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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

From: []
Sent: 06 March, 2012 14:39
To: James Middleton
Subject: Fw: 轉寄: 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,

I refer to your email of 9 February to the Chief Executive.  I am authorised to reply on his behalf.

Thank you for your comments regarding the updating of Air Quality Objectives.  You may wish to note that relevant issues have been addressed at recent replies by the Secretary for the Environment to questions from Legislative Council members, details of which are available at the following links:

Yours sincerely,

Teresa Leung
Environment Bureau

LCQ18: Updating Air Quality Objectives

Following is a question by the Hon Frederick Fung and a written reply by the Secretary for the Environment, Mr Edward Yau, in the Legislative Council meeting today (February 8):


The Government announced on 17th of last month that it will commence work on the amendment of the Air Pollution Control Ordinance (Cap. 311) to update the existing Air Quality Objectives (AQOs), and it expects to introduce a bill in the 2012-2013 legislative session, and officially implement the new AQOs in 2014. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) given that while the authorities launched a four-month public consultation on updating the existing AQOs in mid-2009, of the reasons why the outcome is only announced until now and the decision of adopting the new AQOs is made after a lapse of as long as two and a half years; of the actual work and procedures to be involved from now on up to the date of formal introduction of the bill; whether it can expedite the related work, and consider advancing the date of official implementation of the new AQOs; in addition, whether it can advance the updating of the existing method of compiling the Air Pollution Index (API), or simultaneously release on a daily basis the APIs compiled according to the existing AQOs and the new AQOs respectively; if not, of the reasons for that;

(b) given that the new AQOs have not fully adopted the ultimate objectives set out by the World Health Organization (WHO) (e.g. the average 24-hour AQO for sulphur dioxide will be tightened from 350 µg/m³ to 125 µg/m³, which is significantly different from WHO’s ultimate objective of 20 µg/m³; the average 24-hour AQO for respirable suspended particulates will be tightened from 180 µg/m³ to 100 µg/m³, and a gap still exists between this and WHO’s ultimate objective of 50 µg/m³; regarding the newly added average 24-hour AQO of 75 µg/m³ and annual AQO of 35 µg/m³ for fine suspended particulates, an obvious gap exists respectively between the two AQOs and WHO’s corresponding ultimate objectives of 25 µg/m³ and 10 µg/m³), of the specific reasons for the authorities not adopting WHO’s ultimate objectives for such pollutants (including whether it is because it is impossible for Hong Kong to achieve WHO’s ultimate objectives for such pollutants at present, together with the reasons why it is impossible to achieve the objectives for various pollutants); whether the authorities will draw up a timetable for achieving WHO’s ultimate objectives eventually;

(c) whether it has assessed the price the community has to pay upon the implementation of the new AQOs; if it has, of the specific details (including the specific impact of the new AQOs on electricity tariffs and travelling expenses in future); of the expected time when such impact will be reflected in the levels of relevant charges and fees; whether the authorities have assessed the impact on the livelihood of the grassroots, and what measures they have in place to alleviate such impact; and

(d) given that the Government has expressly stated that prior to the official implementation of the new AQOs, it will endeavour to adopt the proposed new AQOs as the benchmark in conducting environmental impact assessment (EIA) for government projects for which EIA has not yet commenced, whether the authorities will consider encouraging and facilitating other private projects to adopt the proposed new AQOs in conducting air quality assessment under EIA as well before the official implementation of the new AQOs; if not, of the reasons for that?



(a) Implementation of the new Air Quality Objectives (AQOs) and related transitional arrangements require amendment of the Air Pollution Control Ordinance. We shall table the Amendment Bill to the Legislative Council in the 2012-2013 legislative session. Taking into account the time needed for drafting, submission and scrutiny of the Bill and other preparatory work, we expect the new AQOs to take effect in 2014. To tie in with the update of the AQOs, we will review and improve the existing Air Pollution Index system accordingly.

(b) The new AQOs have all been set in accordance to the target levels of the World Health Organization (WHO). Among the seven criteria pollutants, four (i.e. nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, lead and sulphur dioxide) are fully or partially adopting the ultimate WHO Air Quality Guidelines (AQGs). As for suspended particulates, the emissions originated from Hong Kong and from the Pearl River Delta region are in the ratio of 1:99. As a result, the particulate concentrations of Hong Kong are subject to strong regional influence. We and the Guangdong Provincial Government have committed to implementing a number of measures to improve the regional air quality. Taking into account the regional influence, the air quality objectives for suspended particulates cannot be updated in one go. Instead, we have to draw up a practicable proposal. We propose to update the respirable suspended particulate (PM10) objectives to WHO Interim Target(IT)-2. For fine suspended particulates (PM2.5), which account for about 70% of the PM10 in Hong Kong, we propose to set them at WHO IT-1 level. As for sulphur dioxide, we propose to update the 24-hour objective to WHO IT-1 (i.e. 125 micrograms/cubic meter), which is already 60% more stringent than the existing objective, and on a par with the level of the European Union.

Achieving the WHO AQGs is our ultimate target. We shall review the feasibility of further tightening the AQOs every five years, and draw up corresponding air quality management plans.

(c) Implementation of the proposed new AQOs and air quality improvement measures will help alleviate air pollution problems and bring about health benefits which include reducing the number of hospital admissions due to asthma or other respiratory conditions. According to the Consultant’s study report, implementation of the recommended Phase 1 emission control measures would lead to an anticipated benefit of about $1,228 million annually due to improvement in public health, which is significantly higher than the estimated annualised cost of about $596 million to be incurred by the society. The Consultant also estimated that some 4,200 hospital admissions could be avoided because of the improvement measures. In addition, the average life expectancy of the population would be increased by about one month or around 7,400 life years saved each year.

During the public consultation in 2009, we initially estimated that with the increase in percentage of natural gas for local electricity generation to 50%, electricity tariff would probably increase from the current level by at least 20% in phases. However, as the adjustment of electricity tariff will be implemented in phases, it is difficult to ascertain the eventual increase at the moment. For instance, with the capital cost of the desulphurisation equipment previously installed by the power companies spreading over a period of time, the impact on tariff is lower than originally expected. To reduce vehicle emissions, it was estimated previously that if the franchised bus companies were to replace all the Euro I and Euro II franchised buses by the end of 2014, the bus fare would increase by about 15% in a single year. However, Government introduced in recent years a number of measures, including funding the retrofitting of Euro II and Euro III franchised buses with selective catalytic reduction devices and subsidising bus companies to test environment-friendly products and devices, such as hybrid and electric buses. These measures, which are funded by Government, will help alleviate the pressure for bus fare increase. Therefore, it is difficult to conclude at this moment if implementation of the air quality improvement measures would eventually result in an increase in the charges of public services to the previously estimated levels.

(d) Before the relevant legislative amendment becomes effective, Government will take the lead to adopt the proposed new AQOs as the benchmark for conducting air quality impact assessment under the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for those government projects that have not yet started their EIA studies. Individual major infrastructure projects, such as the construction of a third runway for the airport, the Airport Authority has indicated they will adopt the new AQOs for the EIA study. For other private projects, the project proponents may consider whether or not to adopt the new objectives for air quality impact assessment according to their own circumstances.

Ends/Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Issued at HKT 15:58


LCQ13: Updating Air Quality Objectives

Following is a question by the Hon Frederick Fung and a written reply by the Secretary for the Environment, Mr Edward Yau, in the Legislative Council meeting today (February 29):


In reply to my question on February 8 this year concerning the implementation of the new Air Quality Objectives (AQOs), the Secretary for the Environment (SEN) did not give any definite response to the inquiries about updating the existing Air Pollution Index (API) first and the need to amend the legislation, and emphasised that the implementation of the new AQOs and related transitional arrangements required amendment of the Air Pollution Control Ordinance (Cap. 311) (the Ordinance). In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) given that it is already stipulated in section 7(3) of the Ordinance that “[a]ny air quality objective may be amended from time to time by the Secretary, after consultation with the Advisory Council on the Environment”, of the justifications for SEN to point out that the implementation of the new AQOs required amendment of the Ordinance; and the related transitional arrangements mentioned by SEN;

(b)whether it has studied the feasibility of updating the existing API first; and

(c)whether it has assessed the impact on public health of postponing the implementation of the new AQOs to 2014?



(a) and (b) Apart from serving as objective standards for local air quality, Air Quality Objectives (AQOs) are a major factor for consideration in granting licences to specified processes (e.g. power plants) under the Air Pollution Control Ordinance and in assessing the impacts of designated projects on air quality under the Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance. In the process of updating the AQOs, we must make appropriate transitional arrangements, including drawing up a specific timetable for introducing the new AQOs to enable applicants of licences for specified processes and proponents of designated projects to plan their work on a highly transparent and legally sound basis. We also have to consider carefully the impact of the introduction of the new AQOs on projects for which an environmental permit (EP) has been issued. In the process of implementing the project, if application for variation of the EP becomes necessary and a new Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is warranted, applying the new AQOs may require significant amendments to the original design of the project, which will have major implications on the planning, cost, and even feasibility of the project. In order to reduce the uncertainty to those designated projects which have already completed the statutory EIA process as well as maintain the integrity of project planning, we have proposed, after careful consideration, a 36-month grace period from the commencement date of the new AQOs during which the new AQOs shall not apply to an application for variation of the EP.

Amendment of the Air Pollution Control Ordinance is a prerequisite for the implementation of the new AQOs and the aforesaid transitional arrangements. We shall table the Amendment Bill to the Legislative Council in the 2012/13 legislative session. To complement the updating of the AQOs, we shall review and improve the current Air Pollution Index system accordingly.

(c) We have been endeavouring to improve the air quality and have already implemented a series of air improvement policies and measures, targeting in particular the power generation industry, vehicles and fuel oil quality, in order to reduce air pollution generated from their operation. Along with updating the AQOs, we shall step up the implementation of the 19 Phase I emission control measures as well as three additional measures. The latter include retrofitting of Euro II and III franchised buses with selective catalytic reduction devices, installing remote sensing devices at roadside and conducting advanced emission tests to strengthen control on emissions from petrol and LPG vehicles, requiring ocean-going vessels to switch to cleaner fuels while berthing and setting up Emission Control Area in Pearl River Delta waters in the long run. In addition, to underscore Government’s determination and to take a leading role, Government has decided that Government projects, for which EIA studies have not yet been commenced, would endeavour to adopt the proposed new AQOs as the benchmark for conducting air quality impact assessment in the EIA studies, so that newly planned Government projects could match the more stringent air quality requirements as soon as possible.

Ends/Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Issued at HKT 12:30


—– Forwarded by Alex YF YIU/CEO/HKSARG on 2012/02/10 上午 11:19 —–

“CEO” <>
2012/02/10 上午11:18
Please respond to
“CEO” <>
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

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