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October 14th, 2009:

New measures to help HK’s environment proposed

POLICY ADDRESS 2009, Staff reporters, SCMP

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen on Wednesday announced some new initiatives aimed at helping to protect Hong Kong’s environment.

Near the end of his 90 minute annual policy address, Tsang told the Legislative Council the government planned to replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs).

“CFLs consume 70 per cent less electricity than incandescent light bulbs of the same light intensity,” he explained.

“To promote the replacement of incandescent light bulbs by CFLs, the two power companies [CLP Power (SEHK: 0002) Hong Kong and Hongkong Electric (SEHK: 0006) Company] will distribute cash coupons to residential electricity account holders for CFLs.”

He said the government would also promote electric vehicles.

“The Environment Bureau [ENB] has been working with a number of electric vehicle manufacturers. We expect a supply of around 200 electric vehicles for the local market in the coming financial year,” he said.

The chief executive said the government would work with the two power companies to launch an electric vehicle leasing scheme by the end of 2010.

“Upon implementation of these two programmes, Hong Kong will rank second in Asia after Japan, where electric vehicles are most widely used,” Tsang said.

He said the government would continue to encourage different sectors to conduct carbon audits in buildings and to reduce carbon emissions.

“Last year, more than 100 organisations joined the initiative. As for the proposed district cooling system at the Kai Tak Development, construction works are expected to commence early next year,” the chief executive said.

Tsang also announced other measures in the policy address. These included:

  • Plans to boost innovation and technology by allocating about HK$200 million to launch an “R&D Cash Rebate Scheme”.

“Under this scheme, enterprises conducting applied research and development projects with the support of the Innovation and Technology Fund or in partnership with local designated research institutions will enjoy a cash rebate equivalent to 10 per cent of their investments,” he said.

  • Encourage greater co-operation between Hong Kong and Shanghai. Tsang said the two cities should work together, adding: “The competition between Hong Kong and Shanghai is not a zero-sum game.

“I believe that Hong Kong can work in collaboration with Shanghai and leverage our respective strengths to contribute to the development of financial services in the mainland.”

  • Further development of Hong Kong’s medical sector. The government would invite expressions of interest from the market to develop private hospitals. These could provide traditional Chinese medicine on four sites at Wong Chuk Hang, Tseung Kwan O, Tai Po and Lantau.

Tsang said the government planned to introduce standards for Chinese herbal medicines in Hong Kong. “We aim to extend our coverage from the current 60 herbal medicines to about 200 by 2012,” he said.

  • Developing Hong Kong’s status as a regional education hub. The government would increase the total commitment of its start-up loan scheme by HK$2 billion to help higher institutions meet the costs of purpose-built accommodation and facilities. It has also allocated four greenfield sites to four operators for international school development.
  • Opening up the mainland market further for Hong Kong’s creative industries – for example, the film industry under the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (Cepa).

Kwai Chung is one of the sources of HK air pollution


14th Oct, 2009

For years, the government shrugged off concerns about poor air quality as being all but out of its control. Factories in Guangdong, and weather patterns, were blamed for the grey pall hanging overhead. Study upon study, the latest involving the container port at Kwai Chung, have since found that the pollution is mostly our own doing. That it persists, and is in some instances getting worse despite cleaner industries across the border and closer environmental co-operation, confirms what we should have known – and been trying to tackle – all along.

Amid public pressure, authorities have taken tentative and small steps to make the air clearer and healthier. The strategy has been a bottom-up one: legislating for cleaner fuel for private cars, taxis and minibuses, but often leaving the obligations for the bigger polluters voluntary. Emission caps for the two electricity producers have been tightened. But they, together with bus companies, transport operators and ferry firms should be put under greater pressure to switch. The government, meanwhile, has seemingly turned a blind eye to shipping.

Emissions from our two power stations create the majority of the smog, yet the bulk of the electricity they generate still comes from the most polluting fuel, coal. More needs to be done to change this. Only a small proportion of their output is from natural gas, the choice of environmentally-conscious governments elsewhere.

While government measures have significantly lessened low-lying urban pollution, analysis by the South China Morning Post (SEHK: 0583, announcements, news) last month of data from monitors found it continued to be alarmingly high at street level in Central, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok. Of particular concern was the high prevalence of microscopic particulates that result from the burning of diesel; they are especially harmful to health. There can be no clearer evidence of a lack of attention to ensuring buses and trucks use cleaner fuel. Nor, given the finding, can the problem be blamed on cross-border winds.

A University of Science and Technology study last week found the same to be the case with emissions of sulphur dioxide from the container port at Kwai Chung. Contrary to assertions from authorities that high sulphur levels in the area had blown from the mainland, the research indicated it emanated from shipping and port operations. The health of as many as three million people had been put at risk, the study said.

Container ships use highly-toxic bunker fuel. Maritime industry data shows the biggest vessels each emit as much pollution as 50 million cars. International agreements permit sea-going craft to burn bunker fuel with up to 4.5 per cent sulphur content. Vehicles on Hong Kong roads use diesel containing 0.005 per cent sulphur.

Government proposals to clear the pollution from sea-going traffic do not mention container ships and the port. Ferries, pleasure craft and other small boats – which already use fuel with a sulphur content of 0.5 per cent – are being encouraged to use low-sulphur diesel. The lack of interest in port operations is down to the low volume of emissions. Such an approach ignores that the burning of bunker fuel is many times more dangerous to health.

International agreements are moving slowly. Fuel standards for ocean-going vessels will be changed to 3.5 per cent sulphur content by 2012. Port cities in Europe and North America, worried about public health, are forming partnerships to force ships entering their waters to use cleaner fuel. Hong Kong can no longer ignore the problem; it has to follow suit in the name of clean air and water.