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January 8th, 2009:

Clear the Air: Letter to Legco Member On HK Air Pollution Policy

The following letter was sent to the Legco Member by Clear The Air:

8th January 2009

Dear Legco Members,

Clear the Air commends the Legco motion to pressure the Government to act by adopting WHO standards at an appropriate level and not at emerging nation levels which are lower than we have now.

We fail to see how ARUP, the consultants appointed to perform the AQO study , could possibly know more than the eminent researchers used by WHO in formulating its standards. We see no benefit in the EPD further engaging the public in consultations on our pea soup air and delaying matters further.

Our major pollution sources that damage health (moreso the growing lungs of our children) are our coal burning power stations , old diesel trucks and busses, ocean vessels burning high sulphur bunker fuel in the busiest port in the world , unburnt aircraft kerosene and for half of the year, imported pollution from the PRD.

The Government must also be forced to accelerate the use of the 52 million cubic meters of methane currently being flared off from NENT, WENT and SENT landfills. In the UK Gasrec Ltd has produced a diesel fuel replacement from landfill methane, Liquid Biomethane to replace diesel use in vehicles.

In San Antonio Texas, human waste will be used to produce methane to power the whole city. In Rwanda a prison is run by electricity powered from the same source. In Hong Kong instead, Government is calling for quotes to build and operate a sludge incinerator rather than taking heed of the San Antonio project.

The power companies are burning more and more polluting coal. In 2007 CLP burned 3 times more coal than in 1997. In 2007 CLP used 40% less clean natural gas than in 1999 whilst producing more electricity. HK Electric has only one gas turbine capable of 335 MWh and produced only 17% of its product with gas last year.

The Government must insist on these WHO AQO standards and the power companies will comply by using BACT (Best Available Current Technology). If the standards are set too leniently the power companies can benefit from burning more Indonesian cheap coal whilst still meeting the emission standards.

The technology is available such as Indigo Agglomerators. If you study the technical documentation available on this site
you will see how the tiny particulates reduce visibility opacity and add to the haze layer. The sky might be blue but the air we breathe is still smoggy grey and laden with these particulates. For the cost of 17 days’ coal supply CLP could retrofit a further 15 agglomerators and clear our air. HKEH would cost even less to do the same.

Only now are the power companies fitting Flue Gas Desulphurisation and NOx burner technology. In fact the super heat NOx burners create another problem in that they ‘crack’ the soot particles into lethal PM2.5 (report available). Current Electrostatic Precipitators in the power station stacks catch only 99% of soot particles and the remaining PM2.5 they cannot catch is then belched into the air. That is several thousand tonnes of lethal particles per year, let alone the greenhouse CO2. Hong Kong currently has no PM2.5 standard and PM2.5 is the killer; neither does it have any CO2 controls.

PM2.5 is a particulate with a diameter 1/30 of a human hair , it carries heavy metals and poisons from the coal and diesel combustion processes , cannot be stopped by nose hairs and so enters deep into the lungs.

It seems Hong Kong has a NATO Administration – No Action Talk Only.

Yours sincerely,

James Middleton

Energy Committee

Reference:  New Hong Kong Air Pollution Policy Proposed

New Hong Kong Air Pollution Policy Proposed

08-01-2009 – RTHK

The Legislative Council has passed a motion urging the government to do more to tackle air pollution. The motion, sponsored by the Democratic Party, calls on the government to adopt World Health Organisation standards for measuring air pollution. It also urged the government to establish an alarm system to warn people of health risks when air pollution is serious.

Sulfur Emissions Remain Well Above Target

Sulfur emissions drop but remain well above target, says top official

Cheung Chi-fai – SCMP – Updated on Jan 08, 2009

Sulfur dioxide emissions in the city have dropped back almost to 1997 levels, but they are still well above the government’s emission-reduction targets. Meanwhile, the city’s air quality standard, in terms of sulfur content, is much less stringent than that set by the World Health Organisation.

Environment Secretary Edward Yau Tang-wah told lawmakers yesterday that Hong Kong was narrowing the gap towards meeting the 2010 reduction targets agreed with Guangdong six years ago.

Last year, the total sulfur dioxide emission was just 2 per cent above 1997 levels, compared to 12 per cent above that level in 2006.

But considerable work remained as the target required the city to cut sulfur emission by 40 per cent below 1997 levels, or at least 26,000 tonnes.

“We are confident that we will be able to further reduce emissions and finally meet the target,” Mr Yau said.

He admitted difficulty in adopting WHO guidelines on sulfur pollutant concentration to replace the city’s 21-year-old air quality objective for the pollutant. The city’s standard for daily sulfur concentration is 350 micrograms per cubic metre of air, versus 20 in the WHO standard.

Endorsing the WHO target would mean a cut of at least 95 per cent in sulfur concentration.

He said the government was committed to reaching the WHO targets, but the public should decide on the pace of achieving them, the measures required and the trade-offs, such as higher power prices.

One of the measures being studied was a low emission zone that banned polluting franchised buses. A trial might be staged in collaboration with bus companies, Mr Yau said.

Three universities have also joined forces to work out ways to improve the air pollution index system, which has been criticised by lawmakers and green groups for failing to inform the public about the real health risks of air pollution.

Democrat legislator Kam Nai-wai urged Mr Yau to come clean on the air quality review soon to be released. “No more self-deception please by proposing any new objectives that the government thinks are achievable at the expense of public health.”

Albert Chan Wai-yip, of the League of Social Democrats, called environment officials “killers” because of their apathy to the seriousness of pollution, saying 35 asthma patients were admitted to hospital each day.

“Officials are giving more exemption to transport operators on idling engines. But the public has no exemption from air pollution and their lives are always under serious threat.”

Despair In The Air

Updated on Jan 08, 2009  – SCMP

Are local Hong Kong people concerned about air pollution? Yes, they are. If there are people who still think poor air quality is mainly a concern of the expatriate community, they need to look at the evidence. The Civic Exchange survey conducted in September and October last year, released on Monday, shows local people are extremely concerned about the bad air they have to breathe every day. They know Hong Kong’s air has deteriorated from a decade ago, and they know it is worse than the air in New York, Toronto, London and Tokyo. It is also no comfort to them to know that our air is better than that in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

The results of the survey, conducted by the Hong Kong Transition Project, show that air pollution is now a major concern across all segments of the community. In general, older people are much more concerned than younger people. This probably indicates that the burden of environment-related health problems falls more heavily on older people.

However, a vast majority of both older and younger people now want the government to treat air pollution as a top priority. Women are also more concerned than men, probably because they spend more time caring for family members. After all, the survey shows that half of all respondents have suffered coughing, choking and stinging eyes; one-third have gone to a clinic with pollution-related problems; a quarter have bought over-the-counter medicine; a fifth have suffered more significant problems; one in 10 has missed school or work, and the same proportion has gone to hospital – all as a result of air pollution.

Shockingly, one in five people out of more than 1,000 randomly selected adults surveyed said they were considering leaving Hong Kong due to air pollution. As a representative sample, this equates to 1.4 million people. More than half of this group said they were thinking seriously about leaving and some had already planned to leave. The propensity to leave increases for higher-income earners, the highly educated, and people in professional, managerial and administrative positions. Many in this category may well have right of residence elsewhere.

Furthermore, about one in four have heard colleagues at work say they might leave Hong Kong due to air pollution. Almost one in 10 have heard of occasions when their company tried to hire someone who turned down the job specifically due to air-pollution-related health problems. This does not mean Hong Kong will definitely see a large brain drain but it certainly should be a loud and clear message that many people are so bothered by air pollution they have thought of leaving, taking a job elsewhere, and some are making arrangements to depart. There are Hongkongers working or studying overseas who may not return.

So, the potential for a brain drain is real. Presumably, they would stay, or return, if the government had convincing plans to make substantial improvements to our air quality over a reasonable period. Bad air quality has made Hong Kong a less-desirable location.

Indeed, a report by the City of London on the future of Asian financial centres, published last October, noted that poor air quality was increasingly recognised “as a critical element in the ongoing competition to attract talent into the city” and that Singapore had “made strenuous efforts to highlight its lifestyle credentials as a safe, clean and hospitable environment in comparison to Hong Kong”. Annual International Monetary Fund reports about Hong Kong have also highlighted air pollution as a recurring concern.

The new Hedley Environmental Index shows the annual direct cost of air pollution is already some HK$2 billion; indirect costs are about HK$20 billion. These figures are, in fact, very conservative. The sobering fact is that air pollution makes Hong Kong less desirable because it damages our health and quality of life. But we need not despair; there are solutions – given the will to act.

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

Hong Kong’s Silent Epidemic

Globe-Net – 8th January 2009

An independent public policy think tank has released the findings of a 1,020-person public opinion survey that explored attitudes towards air pollution and associated health risks in Hong Kong. The survey results suggest one in five Hong Kong residents are prepared to leave the city because of its poor air quality.

According to the survey conducted by Professor Michael DeGolyer, Director of Baptist University’s Hong Kong Transition Project, these findings equate to 1.4 million residents thinking about moving away, including 500,000 who are seriously considering or already planning to move according to the survey conducted for the think tank Civic Exchange.

Those most seriously thinking about leaving include top earners and highly educated workers, raising fears about the city’s ability to attract and retain top talent. And other cities in Asia, particularly Singapore, would love to attract those who choose to leave Hong Kong, noted DeGolyer, referring to the long-standing rivalry between the two Asian cities to attract top talent.

Professor DeGolyer highlighted four key findings from the survey:
Public concern about air pollution rose dramatically between 2001 and 2008.
All sectors and segments of Hong Kong society are concerned about air quality;
Hong Kong people believe air pollution makes Hong Kong an undesirable location for both locals and prospective international talent to work there; and
Hong Kong people believe air pollution is damaging their quality of life.

However, almost no-one is expressing their concerns to government leaders, members of the legislature, or members of the media, noted DeGolyer. This silence indicates a serious breakdown in communication and trust, and a need to review the public consultation system, according to the survey findings.

This reluctance to speak out is at the root of Hong Kong’s Silent Epidemic says Christine Loh, CEO, Civic Exchange. “This survey presents the voice of the “silent” public – and it is a worried voice.” She hopes these findings can be used constructively to inform the government’s Air Quality Objectives consultation and an upcoming debate on air pollution issues.

The survey also debunked the myth that concerns about air pollution were confined to the city’s foreign residents, as only three percent of the respondents were expatriates.

Air pollution across Hong Kong last year reached its highest level since records began according to official figures released last week, although the Hong Kong government insisted improvements had been made with respect to air quality.

The pollution is mainly caused by huge numbers of factories over the border in southern China, as well as transport and coal-fired power generation in Hong Kong.

Another Civic Exchange report last year said that at least 10,000 deaths were caused every year in Hong Kong, Macau and southern China by the region’s worsening air pollution.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang has called improving air quality a ’matter of life and death’ for the city. “The quality of Hong Kong’s air is of deep concern in the community and the Environment Bureau (ENB) and Environmental Protection Department (EPD) have been working vigorously to achieve improvements,” notes the government’s website.

To bring the message home about the impact of Hong Kong’s poor air quality a new Environmental Index has been set up and made public on the World Wide Web. “The purpose of the newly created Hedley Environmental Index is to make information on the risks to public health arising from air pollution available to the whole community,” said Dr. Hak-Kan Lai of the School of Public Health of Hong Kong University.

“By comparing the community-wide health impacts the Index shows with the specific complaints reported by members of the public shown in the Civic Exchange survey, it is clear that Hong Kong people feel the negative impacts of air pollution deeply.”

Workable Solution: China Wants Better, Cleaner Industry For Tomorrow, But Needs Jobs And Stability Today

Joseph Cheng, SCMP – Updated on Jan 08, 2009

The Guangdong leadership has been promoting industrial upgrading in the Pearl River Delta for many years, and this is perceived as the inevitable path of economic development. The processing factories in the delta are mainly labour-intensive manufacturing; their products are low value-added with minimum technological content. They are also responsible for the region’s environmental pollution. Hence, their demise is considered progress.

In the last two or three years, labour shortages in the delta have been pushing up wages, and industrial land is in short supply. The Guangdong authorities are also eager to tackle the issue of environmental protection, as pollution has had an adverse impact on the quality of life. These are obvious intermediate and long-term trends, and are not unexpected.

In early 2007, the Guangdong leadership began to take active steps not only to promote industrial upgrading, but to exert pressure on the processing factories in the delta as well. Hong Kong businessmen in the region felt the pressure.

Their plight was exacerbated by other developments. China’s export boom and huge trade surpluses pushed the yuan higher, and the Bush administration in the US, as well as other western governments, exerted pressure on Beijing to further appreciate its currency.

The Labour Contract Law was scheduled to be fully implemented at the start of 2008, which added a range of pension and insurance expenditure to the wages bill. Most processing factories operate at very low profit margins, sometimes only 3 per cent to 5 per cent, and it was natural that some had to cut back, relocate or even close down.

The Guangdong policy was in line with the central government’s broad economic development strategy. The Chinese leadership endorsed the approach. The new Guangdong Communist Party secretary, Wang Yang , appealed to local cadres to “adopt new thinking and to further liberate their thoughts”. However, when the impact of the global financial crisis began to be felt in late summer last year, the situation became different.

The crisis has certainly worsened the situation. Many processing factories have stopped operating, and millions of migrant workers have lost their jobs. Some have begun to return to their villages.

There are over 200 million migrant workers in China, according to Ministry of Agriculture assessments; 10 per cent of them losing their jobs means more than 20 million unemployed. The fact that factories are closing down has also generated a lot of labour disputes; migrant workers who have not received all their wages and benefits have joined street protests. This has affected social stability.

From the Guangdong leadership’s point of view, an economic downturn may be a good opportunity to accelerate industrial upgrading, as demonstrated by past experience in Japan. Developing more advanced, innovative industries and weeding out backward processing factories would raise Guangdong’s international competitiveness.

The Guangdong authorities are, therefore, inclined to keep with the existing policy, and are reluctant to help the labour-intensive small and medium-sized industrial enterprises.

The return of migrant workers to their villages, again, will not cause serious social and economic problems for Guangdong as most of these low-wage, unskilled workers come from less-developed neighbouring provinces. In fact, their departure will reduce pressure on Guangdong’s social services.

The central government, on the other hand, has a national, macro view. The current leadership accords the highest priority to stability. For many years, it has been trying hard to maintain an annual growth rate of 8 per cent or more.

The objective is to offer employment to new entrants in the labour market, as well as underemployed rural workers. Keeping a low unemployment rate is essential to maintaining social stability.

The promotion of industrial upgrading and reducing pollution in the coastal provinces have been supported by Beijing.

In the past decade, some labour-intensive industrial enterprises in the Yangtze River Delta have moved to central provinces. Less-prosperous Jiangxi province, for example, has been actively attracting factories to relocate there to boost its own industrialisation.

At this stage, however, the central government is more concerned with containing unemployment and ensuring social stability. Premier Wen Jiabao now advocates state support for small and medium-sized enterprises, for fear that their failure would cause only more unemployment.

Hence, this has become an issue to be negotiated between Guangdong and Beijing – but whose outcome will affect Hong Kong businessmen in the Pearl River Delta.

Joseph Cheng Yu-shek is a professor of political science at City University of Hong Kong