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November 1st, 2011:

Policy address failed to deal with Hong Kong’s serious pollution problems

South China Morning Post – Nov. 1, 2011

With almost seven years of experience as the chief executive of the Hong Kong government, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen has obviously not done his job well if you read what was laid down for the environment portfolio in his last policy address.

He chose an easy and short-term option of offering more carrots to please various sectors of our society instead of applying sticks to get polluters under legislative control.

Mr Tsang is offering HK$180 million to franchised bus companies to pilot electric-powered buses and another HK$150 million for taxis and minibuses to replace their catalytic converters. The government estimates that 80 per cent of taxis and 50 per cent of minibuses are emitting exceedingly more pollutants than they should be. While giving out these carrots, why did Mr Tsang not at the same time ask for something in return? For example he could have demanded an earlier timetable for the retirement of very old and highly polluting buses with emission standards at Euro II and below, or a high penalty for those vehicles with emissions exceeding the statutory emission standards during the annual inspection.

When the World Health Organisation recently released the first global survey results for levels of airborne particles smaller than 10 micrometers (PM10) for 1,082 cities worldwide, Hong Kong was not on the list, because our government did not provide data. Who decided not to submit data for this important and relevant study? Is there something that Mr Tsang’s administration wants to hide? If he had really got his job done, and done it well, he would have set a goal for improving roadside air quality within a reasonable timeframe so that we reach similar air quality levels that other clean cities such as Copenhagen and Vancouver enjoy. Copenhagen has private cars and buses, but it also has 37 per cent of its people commuting on bicycles, which helps reduce air pollution.

To keep on offering rebates on our electricity bills will only encourage people to consume more electricity. This rebate is the most non eco-friendly freebie among other “candies”.

Mr Tsang has sprinkled more artificial sweeteners in his last policy address, which has helped him to gain a slight rebound in his popularity rating. However, it is sad for the future of Hong Kong people that we have a leader who chooses to put his higher public acceptance ahead of the public’s health and a clean environment.

Edwin Lau Che-feng, director, general affairs, Friends of the Earth (HK)