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December, 2008:

Comprehensive Measures To Clean Up Air

Updated on Dec 29, 2008 – SCMP

I refer to the letter by Richard Fielding (“Lack of will to fight pollution”, December 19).

The government is determined to improve Hong Kong’s air quality. On the home front, we have implemented comprehensive measures to control our emissions at source. We have capped the emissions of the power plants and required the use of ultra-low-sulfur diesel across all industrial and commercial processes. We are controlling products that contain volatile organic compounds in a manner similar to California. Our control on vehicular fuel and emission standards is on a par with the most stringent European requirements. To address the regional smog issue, we are working with the Guangdong provincial government to reduce the emissions of four key air pollutants in the region by 20 per cent to 55 per cent by 2010.

We are reviewing our air quality objectives taking into account the latest international developments including the air quality guidelines published by the World Health Organisation.

Professor Fielding raised concern about the relationship between air pollutant concentrations and the air pollution index (API). Like many other overseas API systems, our API is computed by – converting the concentrations of various pollutants over different averaging times ranging from one hour to 24 hours into sub-indices by comparing the concentrations with the respective one hour to 24-hour air quality objectives; and, taking the highest of the sub-indices as the API for a station at that hour.

The air quality objectives for respirable suspended particulates (RSP) are based on an averaging time of 24 hours instead of one hour, due to the lack of scientific evidence with respect to the exposure-response relationship for RSP over a period as short as one hour. Hence the API for RSP is computed based on moving 24-hour average concentrations instead of one-hour concentrations.

The API is derived from the actual pollutant concentrations and therefore bears direct relationship with the state of air quality. On December 15, the day mentioned by Professor Fielding, the API for the general stations was on the upper side of the high band, and the roadside API was up to 104 at the Central roadside station in the afternoon. Both readings indicated that the pollution level on that day was considered high or very high.

To make the API more useful to the public we have engaged a team of leading academics from local universities to review our API system and draw up its recommendations for improvement. The review will be completed within 2009.

Dave Ho, principal environmental protection officer, Environmental Protection Department

City Hit By High Smog Levels

SCMP – 26 Dec 2008

Smog blanketed Hong Kong, pushing the air pollution index to over 100 in the three districts of Causeway Bay, Mong Kok and Central throughout the day. In the morning, the index reached 141 in Causeway Bay. A pollution index above 100 is considered very high.

Residential Car-Park Plans Fly In The Face Of Air Pollution Pledges

SCMP – Updated on Dec 23, 2008

I was stunned to read in the report (“Plan to cut developers’ sweeteners”, December 13), that our government, despite its declarations of commitment to sustainable development and to cleaning up our abominable air quality, has in fact been pushing property developers to include parking facilities in their developments. You quoted a Development Bureau source: “Existing planning guidelines asked each development to build a minimum amount of parking space.”

So instead of encouraging inner-city dwellers to use the convenient and abundant public transport services available in urban areas, the government has been promoting car ownership. This explains why new developments on crowded, narrow, inner-city streets have sprouted large podiums that block ventilation and are a major cause of air pollution and conflict between pedestrians and vehicles.

In most mature cities, inner-city residential accommodation does not include parking facilities, yet here in Hong Kong, where previously few blocks included car parking, people who would never have dreamed of purchasing a car now find themselves with an empty garage to fill. Perhaps the Development Bureau would like to let the public know which official came up with this dumb idea?

While massive podiums may be permissible on standalone sites on say Castle Peak Road, they are certainly not appropriate in areas such as Wan Chai, Central, Sheung Wan, Causeway Bay and Yau Tsim Mong. Residents of these areas for years traditionally did not own cars and it is in the interests of the community both from a health perspective and also to promote interaction between the different strata of society that they continue not doing so.

In view of the soaring pollution and the high cost to the community in terms of chronic respiratory conditions, medical fees and lost productivity we must call for an immediate halt to parking-related concessions. Hundreds of thousands of chickens have been slaughtered to ward off the spread of bird flu. Measures to counteract air pollution should be implemented in the same decisive and immediate manner. Public health must come before the pecuniary interests of property developers.

Martin Brinkley, Ma Wan

Perfect Partnership To Tackle Climate Change

Trevor Houser, SCMP – Updated on Dec 23, 2008

The current economic crisis cast a pall over climate change talks held this month in Poland. With American home values and retirement savings falling, and Chinese unemployment figures rising, observers worry that neither America nor China – the world’s two largest polluters – will have much appetite to cut emissions.

The paradox here is that the crisis presents a unique opportunity for the US and China to strike a deal that would lay the groundwork for a global climate agreement. Indeed, one of the main goals of the most recent biannual meeting of the US-China strategic economic dialogue was to begin work under the 10-year energy and environment co-operation framework, created earlier this year.

This initiative comes after a decade in which America abstained from international efforts to address climate change, concerned that if it acted but China didn’t, the world would fail to meet its emission-reduction targets and US industry would be disadvantaged.

China has countered that its historic and per capita emissions remain well below US levels, and that to cap aggregate national emissions at the same level as the US would imply a personal carbon budget in San Francisco five times greater than in Shanghai.

Economically, the US and China are mirror images, opposite sides of a massive global imbalance. Americans spend too much and save too little, leaving a US$250 billion trade deficit financed by other countries, notably China, whose firms and citizens save too much and consume too little, leaving a surplus of goods and capital that flows abroad.

This macroeconomic imbalance is reflected in the nations’ carbon footprints. In the US, more than 70 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions come from consumer-related activities. In China, more than 70 per cent of emissions are industrial.

In terms of brokering a climate deal, this imbalance is good news. It suggests a framework for reducing emissions that respects the development needs of China’s households, addresses US firms’ competitiveness concerns, and adheres to the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” embedded in international negotiations.

In recognition of its outsized historic and per capita emissions, the US should agree to economy-wide emission cuts in line with domestic climate laws under consideration. China should be excused of consumer-related obligations for now, but assume pledges on industrial production.

If China consolidates its energy-intensive manufacturing, thereby freeing up investment capital for lighter manufacturing and services, then it will emerge from the crisis with a growth model that pollutes less and employs more. If the US and China can find agreement on these issues in the midst of crisis, they will pave the way for success when climate negotiators meet again next year in Copenhagen.

Trevor Houser is a visiting fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. Copyright: Project Syndicate

Price Too High For New Runway

SCMP – Updated on Dec 23, 2008

Hong Kong International Airport should not have a third runway.

The environmental consequences of a third runway are enormous in an area of Hong Kong that records very high pollution levels and is home to the endangered pink dolphin.

A new runway will cause huge increases in carbon emissions that will make a mockery of Hong Kong’s measures to reduce greenhouse gas pollutants.

At the recent Clinton Global Initiative conference held in Hong Kong, former US president Bill Clinton, who champions efforts to fight climate change, said: “Asia has a strong history of social responsibility and we have a unique opportunity to work together in innovative and effective ways to achieve positive change.”

Let us show the world that Hong Kong cares and responds to such calls.

Eliane Florentin, Mid-Levels

Campaign To Clean Up Gets Lost In The Smog Of Bureaucratic Resistance

Martin Zhou, SCMP – Updated on Dec 22, 2008

Despite years of small-scale experiment and debates, the mainland leadership has yet to implement a sound system that ensures sustained political and economic motivation for governments and enterprises to go green.

The much-talked about Green GDP – a device initiated to tie environment protection to officials’ promotion – has apparently been thrown out of the window because of resistance from bureaucrats, especially local officials.

Similarly, development of the fledgling emission trading markets intended to reward corporate China’s green innovation has stalled.

“To me, it all comes down to an independent credible mechanism to precisely quantify the environment impact of economic activities,” said Luo Jianhua, the general secretary of China Environment Service Industry Association.

So far, the maths involved to measure the extent of pollution is not always untainted. Authorities have repeatedly discovered data on the volume of contaminated water processed in treatment plants – one major indicator of local officials’ environmental achievement – is tampered with, as sensor makers collude with unscrupulous officials to produce equipment that deliver findings to the officials’ favour.

“As a result, environment inspectors now turn to electricity consumption to determine exactly how much water has been purified,” Mr Luo said. “But such dirty tricks do invoke a lot of concern over moral risk in the sector.”

The domestic trading in pollutants has also been hampered by the absence of a complete legal framework. Three major emission trading markets in Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai had been launched in the past year, but none has begun operation in earnest.

For example, the first to be set up, Beijing Environment Exchange, had before its August inauguration promised to provide clearing service for trading of credits backed by a cut in emission of sulphur dioxide, the main airborne pollutant from coal burning – and CDO, a measure of water pollution. China has set overall caps for annual CDO and sulphur dioxide emission, making the markets possible.

But one environmental official said the business was still in the preparatory stage as there was much to clarify on how the underlying assets of those emission credits in the market was being defined.

Officials Confident On Emissions

Cheung Chi-fai, SCMP – Updated on Dec 19, 2008

Hong Kong and Guangdong are confident of reaching the 2010 emission-reduction targets, and both sides will prepare to set new post-2010 targets next year, Secretary for the Environment Edward Yau Tang-wah said yesterday.

Speaking after the ninth meeting of the Hong Kong-Guangdong Joint Working Group on Sustainable Development and Environmental Protection, Mr Yau said both sides had made good progress towards the emission targets. Hong Kong had introduced measures to improve vehicle emissions and move towards cleaner energy production while Guangdong had done a great deal to lower industrial emissions, he said.

The 2010 targets aim to reduce the four key pollutants – nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2), respirable suspended particles (RSP) and volatile organic compounds (VOC). A target has been set for both sides to reduce emissions well below 1997 levels by 2010, cutting NOx to 20 per cent below the 1997 level, SO2 to 39 per cent below, VOC to 54 per cent and RSP 55 per cent.

“Next year is an important year during which we will not just revisit our work to clean up the air, but also prepare for setting out the future direction beyond 2010,” Mr Yau said.

He said they would continue to co-operate to promote clean production in the Pearl River Delta, and the focus next year would be collaboration with local authorities in Guangdong.

Mr Yau said both sides shared views on the plans to transform the delta into a green, quality living area, and they would strive to incorporate those ideas into the mainland’s next five-year plan.

Web Index Tracks Real-time Health, Economic Impact Of Air Pollution

An index believed to be the first anywhere to offer continuous, real-time measurement of the economic and health impacts of air pollution was launched yesterday in Hong Kong on a website that claims to reveal the “cold hard facts” about the city’s air quality. The Hedley Environmental Index was developed by the University of Hong Kong’s department of community medicine and school of public health in conjunction with independent think-tank Civic Exchange, to improve public awareness of the consequences of air pollution.

They also hope to influence government officials, lawmakers, district councillors, businesses and schools.

The website carries an air-quality tracker, which compares the real-time air quality data supplied by the Environmental Protection Department with the World Health Organisation’s recommended limits on pollutants.

The comparison shows that most of the time air quality is well below the WHO recommendations.

The index and tracker have been launched just weeks before the government is expected to announce the results of its review of the city’s air-quality objectives and issue proposals for public consultation.

The most innovative part of the index is its constantly updated tally of the cumulative costs of air pollution. Users can search for figures for a day or part of it, a particular month or year, for example.

With a few clicks, they can find out the costs – in money, premature deaths, hospital bed-days and visits to the doctor – of air pollution.

At 6pm yesterday, the index showed that this year, more than 1,100 people in Hong Kong had died prematurely and economic losses of more than HK$2.2 billion had been incurred because of air pollution.

In an earlier report, Civic Exchange estimated that 1,600 premature deaths a year would be avoided in Hong Kong if air quality improved to levels close to those recommended by the WHO. No country has yet adopted those guidelines.

The tracker also shows how air quality has changed over the years.

The website does not carry the official Air Pollution Index (API).

“The API is a museum piece. It is outdated and is a fossil. From the pollution point of view, it should be ignored,” said Anthony Hedley, of the university’s department of community medicine, after whom the new index was named.

Professor Hedley criticised the government’s recent proposal to adopt the lowest WHO air-quality guidelines – intended for developing countries – as a “complete waste of time” and said he could not understand the reasoning behind it.

Christine Loh Kung-wai, chief executive of Civic Exchange, said the Hedley index would be useful to various groups, particularly those more vulnerable to air pollution such as children and the elderly.

“The index lays down a marker, minute by minute, that tells us all exactly how much we have to do,” Ms Loh said.

Sarah McGee, of the university’s school of public health, said the air-pollution costs had been derived using methodology widely adopted internationally and were “conservative estimates”.

On the Web

To see the index and tracker, visit

Should The Kwun Tong Tower Be Shortened?

SCMP – Updated on Dec 19, 2008

The Kwun Tong tower should be shortened, since a 280-metre building may block ventilation and reduce visual penetration (“Vote on 280-metre tower delayed”, December 6).

Hongkongers are concerned about the airflow of their districts much more than before, so the government should give careful consideration to any proposed projects which may affect that airflow before coming to a final decision.

Since the tower will jut out above surrounding buildings by at least 80 metres, residents are concerned that it will exacerbate air pollution. Their worries will be eased if the height is reduced.

In addition, the height may also destroy the whole style of the area and make it look strange and not match. Also, it may block the ridgeline of Fei Ngo Shan.

Some people may argue that Kowloon East residents have asked for a landmark, so the tower should be much higher than surrounding buildings; and if it is lower than 260 metres, it will not be seen clearly as a landmark.

What they forget is that a landmark does not have to be a super-high-rise. If the design is creative, the tower can catch people’s eye even though it is not higher than other buildings.

Lynn Wan Pik-mui, Tsuen Wan

Lack Of Will To Fight Pollution

SCMP – Updated on Dec 19, 2008

On Monday, the air pollution index (API) on the Environmental Protection Department website for the previous 24 hours ranged from 84 to 88; that was bad enough. But a study of the previous 24-hour pollutant concentrations reveals that, in Causeway Bay, respirable suspended particulate (RSPs) levels were 150 at 3pm and 168 at 8pm on Sunday; then 115 at 6am and 154 at 2pm on Monday.

The corresponding levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) a known respiratory poison, were 168, 140, 83 and 143, respectively. In Yuen Long at 2pm, RSPs were a staggering 256: in Mong Kok, NO2 was 240. Nowhere was the API registering above 100.

Three points are to be made about this. First, the API bears little or no relationship to the actual daily pollutant concentrations which are dangerously high and damage the health of all Hong Kong citizens more than a downturn in the economy. The persistent use of an outdated API is literally a smokescreen by government criminally negligent in its duty of care for the public’s health.

Second, the cyclic pattern shows a high correlation with urban activity, indicating that locally generated – not imported – pollution is to blame, particularly for high NO2 levels.

Third, despite the usual Observatory explanation of a lack of wind, the cause of the problem is clearly a lack of will. The population remains misinformed about the perilous state of our air and the damage it is doing to people’s health. It is about time the government was taken to task about its failure to face up to the true state of Hong Kong’s air and not just in the pages of the South China Morning Post. Would the undersecretary for environment care to comment?

Richard Fielding, professor, school of public health, University of Hong Kong