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December, 2016:

Hong Kong activists fail in legal bid to challenge decision on construction of third airport runway

Judge rejects their accusations that environmental watchdog did not take into consideration airspace issues, habitat destruction

Hong Kong’s High Court has struck out a bid by a Lantau resident and a conservationist to challenge the decision to allow the construction of a third airport runway, with a judge rejecting accusations that the environmental watchdog had ignored airspace issues and habitat destruction.

Mr Justice Anderson Chow Ka-ming stated in a judgment handed down on Thursday that the grounds of the applicants’ judicial review were not well-founded or valid.

The Airport Authority, a party to the case, said it welcomed the ruling and would reduce the environmental impact of the project.

In March 2012, the government decided to proceed in principlewith plans to expand the Hong Kong International Airport by building a third runway. The director of environmental protection in November 2014 then approved an environmental impact assessment report and granted a permit for the controversial project, which is expected to cost HK$141.5 billion.

But Lantau resident Ho Loy and conservationist Yu Hin-pik applied for a judicial review over the department’s decision, questioning whether it had taken into account the full impact of the runway.

In his judgment, Chow wrote that when it comes to deciding whether to grant or deny an environmental permit, it was not part of the environmental watchdog’s functions to vet the wisdom of the Airport Authority’s proposal to expand the airport.

“[Its] function is to consider the assessment and acceptability of the environmental impact which may be caused by the project,” the judge stated.

Ho also questioned the assessment of noise and air impact due to the use of airspace in the Pearl River Delta area in relation to the projected air traffic movements in or out of Hong Kong.

But the judge said it was clear the airspace issue was not relevant to the project’s noise impact assessment or the protection of the environment – which were the watchdog’s areas of concern when deciding on granting an environmental permit.

Ho claimed that she had not intended to challenge the decision to build the third runway, and that the present review was related to the environmental impact assessment exercise.

She argued that the watchdog’s report failed to take into account the actual ecological impact on the Chinese white dolphin and also failed to provide compensation measures for the progressive permanent destruction of habitat during the construction phase.

Chow, however, found it “incorrect” to suggest that the watchdog had failed to consider compensation measures, adding that findings in the department’s report concerning the habitat loss should be read in their proper contexts.

The director’s approval of the assessment report depended on criteria including whether it complied with the requirements of a technical memorandum.

“I am unable to see in what respect it may be said that there are omissions or deficiencies in the [report] which may affect the results and conclusions of the assessment,’’ Chow wrote in his judgment.

The court’s primary concern was with the procedure to be followed in the environmental impact assessment process, not the merits, unless it was found to be unreasonable, the judge added.

Chow said compliance with the express obligations imposed by the Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance should be regarded as a sufficient discharge of the watchdog’s duties in the environmental impact assessment process.

“[The] court should not readily impose additional obligations on the director over and above what is expressly required by the ordinance,” Chow stated in the judgment.

He asserted that the viability and sustainability of the project was related to the airport authority’s wisdom in pursuing it. This made it a matter of public policy, and not a matter for determination in the present judicial review, he added.

Ho and Yu were ordered to foot the legal bills of the director of environmental protection and the airport authority on Thursday, but Ho said she was still studying the judgment and would make public her next step.
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How scientists cracked the puzzle of Beijing’s wintertime smog

Sulphate levels in Chinese capital’s air similar to those produced by volcanic eruptions

Levels of a pollutant linked to diarrhoea and global cooling in Beijing’s notorious smog can approach those produced by volcanic eruptions, according to a newly published international study.

Researchers from Germany, the United States and China recorded extremely high concentrations of sulphate on the Tsinghua University campus in January 2013 during a joint study of air pollution in the Chinese capital.

Sulphate is a salt of sulphuric acid that, in nature, is usually formed in the atmosphere after a volcanic eruption.

The sulphate concentration on the roof of one Tsinghua building hit 300 micrograms per cubic metre of air, comparable to the fallout from the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland in 2010, which produced an average, near-surface concentration of 400 micrograms over Scandinavia.

That might explain why some people experience diarrhoea, a typical effect of sulphate poisoning, on smoggy days, alongside other symptoms linked to air pollution.

But the high levels of sulphate in the smog that plagues Beijing each winter puzzled the researchers.

In nature, sulphate is formed when massive amounts of sulphur are thrust high into the atmosphere by a volcanic eruption and transformed by sunlight in a process known as photochemistry.

“No theory could explain why it happened during a cold, dim winter in Beijing with little photochemistry going on,” said Dr Su Hang, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany, and one of the scientists involved in the study.

In a paper published in the journal Sciences Advances on Wednesday, Su and his colleagues pinpointed a culprit: nitrogen oxides – a family of pollutants mainly created by industrial and vehicular emissions.

Nitrogen oxides, including nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide, could bind with water vapour and create many floating liquid droplets that would not freeze in sub-zero temperatures. The airborne droplets then served as a chemical reactor, absorbing sulphur dioxide from the atmosphere and turning it into sulphate. The more sulphate produced, the bigger the droplet and the faster the chemical reaction.

“It was like a chain reaction,” Su said. “Once started, it would not stop.”

That made the smog in Beijing different from the photochemical smog, driven by sunlight, that troubled Los Angeles in the 1970s.

The researchers said the amount of man-made air pollutants in China’s lower atmosphere had reached a level unprecedented in human history and that was triggering chemical reactions previously thought impossible.

In Beijing, Su said, smog could develop rapidly at night, and residents sometimes woke up to find the air outside “as thick as soup”.

Sulphate is also believed to play an important role in planet cooling, with scientists linking the massive spread of sulphate in the atmosphere after volcanic eruptions to numerous episodes of global cooling throughout history due to the chemical’s ability to reflect sunlight back into outer space almost as effectively as a mirror.

Whether the smog in China could help slow global warming required further investigation, the researchers said.

The researchers urged the authorities to treat nitrogen oxides as a major enemy in the battle against smog – with a focus on cutting industrial and vehicular emissions – because the chemistry at work in haze not only produced sulphate but also lots of nitrate, which could cause oxygen levels in the blood to drop, causing dizziness, headaches or even death.

“Reducing the nitrogen oxides can shoot several birds with one stone,” Su said.

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Activists lose judicial review over construction of airport’s third runway

Two activists lost their legal challenge on Thursday to prevent the construction of the Hong Kong International Airport’s third runway. The High Court dismissed their judicial review.

The two applicants, Lantau resident Ho Loy and member of Green Sense Yu Hin-pik, argued that the environmental impact assessment conducted by the Environmental Protection Department was flawed, as it did not provide a sufficient evaluation of the project’s ecological impact.

The third runway system. Photo: Airport Authority

The third runway system. Photo: Airport Authority

The third runway project was proposed by the Airport Authority in 2010 because of increasing traffic at Hong Kong’s only airport. The plan included reclaiming 650 hectares of land north of the airport for the third runway, as well as expanding the existing Terminal Two for immigration clearance.

New marine park

The applicants said the assessment failed to offer off-site mitigation measures regarding the loss of habitat by Chinese White Dolphins. However, Mr Justice Chow said the report already included a list of mitigation and compensation measures to avoid and reduce potential environmental impacts, such as the designation of a new marine park.

The activists also said that noise estimates and the predicted impact to air quality was based on information provided by the Airport Authority and the assumption that the mainland will open up its airspace. The judge said the Civil Aviation Department consulted expert opinion and relevant data to confirm the authenticity of the assumptions and data.

The proposed third runway. Photo: GovHK.

The proposed third runway. Photo: GovHK.

Mr Justice Chow said that the court only had to rule on whether the assessment by the city’s environmental watchdog had followed due procedures – not to examine the “Airport Authority’s wisdom in pursuing the project”.

In August, protesters held a demonstration at the airport in response to the construction of the third runway. They called for the Airport Authority to suspend land reclamation work and to stop charging passengers as a means to subsidise the project.

The Authority said they welcomed the ruling and will continue implementing the mitigation measures according to the environmental impact assessment and permits.

According to Apple Daily, the applicants are currently looking into the judgment and will not rule out the possibility of filing an appeal. Green Sense said in a statement that they were “very disappointed” with the court’s decision.

What exactly is causing China’s toxic smog?

As thick, choking smog continues to envelop large parts of the country, long-suffering Chinese residents have raised questions

As thick, choking, toxic smog continues to envelop large parts of China, long-suffering Chinese residents have raised the question of what exactly is causing the terrible air pollution.

Have the country’s eco-friendly wind farms slowed air circulation, making it harder for smog to disperse, and has switching to natural gas contributed more harmful particles to the air than the use of coal?

These are the burning questions that Chinese social media users have raised over the past few days as residents across northern China endure the smog that is laying siege to a seventh of the country.

Some critics believe the government’s measures taken to counter air pollution have instead worsened its problems, but scientists say this is not the case.

The burning of coal is the biggest factor contributing to northern China’s smoggy conditions, according to Professor Chai Fahe, a researcher with the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences.



Speaking at a press meeting organised by the Ministry of Environmental Protection on Tuesday, Chai said emissions from burning coal in Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei – the most developed regions in northern China – were five times the national average.

The situation would worsen in winter, as many urban communities and rural families in those regions also relied on coal for heating, he said.

To reduce the country’s reliance on coal-fired power plants, the government set up large-scale wind farms.

Most of the wind turbines are located in grasslands in Hebei and Inner Mongolia to the north of Beijing, and sit across a major stream of cold air from Siberia.

A recent study found that near-surface wind speeds in Beijing had declined significantly, from 3.7 metres per second in the 1970s to just 3 metres per second presently.

Xu Dexiang, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences, said wind farms could indeed affect the movement of ground air, according to studies conducted both in China and abroad.

Significantly reduced wind speeds had been recorded in areas within 100km from the wind farms, Xu said.

But the impact to Beijing – which is more than 400km south of Inner Mongolia and 200km from Zhangjiakou in Hebei where most of the farms are located – would not be “obvious”, he was quoted as saying by Xinhua.


Xu also said a man-made forest created to reduce dust storms in northern China should not take the blame for the region’s worsening smog.

Such low-lying foliage would not slow down the movement of cold air, which travels at a height of more than 1.5km above ground, he said.

Critics have also raised the possibility that the worsening smog is due to Beijing’s switching winter heating sources from coal to natural gas.

Beijing has in recent years undertaken a massive and costly campaign to use cleaner energy. Natural gas is cleaner than coal, producing water and carbon dioxide when burnt, instead of the dust and smoke that coal produces.

But the water vapour that burning natural gas produces can also increase the concentration of air pollutants near ground. Ongoing research has suggested that tiny water molecules in the air may speed up chemical reactions, leading to worse smog.


Wang Zifa, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Atmospheric Physics, said the burning of natural gas in China pumped more than 300 million tonnes of water into the atmosphere each year – equivalent to 30 times the amount of water in Hangzhou’s famous West Lake.

Nevertheless, water vapour accounts for only a small, “almost negligible” fraction of water in the whole atmosphere, Wang said.

The use of natural gas hence was not a big contributor to the high humidity of Beijing’s smog, he said.

Wang Shuxiao, an environmental science professor with Tsinghua University, said the public should be more patient with the government’s anti-pollution measures.

China could counter its smog problem only if the whole of society worked together to reduce the emission of air pollutants, Wang said.
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Hong Kong to get new country park, protection for incense trees and horseshoe crabs

Robin’s Nest close to the border will be designated a country park and species such as the Chinese pangolin and certain freshwater turtles will receive protection

Some 67 measures are included in a long-awaited blueprint on biological diversity and conservation in the city over the next five years.

Released yesterday, it also takes forward the designation of Robin’s Nest, near the border town of Sha Tau Kok, as the city’s 25th country park.

Furthermore, it proposes a threatened species list and pledges to formulate specific conservation approaches for local species.

Initiated in 2013 in line with UN Convention on Biological ¬Diversity requirements, the Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (BSAP) focuses on the enhancement of conservation, mainstreaming the concept of biodiversity, improving knowledge and promoting community involvement.

Environment minister Wong Kam-sing said the city’s first such plan would be implemented by an interdepartmental working group chaired by the secretary for the environment and would ultimately “step up biodiversity conservation and support sustainable development”.

The new country park, covering more than 400 hectares of land in the northeastern New Territories, would dovetail with another aim to ¬expand wildlife habitat connectivity – Robin’s Nest adjoins Shenzhen’s Wutong Shan National Forest Park, forming a continuous “ecological corridor”.

“The government will commence the preparation for the designation of Robin’s Nest as a new country park, including seeking views of other departments and stakeholders including the local villagers, before initiating statutory procedures under the Country Parks Ordinance,” the report read.

More ecologically important enclaves would also come under the parks system in “appropriate locations”, although no further details were given.

A new conservation strategy is promised for five threatened “priority species”, including the Chinese pangolin, selected freshwater turtles, the horseshoe crab and incense tree. Existing conservation plans for species such as the Chinese white dolphin and Romer’s tree frog will be -reviewed and strengthened.

Gavin Edwards, conservation dreictor at WWF-Hong Kong, welcomed the plan but said it scored low on marine conservation due to a lack of a clear target on how much of local waters should be protected. The UN convention recommends a global target of 10 per cent, but here just 2 per cent is protected.

Dr Leung Siu-fai, director of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, said ongoing plans for marine parks [1] around the Brothers and Soko islands, as well as southwest -Lantau, would raise the city’s level “to 4 to 5 per cent”.

Paul Zimmerman, a member of the BSAP committee that offered advice on the drafting of the plan, said its vision and mission were “well structured”, but offered few practical measures to meet the target of halving the global rate of habitat loss.

“There has been a creeping loss [of habitat] due to illegal landfilling and other hostile actions or acts of eco-vandalism over private land,” he said. “The government is also taking away green belts for housing, rather than developing brownfield sites.”
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Hong Kong gov’t announces new HK$150m biodiversity strategy and action plan

The government announced the city’s first strategy and action plan to conserve biodiversity and support sustainable development on Wednesday.

The Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (BSAP) outlines 67 action points in four major area including conservation, biodiversity, awareness and promotion of community involvement.

The conservation measures include designing new parks and strengthening the management of protected areas such as marine parks. Also included are plans to conserve species that demand specific attention, for example, horseshoe crabs and incense trees.

Director of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department Leung Siu-fai said the legislative process of designating the Brothers Marine Park is about to be completed. Three new marine parks will be brought online in the next few years, he added.

“In choosing appropriate locations for country parks, the department has been assessing areas based on their ecological value, and whether they can provide leisure and educational facilities to the public,” Leung said.

A spokesperson for the Worldwide Fund for Nature told HKFP: “We do believe that much can be achieved by implementing this action plan, including expanding Hong Kong’s network of marine parks and developing & implementing effective action plans for species such as Pangolin, Golden Coin Turtle, Black Faced Spoonbill and Chinese white dolphin. We will work with and also hold government to account for the implementation of this plan.”

More enclaves

Secretary for the the Environment Wong Kam-sing added that more enclaves will be incorporated into country parks.

The plan also aims to ensure different government bureaux continue incorporating biodiversity considerations in their work. The government will lead, or commission, studies to monitor and collect data on biodiversity, such as species assessment.

The final section of the plan calls for the promotion of conservation work in schools or to the general public.

Hong Kong Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan 2016-2021. Photo: GovHK.

“The Government started the preparation of the BSAP in 2013. In the public consultation conducted in early 2016, the initiative to implement the BSAP has received general support from various sectors of the community,” Wong said.

The government has set aside HK$150 million to carry out the initiatives of BSAP in the first three years.

2016: Hong Kong’s year of weather extremes in pictures

Hong Kong’s extraordinary weather events in 2016 as captured by South China Morning Post photographers

2016 was a year of weather records in Hong Kong. At least a dozen new records [1] were set as typhoons, heavy rains and baking heat hit the city. As ever, South China Morning Post photographers were out and about enduring the severe conditions firsthand and documenting the climatic events as they happened.

A freezing January

The year began with an historic cold blast for the city and a phenomena many locals had never experienced – frost and freezing rain. Average temperatures plummeted to just 3.1 degrees Celsius, the third lowest ever recorded in Hong Kong. A new record low was set on the city’s highest peak Tai Mo Shan, which hit minus 5 degrees at its coldest point. The Hong Kong Observatory attributed the freezing conditions to one of the side effects of climate change – a polar vortex, which normally circled the Arctic, had distorted and pushed a blast of cold air south.



Some 45 people were hospitalised as ‘frost chasers’ travelled to Tai Mo Shan peak to experience the chilly conditions firsthand. Some were injured after slipping on the icy roads, while others who weren’t dressed warm enough, suffered hypothermia.


A foggy February

February in Hong Kong saw its fair share of ups and downs. While temperatures rose to 22 degrees in the second week, they swiftly fell again to just 11 degrees by the beginning of the third. Thanks to a maritime airstream and an intense northeast monsoon, the weather brought with it foggy conditions, which made for dramatic photographs of Victoria Harbour.



Winter’s procession into March

Hong Kong maintained its gloomy conditions well into March, with temperatures almost two degrees lower than average, making it one of the coldest starts to spring in more than a decade. More than 148mm of rain fell during the month, almost double the average.


It was Hong Kong’s third month in a row with colder than average temperatures. The mean temperature for the month was just 17.4 degrees, compared with the usual monthly average of 19.1 degrees.

A brief foggy cloak over an unusually sunny April

High humidity and warm temperatures marked Hong Kong’s first weeks of April, bringing back the warmth and providing photographers with numerous opportunities to catch Hong Kong’s iconic skyline partly hidden behind a grey shroud.





The Hong Kong Observatory reported that April was characterised by sunny, warm and relatively dry weather, particularly during the second half of the month. The month had more than 159 hours of sunshine, 57 hours above the average of 101.7 hours.

Downpours in May and even bigger downpours in June

Two red rainstorm warnings issued on the same morning in May angered many parents after school classes were cancelled. There were reports of flashflooding as more than 70mm of rain fell over Yuen Long, Tsuen Wan and Sai Kung, while 100mm was recorded in Sha Tin and Tai Po.

The rains continued into the second week of June with dark storm clouds hovering over the city.



Ironically however, the month of June broke heatwave records.

The Observatory recorded four consecutive days from June 24 to 27 above 35 degrees, breaking the previous record of three consecutive days from May 30 to June 1 in 1963. And with the mercury reaching a maximum of 35.5 degrees, June also recorded the second highest temperature for the month since records began in 1884.

A hot, electric July

The month of July brought with it one of the biggest and wildest lightning storms in recent Hong Kong history. During the same week, the city also saw one of the hottest July days in more than half a century.

The city was hit by 10,000 bolts of lightning during an epic 12-hour overnight thunderstorm on July 9 and 10. The Observatory recorded 5,905 cloud-to-ground lightning strikes on Saturday July 9, with most hitting Lantau Island and the New Territories.


The rolling thunder and intense flashes continued into Sunday morning with another 4,095 cloud-to-ground bolts of lightning. In total, it was the highest number of lightning strikes recorded over a 24-hour period, since 9,966 cloud-to-ground strikes were recorded in July 2005.


Twelve days later, on July 22, Hong Kong endured a ‘Great Heat’ day when the average temperature surged to 32.9 degrees. The mercury reached above 35 degrees in some districts such as Sheung Shui and Tai Po.


August blows through with Typhoon Nida

The first typhoon of the year brought a No.8 warning signal. Typhoon Nida made landfall near the Dapeng Peninsula, in Guangdong Province. Initially it was judged to be as big a threat as the Typhoon Vicente of 2012, which triggered a No.10 warning. But eventually, Nida spared Hong Kong from its full intensity.



October – Super typhoon Haima lands in Hong Kong

Typhoon Haima, named after the Chinese word for sea horse, blew in on October 21. With a No. 8 storm warning, Haima shut down Hong Kong’s roads, schools, businesses and infrastructure.



There were 200 reports of fallen trees, including two gigantic trees near the Causeway Bay typhoon shelter, which blocked six lanes of traffic on Gloucester Road. A man died after losing his footing while walking along a rocky shoreline in Tseung Kwan O.

But there were some who embraced the strong winds and rough seas. Surfers braved the typhoon swells at Big Wave Bay as Haima blew in across the city.


By the end of the month, the Hong Kong had endured its hottest October in 132 years, according to the Observatory, with the monthly mean ¬temperature reaching 26.8 degrees, some 5 degrees above the average.

November’s supermoon

It was the second ‘supermoon’ event of the year. Coming just after the Mid Autumn Festival, Hongkongers gazed upon the moon as it reached its closest possible position to earth.


Photographers worldwide sought to capture the best shot of the moon and Hong Kong did not disappoint, with relatively clear skies giving shutterbugs a clear lunar line of sight.


December – so far, so good…

As of publishing December has been relatively uneventful – but if we’ve learned anything about 2016, it’s to expect the unexpected. Have a merry Christmas!


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Joint operation detects alleged illegal collection and storage of chemical waste by recycling sites in Yuen Long

The Environmental Protection Department (EPD) launched a joint departmental enforcement operation in mid-December with the Fire Services Department (FSD), the Police, the Planning Department (PlanD) and the Lands Department (LandsD) to inspect a number of open waste recycling sites in Yuen Long in the New Territories. During the inspections, three recycling sites were suspected to have illegally stored large amounts of chemical waste. The EPD is now investigating the persons involved and gathering evidence in preparation for instituting prosecutions.

An EPD spokesman today (December 20) said that the joint operation conducted between December 7 and 16, entitled “Operation E-change”, aimed to conduct surprise inspections at open waste recycling yards in Yuen Long to check whether their operations complied with the legal requirements on pollution control, fire safety, land planning and use.

During the joint operation, the EPD found that three recycling sites located at Lau Fau Shan and Shap Pat Heung in Yuen Long were involved in alleged illegal collection and storage of large quantities of chemical waste including waste LCD monitors, cathode ray tubes, printed circuits boards and lead-acid batteries for export sale.

More than 1 300 LCD monitors and cathode ray tubes were seized during the operation. Some of the recycling sites were also involved in the dismantling of waste LCD monitors. In addition, the PlanD and the LandsD are also gathering evidence to check if the sites had breached regulations in land use and planning controls, as well as the land lease conditions.

During the joint operation, the FSD reminded the person-in-charge and staff members of these recycling sites about the fire safety requirements. EPD staff also took water and soil samples in nearby areas to see whether the recycling site operations have affected the surrounding environment.

The spokesman said, “General use and normal selling of LCD monitors, cathode ray tubes, printed circuits boards and batteries will not constitute danger. However, if a recycling site is involved in the collection, storage, dismantling, disposal or import and export of a large quantity of such waste, which contains heavy metals (such as mercury, cadmium and lead) as well as toxic organic compounds in such form, quantity or concentration so as to cause pollution or constitute a danger to health, it is regulated under the Waste Disposal Ordinance and the Waste Disposal (Chemical Waste) (General) Regulation.

Improper treatment of chemical waste will cause pollution of the environment and affect public health. Any person who collects, stores, disposes of, imports or exports chemical waste must apply for a licence or permit from the EPD. However, the three recycling sites concerned have not obtained the required approval.

The EPD reminds waste recycling site operators that if their sites involve handling of hazardous electronic waste under the control of chemical waste regulations, they should register with the EPD in accordance with the law. Chemical waste must be properly packed, labelled, stored and collected by licensed chemical waste collectors for delivery to the EPD’s licensed chemical waste treatment facilities for disposal, otherwise it will constitute an offence. First-time offenders are liable to a maximum fine of $200,000 and six months’ imprisonment.

The EPD and relevant departments will continue to conduct joint enforcement action to combat illegal activities at waste recycling sites.

Air pollution costs trillions

Premature deaths due to air pollution cause annual global costs of about US$225 billion in lost work days, and more than US$5 trillion in welfare losses, according to a new study.

Exposure to air pollution increases the risk of contracting cancers and heart, lung and respiratory diseases. According to the latest available estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO), 5.5 million premature deaths worldwide, or 1 in every 10 deaths, in 2013 were attributable to indoor and outdoor air pollution.

A joint study, entitled “The Cost of Air Pollution: Strengthening the economic case for action”, published by the World Bank and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, has estimated the costs of premature deaths related to air pollution.

Using the WHO estimates of premature mortality attributable to air pollution, the study valued the economic costs following two different approaches: Firstly a welfare-based approach that monetizes the increased fatality risk from air pollution according to individuals’ willingness to pay, and secondly an income-based approach that equates the financial cost of premature mortality with the present value of forgone lifetime earnings.

In 2013, the cost to the world’s economy of welfare losses due to exposure to ambient and household air pollution amounted to some US$5.11 trillion. In terms of magnitude, welfare losses in South Asia and East Asia and the Pacific were the equivalent of about 7.5 per cent of the regional gross domestic product (GDP), while in Europe and North America they were equal to respectively 5.1 and 2.8 per cent of GDP. At the low end, losses were still equal to 2.2 per cent of GDP in the Middle East and North Africa.

It is pointed out that the full costs of air pollution to society are even greater than is reported in the study. Examples of other costs not included in this report are the costs of illnesses (e.g. hospital care, medication), reduced output of agricultural crops, damage to natural ecosystems and cultural heritage, and lowered economic competitiveness of growing cities.

On top of being a major health risk, air pollution is also a drag on development. By causing illness and premature death, air pollution reduces the quality of life. By causing a loss of productive labour, it also reduces productivity and incomes.

According to the study, annual labour income losses cost the equivalent of 0.83 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) in South Asia. In East Asia and the Pacific, where the population is ageing, labour income losses represent 0.25 per cent of GDP, while in Sub-Saharan Africa, where air pollution impairs the earning potential of younger populations, annual labour income losses represent 0.61 per cent of GDP.

“Air pollution is a challenge that threatens basic human welfare, damages natural and physical capital, and constrains economic growth. We hope this study will translate the cost of premature deaths into an economic language that resonates with policy makers so that more resources will be devoted to improving air quality. By supporting healthier cities and investments in cleaner sources of energy, we can reduce dangerous emissions, slow climate change, and most importantly save lives,” said Laura Tuck, Vice President for Sustainable Development at the World Bank.

Christer Ågren

The report:

World Bank press release, 8 September 2016:…

Hongkongers could benefit from new air pollution mask that’s six times more effective than rivals

After months of development, a successful Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign and many pre-orders, a Swedish start-up has launched the Airinum Urban Breathing Mask to meet growing global demand


When Alexander Hjertstrom moved from his native Sweden to the western Indian city of Ahmedabad in the autumn of 2014, he suffered the return of an old fiend: asthma.

The intense air pollution in the city had caused his long-gone respiratory condition to return.

Hjertstrom, then a master’s student on a six-month exchange at the Indian Institute of Management, found that wearing an anti-pollution breathing mask was the most effective way to protect himself. However, he found most masks on the market were primitive and far from perfect in design and construction. They were certainly not appealing to wear every day.

Upon his return to Sweden after finishing a research project on air pollution while in India, Hjertstrom discussed the problem with three friends. Living in Sweden, the clean Scandinavian air was something all four had taken for granted.

“Given how acute the problem of air pollution was and the poor product offerings we could find, we decided to do something about it,” says Fredrik Kempe, a childhood friend of Hjertstrom.

They came up with the Airinum Urban Breathing Mask, which its founders term a “next generation anti-pollution mask”. In tests it has been shown to protect wearers up to six times better than other widely available masks.

After months of development, a very successful Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign and large number of pre-orders, the company opened their online shop for worldwide sales on December 1.

“Compared to all other civilian masks that we’ve found, purchased and tested, our mask really works,” says Kempe, Airinum’s co-founder and chief marketing officer, who has a master’s degree in innovation management.

“Many masks out there today either lack proper filter technology, or they have a poor fit, resulting in leakage and poor filtration. Our mask uses high-quality filters tested here in Sweden in collaboration with Camfil, a global leader in the air filter industry. The construction of the mask has been developed, tested and iterated over the past year to achieve the perfect fit.”

Anti-pollution masks are big business, particularly in smoggy China, where face masks even feature on fashion show catwalks. Sales of masks in China reached 1.7 billion units in 2014, a 20 per cent increase year on year, according to Chinese market research firm Daxue Consulting.

Airinum looks similar to other high-end masks on the market, such as Vogmask, currently the leading face mask in China, and Cambridge Mask. But Kempe says Airinum’s Urban Breathing Mask is “completely different”. For one thing it has a unique changeable filter system, while Vogmask’s filter is permanently sewn into the mask and does not have reusable exhalation valves. So once Vogmask’s filter reaches the end of its useful life (hundreds of hours), or starts to leak, a new mask has to be bought.

Airinum’s mask has proprietary changeable filters that use a three-layer, hi-tech filter technology which protects against up to 99 per cent of viruses, bacteria, allergens and smog. External tests have shown the mask to have better filtration efficiency than the N95 filter mask requirements set forth by the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. For easy breathing, the mask has two custom-made exhalation valves – essential to let warm, moist air out of the mask.

For the perfect fit, the mask uses stretchable material that fits the contours of the wearer’s face. Adjustable ear loops and an elastic binding surrounding the mask ensure a tight seal around the face. The mask comes in five sizes to suit both children and adults.

For some aesthetic flair, the founders sought the expertise of renowned Scandinavian creative minds – Mattias Wiklund, the menswear pattern maker at Swedish fast fashion chain H&M, and Kemal Alidzikovic, who works with Swedish fashion/function brands such as Acne and Haglofs.

The Kickstarter campaign, which ran for five weeks in November and December 2015, gathered up €70,743 (HK$581,522) from 1,386 backers in more than 30 markets, including Hong Kong. Airinum also received funding from the Swedish government, business angels and an accelerator programme in Stockholm.

The Urban Breathing Mask costs US$75 and the price includes the mask and two filters, which last up to 200 hours. The company plans to offer a long-term subscription service for filters.