Clear The Air News Blog Rotating Header Image

Clear the Air query to Chief Executive Donald Tsang remains unanswered

Clear the Air says:

here we publish the email sent by us to the Chief Executive Donald Tsang on 9th February 2012. The contents are clear. We ask why his Environment Minister cannot proceed the new Air Quality Standards immediately under Section 7(3) of the Air Pollution Control Ordinance.

It seems the answer is too difficult for the Chief Executive to provide,  since we are still waiting for a reply.

Clear the Air urges all concerned citizens to write to the Chief Executive’s bunker  and ask the like question.

From: CEO []
Sent: 10 February, 2012 11:18
To: James Middleton
Subject: Re: AIR POLLUTION CONTROL ORDINANCE section 7 (3) and 8 (2) Consideration of Judicial Review of delay to act and lack of Duty of Care to the public’s health

Dear Mr Middleton,
Thank you for your email of 9 February to the Chief Executive.  A reply will be given to you in due course.
Yours sincerely,

(Alex Yiu)
for Private Secretary to Chief Executive

—– Original Message —–

From: James Middleton


Cc: Edward Yau Tang Wah EPD

Sent: Thursday, February 09, 2012 8:58 AM

Subject: AIR POLLUTION CONTROL ORDINANCE section 7 (3) and 8 (2) Consideration of Judicial Review of delay to act and lack of Duty of Care to the public’s health

Dear Chief Executive,

We  welcome a reply from the Government as to why it deems it necessary to wait till 2014 to enact the new AQO’s when it can be done simply under the existing Air Pollution Control Ordinance, since the power to do so is vested in the Secretary.

We note that the Principal Officials Accountability System requires Ministers be accountable for the success or failure of their portfolios to the Chief Executive (and not the public of Hong Kong.)

Principal officials under the accountability system will accept total responsibility and in an extreme case, they may have to step down for serious failures relating to their respective portfolios.

They will be appointed to the Executive Council and will be responsible for all aspects of their portfolios. Their role and responsibility are as follows:

* to gauge public opinion and take societal interests into account in serving the community;

* to set policy objectives and goals, and develop, formulate and shape policies;

* to secure the support of the community and LegCo for their policy and legislative initiatives as well as proposals relating to fees and charges and public expenditure;

* to exercise the statutory functions vested in them by law;

* to oversee the delivery of services by the executive departments under their purview and ensure the effective implementation and successful outcome of policies; and

* to accept total responsibility for policy outcome and the delivery of services by the relevant executive departments.

Does the Chief Executive consider the Secretary for the Environment has done his job successfully when the Hedley Index tells us 3,200 people are dying here each year from pollution related illnesses and roadside pollution has increased, not declined ?

During Chinese New Year when the PRD factories and construction sites were shut the API levels at all 14 Hong Kong stations were shown as ‘High’ and the winds were from the East.

Thus transboundary pollution cannot be simply blamed for the toxic state of our air.

Does Edward Yau consider his portfolio is successful ?

We note the HK AQO’s were only released by coincidence after China accepted people-power protests and accordingly started to reveal PM2.5 levels and install further PM2.5 monitoring stations.

Taiwan has already adopted the same air quality standards as used by the US EPA including strict PM2.5 levels.

These newly issued Hong Kong AQO’s had not changed since the (unnecessary) ARUP report with its recommendations was released more than 2 years ago even though higher qualified WHO experts had devised the WHO Air Quality Guidelines in late 2005.

Is that 2 year delay acceptable to the Chief Executive after all public consultations were completed and is it acceptable to further delay effective implementation till 2014 when the existing Cap 311 law allows rubber stamping of the updated AQO’s by the Secretary ?

Yours sincerely,

James Middleton


SCMP Laisee         09 Feb 2012

Yau should come clean

Secretary for the Environment Edward Yau was at his slippery best in the Legislative Council yesterday in answering questions on why it was taking so long to introduce new air quality objectives. He once again repeated the erroneous assertion that implementing the new AQOs requires new legislation. This, as we have pointed out before, does not seem to square with the Air Pollution Control Ordinance, which says the AQOs “may be amended from time to time by the secretary, after consultation with the Advisory Council on the Environment”. In other words, they just need to be gazetted. If the government had any interest in cleaning the air, the new objectives could be law within weeks. But the public’s awareness of the problem is growing and Edward Yau’s obfuscations are looking increasingly tatty.

RTHK 17/1/2012

Exco backs new air quality objectives
The Executive Council has approved new air quality objectives for Hong Kong, which will set more stringent caps on seven types of pollutants. The Environment Secretary, Edward Yau, says some of the objectives comply with the strictest standards set by the World Health Organisation, and the rest meet its “interim” levels.

The new standards include, for the first time, a cap on very fine particles measuring less than 2.5 microns across. These particles, known as PM 2.5, are considered very dangerous as they can easily get into peoples’ lungs. However, the government will use the loosest WHO interim standard as a benchmark for these particles.

Mr Yau said the government hopes the new standards will be implemented in 2014,after the relevant laws are amended. The objectives will be updated every five years.

Mr Yau also said the government will immediately endeavour to adopt the new standards as the benchmark for conducting environmental impact assessment reports for its construction projects. But there’ll be a 3-year “transitional period” for private developments.

Hong Kong’s air quality objectives were last updated in 1987.

Fuel bills, fares to rise on cleaner air

Electricity and transport costs will rise by up to 20percent when the new air-quality standards come into force in 2014, the government said.

Kenneth Foo

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Electricity and transport costs will rise by up to 20percent when the new air-quality standards come into force in 2014, the government said.

Secretary for the Environment Edward Yau Tang-wah made the warning a day after announcing plans to raise the Air Quality Objectives to World Health Organization standards.

Yau said the new objectives will lead to a reduction in air pollutants but may also result in a 15 to 20percent rise in transport costs and a 20percent jump in electricity bills, and the public will have to share the financial burden.

The Executive Council on Tuesday gave the green light to tougher clean-air targets for the first time in 25 years, pending approval from the Legislative Council.

About half of the objectives will adopt stricter air-quality guidelines published by the WHO in 2005.

Those for sulfur dioxide, particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) and ozone will be set to targets under WHO guidelines.

A total of 22 mitigating measures, including the phasing out of heavily polluting vehicles and the increased usage of natural gas, will be implemented to achieve the new standards.

Yau also welcomed an Airport Authority statement that it will use the updated guidelines when it carries out the environmental impact assessment on the proposed third runway at Chek Lap Kok.

The two electricity companies agreed that government efforts to cut pollution will inevitably lead to higher bills.

CLP Power said yesterday the new objectives, coupled with soaring natural gas prices, will put pressure on it to raise electricity charges.

A spokesman for Hongkong Electric said it will need to install new gas turbines to meet the new standards.

Under the new plan, bus companies have to replace old vehicles with environmentally friendly fleets.

Kowloon Motor Bus, New World First Bus and Citybus said they have already started introducing such vehicles.

But at this early stage they do not know by how much fares will have to rise when the air- quality standards are raised.

Why secretary’s announcement seems to be full of hot air


Howard Winn 

Jan 21, 2012

More reasons why Secretary for the Environment Edward Yau’s

announcement on air quality objectives should be treated with considerable


The government’s press statement on the revised AQOs says: “The

government will start preparatory work on the amendment of the Air

Pollution Control Ordinance with an aim to table the Amendment Bill in the

2012-13 session of the Legislative Council. Taking account for the lead

time for completing the legislative process and other necessary preparatory

work, including formulation of modelling guidelines and compilation of

emissions inventories, it is expected that the proposed new AQOs

would take effect in 2014.”

So the government says new revised AQOs require new legislation which

has to be put to the Legislative Council. However, a look at the Air Pollution

Control Ordinance which deals with AQOs clearly shows that it is

completely unnecessary to go to Legco to revise AQOs.

Chapter 311 of the Air Pollution Control Ordinance, Section 7 – Secretary to

establish quality objectives – says: “Any air quality objective may be

amended from time to time by the Secretary, after consultation with the

Advisory Council on the Environment.

This is clearly another attempt by the administration to pull the wool over

the eyes of the community and to delay the process for yet another two

years. The saga of the AQOs started in 2007 when consultants were hired

to determine appropriate levels for Hong Kong (Arup was paid US$6 million

for an entirely unnecessary exercise which had already been done by the

World Health Organisation).

This, together with various internal discussions dragged the process out

until 2009 when Public Consultation started. In June 2010 the government

declared the public views were too divergent to see a clear way forward

and there was silence on the matter until last week.

For this bureaucratic achievement, Edward Yau was last year awarded the

Golden Bauhinia, which is supposed to be for eminent persons who have

given very distinguished services to the community or who have rendered

public or voluntary services of a very high degree of merit.

Chapter: 311

Title: AIR POLLUTION CONTROL ORDINANCE  Section: 7 Heading: Secretary to establish quality objectives

Gazette Number:

Version Date: 30/06/1997

(1) The Secretary shall, after consultation with the Advisory Council on the Environment,

establish for each air control zone air quality objectives or different objectives for different parts

of a zone. (Amended L.N. 165 of 1984; L.N. 57 of 1994)

(1A) The Secretary may publish air quality objectives for an air control zone by issuing a

technical memorandum which may specify different objectives for different parts of the zone.

(Added 13 of 1993 s. 5)

(2) The air quality objectives for any particular air control zone or part thereof shall be the

quality which, in the opinion of the Secretary, should be achieved and maintained in order to

promote the conservation and best use of air in the zone in the public interest.

(3) Any air quality objective may be amended from time to time by the Secretary, after

consultation with the Advisory Council on the Environment. (Amended L.N. 165 of 1984;

L.N. 57 of 1994)

(4)-(5) (Repealed 13 of 1993 s. 5)

Chapter: 311


Authority to seek to achieve quality objectives

Gazette Number:

Version Date: 30/06/1997

(1) (Repealed 13 of 1993 s. 6)

(2) The Authority shall aim to achieve the relevant air quality objectives as soon as is

reasonably practicable and thereafter to maintain the quality so achieved.

(3) If in the opinion of the Secretary the achievement or maintenance of any air quality objective

would be better served by the exercise by the Authority in a particular manner of any of his

powers under section 15(4), 17 or 22, the Secretary may give directions in writing to the

Authority as to the manner in which he shall exercise those powers; and, in the case of a

direction which relates to section 15(4), any such direction may be of a general nature or relate to

a particular case or particular cases.

(4) The Authority shall comply with any direction given to him under subsection (3) and the

discretion conferred on the Authority by section 15(4), 17 or 22 as the case may be, shall not

apply to any specified process in respect of which such a direction is in force.

RTHK    Govt ‘not serious’ about cleaner air


Erica Chan of the

Clean Air Network

spoke to Timmy


A green group has accused the government of not being serious about

improving air quality. The Clean Air Network cited government figures that

showed overall expenditure on improving Hong Kong’s air quality had

dropped from 0.26 percent in the year 2000 to only 0.18 percent last year,

even though the actual amount of money spent increased.

It says the data shows the administration lacks commitment to solving the

problem. The campaign manager for the group, Erica Chan, said that

Beijing is spending much more money than Hong Kong on improving air


Jan 31 SCMP

Emergency measures are needed

I refer to Guy Shirra’s letter (“Treat bad air problems as a crisis”, January 25).

Last year in a letter to these columns, I said Hong Kong does not have an air pollution problem, it has an air pollution

emergency. Thus, the government’s crisis managers should be treating the situation as an emergency.

In Lai See (“Hong Kong’s Air Pollution Index is shamefully misleading”, January 27), Howard Winn quotes Professor

Anthony Hedley as writing: “Hong Kong’s pollution is a significant cause of premature death from cardiopulmonary


“Present levels of pollution cause injury to the immature developing lungs of children and adolescents. This damage

will lead to lifelong health problems in many and a reduction in life expectancy.”

Lai See also mentions that around 3,200 deaths a year in Hong Kong can be directly attributed to the air quality

emergency whilst World Health Organisation figures for bird flu are 341 deaths worldwide since 2003 and a

worldwide total of 913 deaths from severe acute respiratory syndrome.

We have a typhoon warning system that is presumably based on some form of risk management principles. The

conclusion of this process seems to be that when the typhoon signal No 3 is hoisted, the weather has become

sufficiently dangerous for workers to prepare to return home. When the No 8 signal goes up, workers remain at


Given that very few people are killed or injured by typhoons in comparison to the numbers killed and injured

by our poisonous air, the Air Pollution Index must follow a similar warning system to that used for typhoons.

Workers should remain at home when roadside air pollution is deemed to be unsafe. Perhaps days and days

of empty offices and lost production might ram home the point that there is an emergency and emergency

measures are needed to deal with it.

Mark Ranson, Sai Kung

We’re breathing ‘dangerous’ air  SCMP 28 Jan

Just in case you didn’t notice the air yesterday – it was bad. According to the

government’s air pollution index, the pollution level was “high” – that is, it was at the

midpoint of the index. It tells us: “Very few people, if any, may notice immediate health

effects. Long-term effects may, however, be observed if exposed at such [a] level

persistently for months or years.”

However, according to the Hedley Environmental Index, which follows World Health

Organisation guidelines, the air quality can be classified as “very dangerous”.

Jim Middleton, chairman of green group Clear the Air, observed that yesterday’s bad

pollution occurred even though factories and construction sites in the Pearl River Delta

were closed and despite a decline in Hong Kong traffic while many people were on

holiday. “But the ocean-going vessels and ferries, along with the local power stations

and buses, were running.”

Middleton remarked: “Our secretary for the environment has done nothing for our air

quality other than massive prevarication, yet he earned a Golden Bauhinia from a chief

executive intent on building white-elephant infrastructure [ahead of] his duty [to] care for

the health of the public.”


Treat bad air problems as a crisis

In respect of air quality, the people of Hong Kong want two things.

They want the truth about air quality where they and their children live, work, study and play so that they can make

informed decisions as to how best to protect their health and take concerted and urgent action to improve it. They are

not interested in targets.

Also, they want to be warned when the air is dangerous to their health and they want the government to start doing

something meaningful about it without more years of dithering.

I was impressed and relieved when the administration got rid of all the diesel taxis and some of the diesel minibuses,

which had a hugely beneficial effect on air quality back in 2003.

What has it achieved since then? We are still plagued with dirty old buses, minibuses, goods vehicles, ferries and

ships, and the power companies have still not cleaned up their act.

The government has a pretty good record when it comes to managing crises. I am sure that the Hospital Authority

would say that the steadily increasing cases of respiratory disease amount to a continuing and worsening crisis, so

can we please start treating it as such?

Guy Shirra, chairman, Friends of Sai Kung

Clearly lagging

Mike Kilburn fears air pollution in Hong Kong could get even worse, given the

latest evidence that clean-up measures are proving ineffective and officials are

failing in their duty to protect public health

Jan 19, 2012

This month marks a major watershed for air quality in Hong Kong. At the beginning of

the month, the Environmental Protection Department said that roadside pollution last

year was the worst on record. At the same time, Clean Air Network presented a table

from the China Statistical Yearbook 2011 ranking Hong Kong’s nitrogen dioxide levels

(a key indicator of roadside pollution) 31st out of 32 major cities in China – only Urumqi

was worse. This is especially embarrassing considering that Hong Kong has a service based

economy with very little industry and correspondingly fewer sources of pollution

than any other city on the list.

Adding insult to injury, the mainland pre-empted the long-delayed release of Hong

Kong’s air quality objectives by announcing its own. This was embarrassing for Hong

Kong officials who, by dithering for two years since consulting the public on a set of draft

objectives, have forfeited Hong Kong’s position as the pacesetter for introducing tougher

air quality standards in China. The Ministry of Environmental Protection’s air quality

objectives are very similar to those proposed by Hong Kong, but they differ in three

important aspects.

First, the ministry has proposed an additional 24-hour limit for nitrogen dioxide of 80

micrograms per cubic metre that is not included in Hong Kong’s objectives. This means

the mainland’s standards for this key pollutant are even tougher than Hong Kong’s.

Second, by publishing a set of targets that most, if not all, major cities will take years to

achieve, the ministry has signalled its understanding of the powerful role targets can

play in driving down pollution – something our officials have yet to grasp. In a radio

interview broadcast last year, Secretary for the Environment Edward Yau Tang-wah

insisted that “apart from setting a target, you have to have a way to achieve it”.

As mainland leaders have shown, the target can certainly precede the plan for

attainment, and two years were lost while Donald Tsang Yam-kuen’s administration

tried to figure out how to meet the air quality objectives it proposed in 2009.

Third, even though concentrations of respirable suspended particles of 2.5 microns or

less (PM2.5) in many mainland cities are more than double those in Hong Kong, the

ministry has set the standard for PM2.5 at the same level as Hong Kong’s – 35

micrograms. As with the target for nitrogen dioxide, this sends a strong message that

protecting public health has been accorded a high priority by Beijing.

Conversely, in a May 2011 meeting of the Legislative Council, frustrated lawmakers

suggested that the government had not released the new air quality objectives because

it feared that major infrastructure projects may fail to meet the new standard. In his

response, Tsang appeared to confirm this view: “We must carefully assess the

economic and social impacts of any new air quality objectives on Hong Kong. It is only

by doing so that we can put forward any long-term and firmly established air quality

objectives that are appropriate to all works projects and economic development.”

But there is clear evidence that Hong Kong’s poor air quality is now threatening

economic health as well as the well-being of the public. Last September, the Airport

Authority released a report expressing concern that high nitrogen dioxide emissions

from aircraft using a third runway would create difficulties in securing approvals under

the Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance, and could not legally go ahead.

In a similar vein, it was concerns about the health impacts of added traffic on the

proposed bridge to Macau and Zhuhai that provoked a judicial review that held up the


This week, the government acted. On Tuesday, Yau announced that new air quality

objectives for Hong Kong had been approved by the Executive Council and would

become law in 2014. These are identical to the objectives put out for public consultation

in 2009, raising serious questions about what has been achieved by the two-year delay.

The government’s press release also included a rather cryptic statement referring to

new infrastructure projects, saying that “all government projects for which environmental

impact assessment studies have not yet commenced would endeavour to adopt the

proposed new air quality objectives as the benchmark”.

Environmental assessments follow a statutory process that permits approval of projects

if their emissions do not exceed the current air standards. The ordinance makes no

allowance to “endeavour” to adopt a new standard, and the director of environmental

protection would very swiftly find herself back in court were she to require proponents to

meet air quality objectives that were yet to be legally adopted. Hence, regrettably, those

fine-sounding words are essentially hollow.

Meanwhile, the need to address air pollution grows more urgent. The University of Hong

Kong’s School of Public Health and Civic Exchange have launched a revised version of

the Hedley Environmental Index. The refined calculations of health impacts indicate that

an average of 3,200 premature deaths have occurred each year over the past five

years, up from the previous estimate of 1,000 deaths per year.

So what can we conclude? In short, our air quality can get worse, and officials are

fudging the issue rather than making it better. The clean-up measures introduced to

reduce pollution are failing in key areas – especially at the roadside. The consequences

for our health are far worse than we imagined.

The officials whose job it is to improve air quality do not understand the key tools

of their trade, and appear more concerned with perpetuating development than

protecting public health. It is hardly surprising that Hong Kong has lost its position as

the environmental leader in China.

Mike Kilburn is head of environmental strategy for public policy think tank Civic Exchange

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *