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July 1st, 2012:

Bow Tie Tsang’s legacy

Hong Kong’s outgoing chief executive Donald Tsang has been labeled a failure when it comes to addressing the city’s smog problems.

Tsang’s slogan of six years ago of “Clean Air for a Cool Hong Kong!” has disappeared under a thick haze of smog.

Hong Kong still doesn’t meet the World Health Organization standard for clean air or marine pollutants.

According to experts and foreign business chambers, pollution is costing around $6 billion in tangible and intangible losses every year.

The American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong says that 25% of businesses polled, complained of problems in recruitment due to the environmental issues, and 74% could not see any improvement in air quality in the last year.

[Evan Auyang, American Chamber of Commerce, Hong Kong]:
“When people exit Hong Kong they decide: ‘I can’t stand it anymore,’ or ‘I don’t want to be here anymore’, the environment is typically one of the primary factors. And that’s the important part we really have to focus on.”

This week, the Guangdong, Macau and Hong Kong governments unveiled a plan to address pollution and clean the Pearl River Delta waters.

[Chung Tang, Roadside Vendor]:
“The government really doesn’t do anything. The Environmental Protection Department never does their job fully either. They’re useless. They don’t do what they should do or regulate what they should regulate. They always say you should turn off the engine when you stop a car. It’s all advertisement. But do they enforce it? Do they punish people? No, not at all.”

A new gas pipeline to be finished next year will allow 50% of local power-generating plants to run on natural gas.

And there are plans to replace 3,000 city bus engines with cleaner models.

But critics are skeptical. Health experts are adding to the debate with figures of 1200 people dying each year between 2007 and 2010 of heart and lung diseases partly linked to unhealthy air.

Hong Kong’s dirty habits

Hong Kong handover 15th anniversary |

6. We hate Hong Kong’s air quality

Description: Hong Kong handover

There’s a gorgeous skyline under that smog. We swear.

Hong Kong’s air was polluted in 1997. Today? It’s even worse.

Last year was Hong Kong’s most polluted on record, according to the Environmental Protection Department, which said that the Air Pollution Index exceeded 100 at roadside monitoring stations in Causeway Bay, Central and Mong Kok more than 20 percent of the time, compared to just two percent of the time in 2005.

Green activists say the main culprit is Hong Kong’s ageing fleet of trucks, buses and vans, which are polluting more as they grow older.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s air quality objectives still lag behind global standards, despite being updated by the government this year. Even India and Bangladesh have tougher air standards than Hong Kong.

Measures that were introduced to fight pollution have been ineffective. Last month, the South China Morning Post revealed that the government has quietly added more than 200 vehicles to the ban on idling engines, which a previous report said is rarely enforced in any case.

All of this comes at a very high price. Pollution is so bad that it kills 3,200 people per year, according to researchers from the University of Hong Kong and it costs the Hong Kong economy more than HK$40 billion a year.

Memo to Hong Kong’s new leader: must clear the air

Description: Hotels and commercial buildings at Admiralty and Wanchai districts are seen from the 70th floor of the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong November 30, 2010. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

Hotels and commercial buildings at Admiralty and Wanchai districts are seen from the 70th floor of the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong November 30, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Bobby Yip

By Sisi Tang

HONG KONG | Fri Jun 29, 2012 4:55pm IST

HONG KONG (Reuters) – As Hong Kong strives to consolidate its reputation as a financial hub and major offshore conduit for China’s wealth, the smog that often envelops its skyscrapers exacts a heavy cost on its pro-business credentials and competitiveness.

Business and green groups say outgoing chief executive Donald Tsang has failed to address a problem that costs an estimated $6 billion each year, according to health experts, with air quality in the former British colony now among the worst in Asia.

Newspaper vendor Chung Tang, 74, knows just how bad it can be, working all day at a bus stop in Sheung Wan, a busy neighborhood next to the Central business district where pollution-free trams trundle along metal rails, between the cars and buses, just as they have done for more than 100 years.

“They always say you should turn off the engine when you stop a car,” he said as a bus spewed a trail of grey exhaust. “It’s all just advertising. Do they implement it? Do they punish people? Not at all.”

Tang was referring to a government measure to ban idling engines on streets, especially in densely populated pockets of Hong Kong island, like Sheung Wan, where narrow, poorly ventilated streets help concentrated emissions collect.

Concerns over air quality cropped up long before Tsang came to office in 2005. Five years earlier, legislators and environmentalists had voiced concerns about nightly fireworks at Hong Kong’s Disney theme park on the rural outlying island of Lantau adding to the problem.

Halcyon days. Now, a blanket of haze at times shrouds the view even from the hills of leafy Lantau. Sometimes it is almost impossible to see one of the world’s most spectacular sights, the concrete, steel and glass jungle of the skyscrapers on Hong Kong island, from just across the harbor in Kowloon.

“The air quality is so poor that I had to change my long-term intentions of working and living here and relocate to a country or city where I can breathe properly again,” said a senior executive at a European bank, who developed asthma within weeks of moving to Hong Kong and is now thinking of moving to clean and green Singapore.


The think tank Civic Exchange attributed 7,240 premature deaths and over half a million avoidable hospital bed days from “persistently poor air quality” during Tsang’s seven years in office.

Tsang steps down on Sunday, the 15th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule. In 2006, he pledged to bring back blue skies with the quip “Clean Air for a Cool Hong Kong!”

“Under the current administration, the targets have been weak and delayed, and fairly unhelpful in driving change,” said Mike Kilburn, an environmental expert at Civic Exchange.

Nearly a quarter of businesses polled by the American Chamber of Commerce say they experienced difficulties in recruiting professionals last year due to environmental concerns.

The pollution comes largely from coal-fired power stations and traffic, though a significant contribution wafts down from the tens of thousands of factories in China’s neighboring manufacturing heartland of the Pearl River Delta.

Roadside nitrogen dioxide hit record levels last year, though regional levels of sulfur dioxide and suspended particulates have been reduced over the past decade.

“(Hong Kong) wants to be a world city, it should not be content being just as good as Chinese cities. It should be on par with London and New York,” said Kristian Odebjer, vice chairman of the Swedish Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong.

Under intense lobbying, the government has been gradually tightening its air-quality objectives and monitoring measures to meet World Health Organisation standards, but these remain far short of global guidelines, green groups say.

Even mainland China, home to some of the world’s most polluted cities, released air-quality objectives early this year that were far more stringent than Hong Kong, but it has so far failed spectacularly to solve the problem, even in the capital, Beijing.

With a new airport runway planned at Hong Kong’s Chek Lap Kok airport, adjoining Lantau, along with a sea bridge bringing heavy freight and vehicle traffic from Zhuhai and Macau, environmentalists and business chambers say Hong Kong is running out of time.

“In Singapore, when the government makes long-term plans for the economy, environmental performance targets are well defined for each business sector. Contrasting this to Hong Kong, what we really need is policy that is holistic, decisive and long term,” said Evan Auyang, environment steering group chairman at the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong authorities say measures are in the works including weaning power stations on to cleaner natural gas, replacing old bus engines and tightening standards for new vehicles, tasks which will be a high priority for new leader Leung Chun-ying.

Guangdong province in southern China, Hong Kong and Macau have reaffirmed a commitment to bolster co-operation, monitoring and tackling of pollutants. But critics say the promises are mere words.

“Both China and Hong Kong are involved in too much talking, but it’s never enforced with fines to factory owners,” said Hak Kan Lai, an environmental expert at the University of Hong Kong.

“There’s no reason for us to neglect this problem,” said Andrew Lai, a deputy director of the Environmental Protection Department. “We’re all living in Hong Kong, we breathe the same air. We’re concerned, I’m concerned. There’s always room to do more.”

(Additional reporting Stephen Aldred, Tan Ee Lyn and Clarie Lee in Hong Kong; Editing by James Pomfret and Nick Macfie