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October 21st, 2008:

Clearing The Air Will Take Time And Money, Says Environment Chief

Cheung Chi-fai – SCMP | Updated on Oct 21, 2008

The environment minister yesterday tried to play down expectations about the pace and scope of efforts to reduce air pollution, saying every measure had its price and a public consensus was needed on the way forward.

Edward Yau Tang-wah said boosting natural gas use in electricity generation was one of the ways to help meet the World Health Organisation’s air quality targets – which are much stricter than Hong Kong’s. But those targets would not be met without there being a price to pay, he said. Gas costs up to 50 per cent more than coal, though fuel prices were likely to remain volatile.

“Furthermore, some existing coal-fired generation units will have to be replaced by gas-fired units. It will involve more capital investment and we have to be cautious about that,” Mr Yau said on an RTHK programme.

He said the replacement of coal-fired turbines could be delayed if more effort was put into saving energy.

“Even if fuel prices are getting ever higher, if we are using the energy wisely we will still have a hedge against the rise,” he said.

He would not speculate about the impact on fuel bills of the government asking power suppliers to use cleaner fuel.

Mr Yau said that because he wore two hats as environment secretary and energy chief, he had to balance both carefully with due regard to public sentiment, although he fully supported cleaning up the air.

“We will not restore the blue skies at any cost. The administration will have to be cautious about the direction in which he head, the steps we take and how quickly we take them.

“That’s what we are doing and what the public is asking us to do,” he said.

Mr Yau admitted that meeting the WHO targets would be difficult and required a multi-pronged approach, with measures to cut emissions from power plants and vehicles.

“We need a basket of measures, though they might have varying impacts. But we have to achieve the WHO standards, so we should be ready for the price we have to pay.”

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, in his policy address last week, outlined plans to adopt a set of WHO pollution standards to replace the city’s outdated air quality objectives.