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March 20th, 2009:

Lawmakers Hit Out At Air-quality Targets

Joyce Ng, SCMP – Mar 20, 2009

Lawmakers criticised the government yesterday for setting its targets for meeting World Health Organisation air quality guidelines so low, and for lacking a timetable for implementing them.

Their comments came at a meeting of the Legislative Council environmental affairs panel to discuss a report on the air quality objectives review, released last week.

Democrat Lee Wing-tat said many measures suggested in the review had been discussed for years, such as the electronic road-pricing system and low-emission zones.

“Has the government really decided to implement these measures? Otherwise, improving air quality will only remain empty talk,” he said.

Mr Lee also criticised the administration for choosing the lowest interim targets, and for dragging out the process.

Another Democrat, Kam Nai-wai, said the government justified the adoption of the least stringent standards by scare tactics, such as saying that electricity charges would rise by 20 per cent if half of the city’s power was generated by using natural gas.

He quoted a petition by Friends of the Earth that said all the measures would bring a health benefit worth HK$61.4 billion, which outweighed their cost of HK$28.5 billion.

Secretary for the Environment Edward Yau Tang-wah said pollutants such as carbon monoxide and lead would be controlled by the more stringent sets of standards.

Mr Yau and the consultant that conducted the review, Ove Arup, said it was unable to give a timetable for implementation. Ove Arup director Alan Kwok said: “The measures suggested for phase one are related to businesses and the community. We have to ask the public whether they accept the measures, and we need businesses to give us a timetable.”

The review suggested Hong Kong should adopt the least stringent of the WHO’s three sets of guidelines for sulfur dioxide and ozone, but relatively tougher limits for respirable suspended particles.

Nineteen first-phase measures, including increasing the use of natural gas, were identified as helping to meet the new objectives.

The consultant will complete a draft report in June after gathering views at a public forum today.