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April 18th, 2013:

In Hong Kong, political will is the key to clean air

Thursday, 18 April, 2013, 12:00am

CommentInsight & Opinion


SCMP Editorial

We could do without the air pollution we have suffered this week, but it does serve to remind the administration of the declaration by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying that the quality of the air we breathe is a core livelihood issue. Roadside readings in Central on Monday were so bad that everyone was advised to steer clear of areas with heavy traffic – not just those with breathing or heart problems. The last two days have brought no relief.

Contributing factors were light winds that failed to clear the air and, as usual, pollution originating on the mainland. But these underline how important it is for Hong Kong to strive for an acceptable living environment with concrete efforts to reduce home-grown pollution. It is self-evident that this has not been the case, since roadside pollution originates locally.

The government recently revealed a plan which anticipates new air-quality targets to be officially unveiled next year, and aims to meet them by 2020. It includes HK$10 billion in cash incentives to get the dirtiest commercial vehicles off our streets by 2019, and retrofitting 1,400 franchised buses with diesel emission controls. As a result, officials say, roadside pollution could be significantly lower in four to five years. The exception will be nitrogen dioxide, which is expected to still be double the new standard by 2020. Indeed, a high concentration of nitrogen dioxide is mainly responsible for this week’s pollution.

The current administration has raised public expectations by vowing to do better than its predecessors. That will require political will to do what it takes. Environment undersecretary Christine Loh Kung-wai has said that more pedestrian-only areas or traffic diversions might be necessary to tackle nitrogen dioxide emissions. For the sake of our health, officials should be prepared to look at any option, even from critics such as Friends of the Earth, which says they might get more value for HK$10 billion if they focused on the worst polluters – pre-Euro-standard, Euro-I and Euro-II vehicles – before tackling Euro-III.


Air Pollution in Hong Kong

Air Pollution

Roadside pollution


Public Health

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Air pollution health impact worse than previously thought

Air pollution has a significant impact on health

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The dangers of air pollution could be worse than was previously thought, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.

According to WHO, air pollution is actually one of the “greatest hazards to human health”.

This stark warning came at the latest meeting of the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), which took place in Paris, France on April 6th and 7th.

It comes as the organisation pushed further with its call for immediate worldwide action on air pollution.

Speaking at the meeting, WHO director of public health and environment Dr Maria Neira, commented: “The estimations we have now tell us there are 3.5 million premature deaths every year caused by household air pollution, and 3.3 million deaths every year caused by outdoor air pollution.

“Air pollution is becoming one of the biggest health issues we have in front of us at the moment,”

WHO warned that an additional 200,000 people die every year due to ground-level ozone pollution. Furthermore, indoor air pollution has become the leading risk factor in South Asia when it comes to ‘burden of disease’, it said. Furthermore, it came second in Eastern, Central and Western Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as third in Southeast Asia.

This burden of disease is calculated based on the years of life lost combined with years lived in sickness.

At the meeting, UNEP called for fast-action on short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs), as these are major culprits when it comes to damage to health, as well as the cause of crop loss and climate change.

Tackling SLCPs could “dramatically” cut the number of annual air pollution deaths, according to UNEP.

SLCPs are released through a number of sources, including diesel engine exhaust, smoke and soot from inefficient cooking stoves, natural gas production and leaking and flaring from oil.

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