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Government should stop blaming mainland for the city’s dreadful air

South China Morning Post – Jan 11, 2012

Hong Kong exists under the illusion it is a sophisticated city. Its historical relevance as a trading port and financial hub has faded.

Every day, Singapore and Shanghai become more likely capitals of Asia. This great city has become a polluted playground for hordes of mainland tourists coming to shop, give birth, stuff cash in the banks, drive up housing prices and generally clog up every amenity of Hong Kong. Anyone living here can attest to this new congested reality. The millions of tourists from the north have bolstered the city’s economy, but at what cost?

In the future, Asian cities will be measured not by business potential but liveability. Elsewhere in the world, people’s mindset is already firmly focused on environment and quality of life. If we are to restore our leadership position in Asia, it will be by fixing our environment and developing a broader creative identity for the city, not by becoming the initial public offering capital again.

Hong Kong’s biggest competitive disadvantage is its dreadful air quality, not only because it kills four people a day but because it’s driving away good business. The world’s top executives once considered this city as the place to be. Now their families are sick of the pollution and want out. The government is aware of the issue and has made promises to address it, but the inaction has been stunning. It seems all too complicated for this inept manager of our city.

How bad does it need to get before the government realises the required investment is in the city’s liveability? With recurring annual surpluses, the stumbling block can’t be money. There is sufficient capital available today for Hong Kong to become a leader in urban environmental management.

The government’s paralysis is rooted in denial of the worsening air conditions and a misdirected insistence that the Pearl River Delta’s factories are to blame. The mainland is not the cause of our air pollution problems. The pollution killing Hong Kong residents is home-grown from old trucks, buses, and ships using filthy bunker fuel.

It’s time for Hong Kong to wake up to the new dawn. People care about the environment they live in.

With a few swift, decisive moves, massive improvements can immediately be achieved. This is not revolutionary thought; others are already doing it. We just need to catch up. Nobody cares about the Hang Seng Index if they can’t breathe the air outside the window.

Morgan Parker, Shouson Hill

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