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Air Quality Report Set To Boost HK, Guangdong Ties

Anita Lam in Guangzhou – Updated on Jun 16, 2008 – SCMP

Co-operation between Hong Kong and Guangdong is expected to receive a boost as a major work group under the Hong Kong-Guangdong Co-operation Joint Conference completes a report on guidelines to improve regional air monitoring systems.

The work group is expected to submit a draft of its findings to Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen and Guangdong Governor Huang Huahua before the conference in August, a source familiar with the study said.

The report – expected to be ready six months ago – will make proposals on ways to unify the neighbours’ air pollution indices, and on standards for exhaust emissions and effluent discharge.

Such proposals, along with proposals on ways to lower customs barriers and liberalise cross-border flows of goods, people and funds, will be submitted for discussion at the 11th plenary session of the joint conference.

The outgoing director of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in Guangdong, Peter Leung Pak-yan, said this conference – his last before retiring in December – would be an important one.

“This is an important year for China: the Beijing Olympics, the 30th anniversary of the mainland’s opening up to the outside world. It is the best time for China to find its position in the world.”

The new Guangdong party secretary, Wang Yang , has lauded the “liberalised thinking” aimed at turning Hong Kong and Shenzhen into one metropolis and fostering closer co-operation between Hong Kong and the province.

But differences in culture, policies and practices await resolution before the two cities can truly integrate.

Discrepancies between the two air monitoring systems, for example, have been a headache for both jurisdictions, because what might be considered bad air in Hong Kong could be acceptable just metres across the border.

Conservancy Association director Albert Lai Kwong-tak welcomed efforts to standardise measuring mechanisms, but said they should follow international standards.

“It is good that we can compare pollution figures from the two places, but it would be even better if these figures could also be compared with the rest of the world,” Mr Lai said. “Even our own API [air pollution index] system does not follow that of the World Health Organisation.”

He said the two governments should also seek to standardise the method of calculation used to draw correlations between pollution sources and damage caused.

“Knowing the numbers alone is not enough; what the public is really interested in is the health impact the pollutants will have. That is also what would drive a policy change,” he said.

The source said the cross-border work group’s report would consist only of proposals and would not contain technical details, such as timeframes for achieving them.

“After assessments from governments on both sides, the proposals still need to go through public consultations and expert seminars before final guidelines can go to different departments for implementation,” the source said.

The study, begun in 2005, is the first attempt by Guangdong and Hong Kong at a joint overview of town planning. The two sides have also co-operated on projects, including the Hong Kong-Zhuhai -Macau Bridge and the Zhuhai-Macau Cross-Border Industrial Zone.

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