemented here has never been adequately explained. But it seems that those – particularly our lordly civil servants – who like to be driven around while reading in the back seat of limousines find any restriction on their rights a dreadful inconvenience.

The other aspect of the survey that was interesting was the fact the “man in the street” appeared to be keen to initiate the polluter-pays principle when it comes to ameliorating our air quality.

However, introducing the polluter- pays principle means that businesses will have to pick up the tab for polluting, at least in the first instance, and only after incurring these costs would companies be able to attempt to recoup the losses by raising prices.

Of course, because of the onus on business paying, the logical implementation of the polluter-pays principle is, in reality, a step too far for the appointed members of the council.

So, rather than pay heed to his own survey results, we had the vice chairman of the council, Edgar Cheng Wai-kin, calling for huge amounts of public money to facilitate the “clean-up.”

The call is in effect no more than a call for the poorest in our society to bail out those that have made money by polluting our environment.

This idea flies directly in the face of the polluter-pays principle, and indicates that the environmental solution will turn into a grab for the huge government subsidies that seem to be on the way, which will also undoubtedly be accompanied by special-interest pleading to raise fares.

For a man who promised to get things done, Tsang has not scored many victories when it comes to public policy.

Apart from announcing the odd railway, his initiatives are becalmed, while in some areas, such as in the case of his ill-advised cross-border financial initiatives, his policies have been rebuffed and are in disarray.

The public support for stringent environmental measures gives Tsang the perfect opportunity to move ahead with radical reforms in this area. However, it looks as if we are being set up yet again for huge dollops of public money to be handed out to those that need it the least.

With few policy “wins” to his name, Tsang may do well to think his options over carefully before he announces how to respond to the mounting public annoyance with air quality.

Clean Up Hong Kong Air Pollution

The right route


SCMP Dec 20, 2007

To clean up air pollution, should we be doing more of the same – that is, taking an incremental approach – or making a change in direction? Going down the same path but doing more is fine if the course is right. After all, we cannot do everything in one fell swoop. But if the steering is off, then a directional adjustment is needed.

According to results of a survey released on Monday, the majority of 81,000 Hong Kong respondents would be willing to pay more for transport in return for cleaner air. This should surprise no one; poor air quality has bothered Hongkongers for many years.

The issue is: which things does the government want people to pay more for? Let’s take roadside air pollution as a point of discussion. It is not only appallingly high, but has become almost a normal condition. If the public paid more for public transport, would that improve roadside air quality?

Would higher transport costs go towards subsidies to build more rail lines? Or to encourage operators of buses and light buses to replace old vehicles earlier with less-polluting models? How would commercial trucks be dealt with, since they spew out the highest amount of polluting emissions?

Taxis and many light buses have already converted to LPG; new vehicles must have Euro-IV-standard engines; and only ultra-low-sulfur diesel is available. But those measures have not been nearly enough to clean up roadside air pollution. Thus, doing more of the same – pushing new vehicles to have Euro-V-standard engines, and using even cleaner fuels when they become available – will not make much difference if Hong Kong’s old vehicles are not replaced.

How can we make owners replace their vehicles? The government has already announced a public subsidy scheme – the “carrot”. But there’s no “stick” unless owners are given a deadline, in the near future, for replacing the most polluting vehicles.

London faced a similar challenge. Its solution is to turn the whole of Greater London into a low-emission zone and is starting a phased-in scheme from next February, pushing commercial vehicle operators to upgrade their vehicles. It uses its existing electronic road pricing system to track vehicles going into the city; those with old, polluting engines must pay a penalty every time they cross the city boundary. So, if you are running a trucking business and you have to go to London frequently, the penalty becomes an expensive operating cost; you had better buy a new lorry. The authorities also offer a replacement subsidy scheme, so the stick and carrot work together.

Launching the electronic road pricing system was a change of direction for London, and would be for Hong Kong as well. But our government has not yet been able to adopt it, although the scheme was first raised in the 1980s.

Many of Hong Kong’s roads are narrow, with high vehicle density, creating our infamous “street canyon” effect that traps vehicular pollution. That in turn contributes to the extremely poor roadside air quality. With so many people affected on a daily basis, it is shocking that much more has not been done already to protect public health. Just think of how many people live and work right next to, or near, heavily used roads – and how many schools, hospitals, clinics and elderly homes are affected. It’s a pity we don’t have a surgeon general to champion public health; there are plenty of voices arguing for commercial interests.

The government’s recent interest in building more rail lines makes sense. But it must also make clear that it will reduce road building and use demand-side mechanisms like road pricing to deal with congestion. It should use town planning to ease the street canyon effect and tighten air quality objectives, in addition to taking old, polluting engines off the road.

Unless there is a clear policy to change direction, incremental measures, including banning idling engines, will not make enough of a difference.

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

Air Quality Monitoring Network

A report on the results from the Air Quality Monitoring Network (AQMN) (2006)

Air Science Group
Environmental Protection Department
The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region

This report summarises the 2006 air quality monitoring data collected by the Environmental Protection Department’s monitoring network.

As a result of the enhanced vehicle emission control programme implemented by the Government since 2000, concentrations of respirable suspended particulates, nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide at roadside have been dropping gradually over the past few years.

Over the past years, concentrations of ozone have been on a slow rising trend, reflecting a deterioration in regional air quality. On this front, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government and the Guangdong Provisional Government are implementing a Regional Air Quality Management Plan to improve air quality in the Pearl River Delta Region.

As in previous years, concentrations of sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide and lead remained at levels well below their respective Air Quality Objectives limits in 2006.

See the full report on the results from the Air Quality Monitoring Network

Superfund Urged To Combat Pollution

The Council for Sustainable Development (CSD) of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region yesterday suggested that a superfund be set up with money from budget surplus to protect environment.

Speaking at the Air Summit, where Chief Executive Donald Tsang was also present, Edgar Cheng, chairman of the council, said that it was time to set up an Air Quality Clean-up Superfund as Hong Kong had a huge fiscal surplus.

He, however, didn’t specify how much the sum should be.

Cheng also said the superfund “will be money well spent and a true investment in the future. It also shows that Hong Kong is serious and committed to tackling air pollution”.

He also pointed out that the special administrative region must balance mandatory measures and voluntary actions to combat pollution.

Cheng said the council would submit a report with recommendations to the government by the middle of next month.

At the summit the council released results of more than 81,000 public questionnaires which they had received from June to October.

Most respondents (77 percent) supported increasing transport costs for cleaner air.

Seventy-six percent said the special administrative region should use as much public transport as possible.

More than 40 percent backed having an electronic road pricing.

About half of respondents preferred color alert system on polluted days.

John Bacon-Shone, director of Social Sciences Research Center of the University of Hong Kong, who analyzed the questionnaires’ results for the council, said the results had shown most people are in favor of the “polluter pays” principle.

For example, pre-Euro trucks should pay more because these were polluting vehicles, he explained.

He, however, added that respondents were not asked about the amount of increase in transport cost.

In his opening speech to the summit, the chief executive stressed the importance of clean air in boosting Hong Kong’s economy.

“To keep our economy growing, we have to improve air quality and provide a good living environment to attract investors and talents to stay in Hong Kong,” he said.

“We should think if we were willing to change our habits or pay some price to improve air quality,” Tsang pointed out.

The chief executive added that he would fully consider the council’s recommendations to set up a long-term environmental policy for Hong Kong.

Jonathan Wong, biology professor with Hong Kong Baptist University, said it would always be good to put more resources into environmental protection.

However, he pointed out since the government had already pumped in HK$1 billion into the Environment and Conservation Fund, the council might have overlapped function with the Environment Conservation Committee.

Wong said he was not clear whether the superfund was intended for community education or changing infrastructure.

(China Daily HK Edition December 18, 2007)

Local and Regional Pollution Sources for Hong Kong

Relative Significance of Local vs. Regional Sources: Hong Kong’s Air Pollution

香港的空氣污染:探討本地及區域污染源的 相對重要性

Alexis Lau 劉啟漢, Andrew Lo 羅致安,
Joe Gray, Zibing Yuan 袁自冰
Institute for the Environment
The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Christine Loh 陸恭蕙
Civic Exchange 思匯政策研究所

No matter how one chooses to measure it, the air quality in Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta has deteriorated rapidly over the past 20 years. For the layman, the distance one can see is a good indicator of air quality. The deterioration of Hong Kong’s air quality has resulted in a steady increase in the number of hazy days.

我們無論選擇以哪種方法量度空氣質量,都會得出以下的結論:香港及珠江三角洲的空氣質量在過去二十年間迅速變壞。對 一般人士來說,能見度是一個反映空氣質量的理想指標。香港空氣質量惡化,同時令煙霞日數穩步上升。

Monthly Number of Hazy Days in Hong Kong

Monthly number of hazy days – 每月煙霞日數 

As the air quality grows worse, questions arise about where the pollution is coming from, and what can be done about it. How significant are local and regional pollution sources for Hong Kong’s air quality? The answer to this question is complex, and in fact can be quite different depending on how one approaches the problem.

當空氣質量持續惡化,隨之而來的問題包括:污染從何而來?我們可以採取什麼措施?本地及區域污染源對於香港空氣污染 問題分別有多重要?其中,最後一個問題的答案是非常複雜的。事實上,由於分析這個問題的方法可能因人而異,因此各人 的答案亦將有所不同。

In this report, we first summarize the results from two traditional approaches – one based on total emissions in terms of tonnage and another based on receptor source apportionment in terms of mass concentration. We then introduce our new approach, which gives a time-based perspective. It answers the question of how many days in a year Hong Kong’s air quality is affected by regional and local emissions respectively. This type of analysis has not been undertaken in Hong Kong before.

傳統上,量度空氣污染的方法有二:其一是以污染物的重量作基礎,量度總排放量;其二是按污染物的質量濃度,進行污染 源解析。我們在以下篇幅將會首先概述以上述兩種方法進行研究所得出的結果。然後,我們會介紹一種以時間作基礎,研究 空氣污染的新方法。這種分析方法在香港是前所未有的。它可以幫助我們瞭解在一年當中,香港的空氣質量有多少天是受區 域性排放影響,而又有多少天主要是受本地排放影響。

Using 2006 data, we found that regional sources are the primary influence on Hong Kong’s air 132 days (approximately 36% of the time) while local sources are the crucial factor on 192 days (nearly 53% of the time). Based on these results, it is clear that reducing emissions of air pollutants in Hong Kong would have a significant positive impact on local air quality, which would in turn improve public health.

我們的研究分析了2006年的數據,發現香港的空氣質量主要受區域性污染源影響的日數,是每年132日(以時間計算約佔 36%);本地污染源作為主要原兇的日數,則達到每年192日(約佔53%)。以上研究結果讓我們清楚知道,減少香港空氣 污染物的排放,將可以明顯改善本地空氣質量,從而改善公眾健康。

The results of this study are important to policy makers and the public because they show that:

  • By taking more environmental responsibility locally, Hong Kong can do much more to improve air quality and therefore public health.
  • There is no reason for Hong Kong to feel debilitated by the belief that on its own it cannot make substantial improvement to the city’s air quality.

To conclude, we offer broad policy recommendations as to how local emissions can be reduced. We believe that there are a number of potentially effective solutions that can be implemented relatively quickly. In particular, we recommend that Hong Kong adopt and enforce the World Health Organization’s (2006) global air quality guidelines, and devise a comprehensive energy policy.


  • 香港只要在本地環境問題上作出更大承擔,就能進一步改善空氣質量及公眾健康。
  • 香港不能單靠自身努力,改善本地空氣質量的想法是錯誤的。我們不應受這個想法影響而感到無能為力。

最後,我們提出幾項減少本地污染物排放的政策建議,作為報告的終結。我們相信有一些具成效的措施,是可以在較短時間 內開始實施的。其中,我們建議香港採納和執行世界衛生組織(2006)的全球空氣質量指引,以及訂立一套全面的能源政 策。

Full report here:

Higher Transport Costs For Cleaner Air

Survey finds Hong Kong people willing to pay higher transport costs for cleaner air

The Associated PressPublished: December 17, 2007

HONG KONG: Hong Kongers would be willing to pay higher transport costs if it means breathing cleaner air, according to a survey published Monday, as the city’s dazzling skyline was once again shrouded by a thick, dirty haze.

The survey was released to coincide with a summit called by the government to discuss the deteriorating air quality in the bustling financial hub and how to tackle it.

Hong Kong’s skies are often heavily polluted by its two coal-burning power plants, marine and road traffic and factories over the border in mainland China, fueling concerns that tourists and investors may shift their attention to cleaner cities like Singapore.

Pollution monitoring stations in Hong Kong registered a “high” pollution reading Monday, meaning that regular exposure over months or years could cause long-term health effects.

A week earlier, downtown Hong Kong and some other areas recorded “very high” levels, prompting the government to advise people with heart and respiratory illnesses to stay at home.

Anthony Hedley, professor of community medicine at the University of Hong Kong, said cleaning up the city’s air was a “medical emergency.”

More than 75 percent of 82,000 people surveyed said they would happily pay higher transport costs if it meant the thousands of buses, taxis and minibuses clogging Hong Kong’s roads used cleaner fuel.

It also revealed that 42 percent supported a road tax system under which drivers are charged more for heavily polluting vehicles.

The money could be used to subsidize greener vehicles and public transport, the survey, commissioned by the government’s Council for Sustainable Development and carried out by the University of Hong Kong, found.

Speaking at the summit, Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang vowed to consider the council’s findings when formulating a long-term plan for cleaning up the air.

“We firmly believe if Hong Kong’s economy is to maintain a sustainable growth, it is necessary to improve our air quality, provide a quality living environment to attract investors and talent to stay in Hong Kong,” Tsang said.

Hedley, however, said the government needed to act fast as residents were already paying a heavy price for poor quality air, citing an earlier study that found that pollution contributes to 1,600 deaths in the city each year.

“The longer they delay, the more difficult it’s going to be to turn around. It’s already far too late,” he said.

The latest survey was conducted over the last five months, with responses collected via a dedicated Web site, through written submissions and face-to-face questioning at seminars and other events.

No margin of error was given as the survey was not based on a random sampling.

Hong Kong Air Pollution Fight

Hong Kong public calls for air pollution fight

Mon Dec 17, 2007 7:57am EST Reuters

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Most Hong Kong people were willing to pay for a tougher crackdown on chronic air pollution through road pricing and other measures, a government-backed report said on Monday.

The head of the government advisory body that collaborated on the report with Hong Kong University also said the city should establish a “superfund” for cleaning up the environment.

Released during Hong Kong’s traditionally smoggy winter months, the report is the most ambitious so far to gauge public attitudes about pollution, which frequently obscures the famous harbor.

“The public really wants something to be done even if certain costs are added to them…so it’s really a good political capital that they (the government) have to drive on more initiatives,” said environmentalist Alexis Lau.

Edgar Cheng, the Chairman of the Council for Sustainable Development, called for the government to establish the fund.

Cheng didn’t specify the size of the fund, but said the government could afford it, with an expected surplus of HK$50 billion dollar ($6.4 billion) this fiscal year.

“We figured out that if we want to clear up everything, it will cost HK$20-30 billion,” Cheng said.

Of the 81,000 people polled in the survey, 77 percent said they would be bear increases in transport costs in return for better air, through the use of cleaner vehicles and fuels.

Forty-two percent said they backed electronic road pricing, which would charge vehicle usage on roads during peak periods — a contentious measure opposed by the motor trade for decades.

A consensus was also found for greater public transport usage on bad air days and certain mandatory measures like the use of green lightbulbs and turning off air-conditioners in empty rooms.

Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang said he would study the report.

“Improving air quality and the overall environmental quality is a long term battle, which must have the participation of everyone in society in order to realize results,” he said.

Coal-fired power stations are blamed as the city’s worst polluters, but increasing emissions also blow across the border from tens of thousands of factories in southern China.

(Reporting by James Pomfret; Editing by Grant McCool)

Bali talks


Bali talks

The UN secretary general and governments yesterday hailed a deal to start negotiations to adopt a new climate pact, but environmental groups said the agreement lacked teeth.

The deal binds the United States and China to greenhouse gas goals for the first time and a two-year agenda aims to lead to the adoption in Copenhagen in 2009 of a tougher, wider pact to succeed the Kyoto Protocol after 2012.

“This is the defining moment for me and my mandate as secretary general,” UN chief Ban Ki-moon said after the meeting in Bali.

“All the 188 countries have recognised that this is the defining agenda for all humanity, for all planet Earth.”

Environmental groups said the agreement lacked substance after the European Union abandoned wording urging rich countries to step up the fight against climate change.

Under US pressure, and to help get horse-trading started, the deal dodged the goal of halving emissions by 2050 or of embracing a commitment by industrialised economies to slash their emissions by 2020.

But delegates gave the US an ovation after the world’s top greenhouse gas emitter abruptly dropped last-minute opposition to Indian demands to soften developing nation commitments to a new pact.

“We now have one of the broadest negotiating agendas ever on climate change,” said James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Developing nations welcomed the deal.

“Here in Bali we reached a consensus, global consensus for all countries,” said Hassan Wirayuda, Indonesia’s foreign minister.

“No single country was excluded, in a very inclusive process … we hope it will provide not only a good basis but also the momentum in the coming years.”

Canada backed the US view that developing countries had not offered enough. “One hundred and ninety countries are represented here; 38 of them agreed to take on national binding targets today, we’ve just got to work on some of the other 150,” John Baird, Canada’s environment minister, said.

The EU said it was satisfied with the deal, seeing as key the inclusion of Kyoto outsider, the United States.

“It was exactly what we wanted, we are indeed very pleased,” said the EU chief negotiator, Humberto Rosa.

The EU climbdown on targets was the chief disappointment of environmentalists, who had wanted goals matching what scientists say is most needed to limit rising temperatures.

“The Bush administration has unscrupulously taken a monkey wrench to the level of action on climate change that the science demands,” said Gerd Leipold, director of Greenpeace International.

David Doniger, climate policy director at the US Natural Resources Defence Council, said he was astounded at how the US behaved.

“They were completely isolated and it just shows how much the world wants a new face from the US on global warming.”

Elliot Diringer, director of international strategies at the US environmental group, the Pew Centre on Global Climate Change, said the Bali deal was “the best possible under the circumstances”.

But, he cautioned: “We shouldn’t fool ourselves about how extraordinarily hard it’s going to be to meet that goal.”

Additional reporting by Bloomberg, Agence France-Presse

Key points

  • Greenhouse gas emissions
    It recognises that “deep cuts” in global emissions will be required. It references scientific reports that suggest a range of cuts between 25 per cent and 40 per cent by 2020, but prescribes no such targets itself.
  • Deadline
    Negotiations for the next climate accord should last for two years and conclude in 2009 in order to allow enough time to implement it at the end of 2012. Four major climate meetings will take place next year.
  • Rich and poor
    Negotiators should consider binding reductions of emissions by industrialised countries. Developing nations should consider controlling the growth of their emissions. Richer countries should work to transfer climate-friendly technology to poorer nations.
  • Adjusting to climate change
    Negotiators should look at supporting urgent steps to help poorer countries adapt to inevitable effects of global warming, such as building sea walls to guard against rising oceans.
  • Deforestation
    Negotiators should consider incentives for reducing deforestation in developing countries, many of which want compensation for preserving their forest “sinks”.