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August 25th, 2012:

Singapore outflanks HK on air quality

Island state raises the bar for public health, and battle for competitiveness
Kristie Wong
SCMP Aug 25, 2012

Hong Kong is set to lose more of its competitive edge to regional rival Singapore after the island state pledged to introduce new air quality standards which are much tougher than those proposed for the city.

The National Environment Agency of Singapore said the state would adopt the World Health Organisation’s air quality guidelines as a target to be achieved by 2020. The agency said the new target would enable the state to “achieve a high standard of public health and economic competitiveness”.

Both cities reviewed their air quality objectives in 2009 but while Singapore took a leap in adopting an aggressive target, Hong Kong has said it will introduce new targets only by 2014.

Singapore’s new objectives aim to lower the annual average level of suspended particles to 20 micrograms per cubic metres of air, while Hong Kong’s target for the same pollutant is 50.

To achieve its aims, the Singapore government plans to set new emission standards for vehicles and reduce sulphur dioxide emissions from oil refineries and power stations through the use of natural gas and lower-sulphur fuels.

There have been several warnings that pollution will harm Hong Kong’s competitiveness and attractiveness to foreign companies – most recently from a Swiss business school that ranked Hong Kong as the most competitive economy but said factors including costs and pollution threatened its position.

Professor Wong Tze-wai, from Chinese University’s school of public health, said it would be difficult for Hong Kong to adopt similar guidelines to Singapore’s at this stage but its proposed new objectives were too modest. “Even though Singapore has more favourable topographical features, like more flat land and more rainfall, it is no excuse for Hong Kong to not set higher objectives to improve air quality.”

Friends of the Earth senior environmental affairs officer Melonie Chau Yuet-cheung said that, unlike Hong Kong, Singapore did not neglect public health concerns.

The Environmental Protection Department said the WHO allowed authorities to take into account local circumstances before adopting its guidelines as legal standards.