Clear The Air News Blog Rotating Header Image

Business groups back air quality plan, despite activists’ criticism

Cheung Chi-fai and Paggie Leung, SCMP

Two major business groups have thrown their weight behind the air quality improvement plan unveiled by the government two days ago, despite reservations voiced by a clean air advocacy group.

Teresa Au, deputy chairwoman of the General Chamber of Commerce environment and sustainability committee, said it was worth paying for better air, which was vital to the city’s competitiveness and attractiveness to overseas talent.

“There is always a price for better environment and long-term benefits will require some short-term investments,” she said.

Suen Kai-lit, the new chairman of the Federation of Hong Kong Industries, also backed the plan, saying: “We support the government putting in more effort to improve the environment, even if it needs to use taxpayers’ money.”

But the Clean Air Network, a newly formed advocacy group on air quality, said even if the new targets were met, it would not be enough to prevent harm from bad air.

A consultation paper has proposed a set of air quality objectives and 19 control measures to attain them. It offered no timetable but said the measures had the potential to increase the average life expectancy of city dwellers by a month.

Ms Au said the lack of a timetable would give officials room to negotiate with power firms and bus operators who would be asked to use cleaner fuel and phase out polluting vehicles.

She said the chamber would submit a detailed response later.

Mr Suen said that if power stations had to use cleaner raw materials to improve air quality, consumers would be prepared to pay more for electricity.

But the Clean Air Network said if the measures were implemented, there would still be at least 950 premature deaths a year, compared with about 1,100 based on emissions figures for 2007.

The estimates were projected from the Hedley Index, developed by local scientists, which tracks the health and economic costs of pollution.

Lai Hak-kan of the University of Hong Kong’s department of community medicine said new sulphur dioxide targets could be worse than the existing ones as they allowed more exemptions.

“We are surrounded by ports in the region and many ocean-going vessels are using dirty fuel loaded with sulphur. But we do not see the government taking it seriously,” he said.

Meanwhile, Secretary for the Environment Edward Yau Tang-wah told RTHK that the consultation was “not all about expenses”.

“The energy-efficiency measures can give savings to consumers and rationalising bus routes costs almost nothing and saves running costs.”

Comments are closed.