Clear The Air News Blog Rotating Header Image

December 17th, 2007:

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)