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Hong Kong Government Audit Slams Air Quality

The Wall Street Journal

A man looks around in front of high rise buildings shrouded in a haze of heavy pollution on August 3, 2012 in Hong Kong.

For years, Hong Kong residents fed up with choking fumes have slammed the city’s lackluster efforts to fight air pollution—and as it turns out, the government’s own audit office agrees with them.

The government’s audit commission found that Hong Kong has consistently failed to reach its goals on air quality since 1987, when they were first adopted. Last year, the report found, roadside concentrations of key pollutants exceeded the government’s air-quality objectives by up to 53%. Meanwhile, levels of nitrogen dioxide—a major indicator of roadside pollution—exceeded World Health Organization limits by 205%.

The report also found that last year—which clocked record-high roadside pollution levels—the average concentration level of nitrogen dioxide in Hong Kong was 279% higher than in Sydney, 47% higher than in London and 36% higher than in New York. Levels of “PM10,” larger particles of air pollutants, were 220%, 100% and 153% higher than those cities, respectively.

Local green groups responded to the report’s release with cheers. “I’ve never seen anything similar before from the government,” said Patrick Fung, campaign manager for the Clean Air Network, a local environmental NGO, of the report’s release. “This [presents] a green light for more measures to be carried out by the current administration.”

Since he was inaugurated in July, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has been moving more aggressively than his predecessor to confront the issue of air pollution, with his environmental secretary floating the prospect of a ban on old diesel vehicles last month. In September, the administration also tapped Christine Loh, a well-known green activist, to serve as undersecretary for environment.

“We will vigorously improve air quality and carefully consider public health when formulating clean-air policies,” Mr. Leung told lawmakers last month, including through possible efforts to “[make] polluters pay.”

The audit report noted that the World Health Organization has stated that air pollution can cause respiratory and heart diseases, as well as lung cancer. It also added that there is “growing public concern” over how Hong Kong’s air-pollution levels have deteriorated among locals.

The audit’s findings come as a new report from CPA Australia finds that Hong Kong is continuing to lose out to cleaner, greener rival Singapore among companies seeking to set up a corporate regional hub in Asia. According to the group’s survey, 59% of respondents said they believed international companies would prefer to set up their regional headquarters in Singapore, compared with just 22% who cited Hong Kong. Pollution ranked as the No. 3 reason why companies would decide against settling in Hong Kong, after high rental and living costs.

– Te-Ping Chen. Follow her on Twitter @tepingchen.

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