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It’s definitely time for some ‘clear the air’ talks

South China Morning Post

Nov 25, 2011

The Environmental Protection Department had a letter published in yesterday’s South China Morning Post (SEHK: 0583announcementsnews) in which it sought to “clarify” some of the air quality issues that we’ve raised over the past few months. The letter’s initial point is that “improving air quality sits at the heart of the government’s environment policy”.

If that is the case, you have to wonder why it is that the Ombudsman upheld a complaint earlier this year saying the government was dragging its heels over setting new air quality objectives (AQOs). It’s been two years since the government concluded its public consultation. The Ombudsman urged the government to set out a timetable and explain to the public the progress and difficulties. That would be an interesting exercise. Let’s see, problems of dealing with franchised bus companies, difficulties of getting environmental impact assessments approved for government infrastructure projects, and so on.

In its letter, the EPD produces a list of “improvement measures” without indicating how effective they have been. It makes great play of reducing the levels of sulphur dioxide, which it achieved by forcing the power companies to fit scrubbers. It’s now on the rise again, thanks to the marine sector. While it is good that it has been sharply reduced, it doesn’t impact on us as much as roadside pollution, which is getting worse. Many other measures have had a negligible impact.

The government tells itself air quality is not really a problem, since Hong Kong has one of the world’s highest rates of life expectancy. This, however, is a lagging indicator. At the other end of the scale, the number of children with respiratory complaints seen by paediatricians has risen dramatically. But fortunately for the government, they don’t belong to a functional constituency and can’t vote.

Choking: pedestrians cover up in Causeway Bay.

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