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December 19th, 2008:

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

Pollution Alerts And Effects On Internet Tracker

HK Standard – Friday, December 19, 2008

An air pollution tracker has been launched to give readings online on smog and its associated costs in real time.

The Hedley Environmental Index, which provides readings from the Environmental Protection Department’s general and roadside stations, was commissioned by the Civic Exchange and developed by the Department of Community Medicine, School of Public Health of Hong Kong University.

“By showing how far our pollution exceeds the World Health Organization’s Air Quality Guidelines, and how much this is costing us in dollars and affecting lives, HEI lays down a minute by minute marker that tells us how much we have to do,” Civic Exchange chief executive Christine Loh Kung-wai said.

“You may check the weather and the air pollution index, but low, moderate and high API readings given by the government are vague at best.”

The tracker will allow users to have a better grasp of the air quality to expect, Friends of the Earth director Edwin Lau Che-feng said.

SPH chairman Anthony Hedley added: “The index makes clear that we are facing an epidemic of heart and lung disease. The current standard doesn’t offer … an indication of the damage to their health or how to reduce their exposure,”

HEI can be found at hedleyindex. TIMOTHY CHUI