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Choking up

HK Standard – Friday, June 29, 2012

The city’s air and water quality have improved since the handover 15 years ago but the pace has been slow in recent years, green groups say.

Melonie Chau Yuet-cheung, senior environmental affairs officer of Friends of the Earth, said the SAR government needs to set out both short-term and long- term measures to further clamp down on air and water pollution in the territory.

“Pollution in Hong Kong has been improving, but at quite a slow pace lately,” she said.

Short-term measures mean policies to control pollution within the city, including replacing all old cars with new cars that emit much less pollution. Long- term measures should be co-operation with the neighboring mainland cities because air and water are borderless, Chau said.

Figures from the University of Science and Technology show that the annual average concentration of fine suspended particulates in Central in 1999 was 53 micrograms per cubic meter. The number dropped to 36 in 2009 but rose to 40 last year.

Another example is Causeway Bay, with the reading at 75 in 1999, dropping sharply to 53 in 2002. However, the reading remained at around 45 between 2010 and 2011.

The readings run in contrast to the World Health Organization’s air quality guidelines that say the annual concentration of fine suspended particulates should only be 10 micrograms per cubic meter.

Chau said that the improvement in air quality in Causeway Bay between 1999 and 2002 was largely due to then secretary for the environmen

t, transport and works Sarah Liao Sau-tung’s decision to encourage diesel vehicle drivers to switch to liquefied petroleum gas vehicles.

While the incumbent Secretary for the Environment Edward Yau Tang- wah introduced curbs on parked vehicles with running engines recently, Chau said the effectiveness of this measure to curb air pollution is not very apparent.

“While it is true that air pollution during Yau Tang-wah’s term as the secretary for the environment has not worsened, the impact of his measures like banning idling engines is not obvious,” Chau said.

She said that when then-chief executive Tung Chee-hwa was in office, he trusted Sarah Liao to carry out a series of measures.

But incumbent Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen was worried that pushing for green measures would harm the city’s development, Chau said.

For example, Edward Yau said it will take the government two more years to update the air quality objectives.

Chau sees that as the government being reluctant to push for better air quality in the city. This is because if the objectives are updated, it will mean more stringent standards for environmental assessment for future development projects.

As for water pollution in Hong Kong, Chau believes co-operation with the mainland authorities can be a long- term measure.

“Water pollution is a huge problem because the economic developments in the mainland have been thriving,” she said. And to stop sewage from flowing into Hong Kong, the government must work out a plan to co-ordinate efforts with the mainland, she added.

In fact, Hong Kong, Guangdong and Macau agreed on June 25 on a plan to reduce polluting emissions in the region by 2020.

This is the first regional plan jointly compiled by Hong Kong, Guangdong and Macau, which covers long-term co- operation in five major areas. They include the environment and ecology, low-carbon development, culture and social living, and spatial planning and green transportation systems.

For example, the plan suggests pushing vessels calling at ports in the delta to use cleaner fuel.

Clean Air Network campaign officer Jenny Wong said she welcomes the plan and hopes the SAR government will seize the opportunity to push for better air quality as soon as possible.

She believes that more can be done in addition to measures outlined in the plan. For example, the government can set up low emission zones for transportation, encourage the use of cleaner fuel and establish air quality targets for fine suspended particulates.

Meanwhile, the cross-harbor swim will be held in October for the second year after it was suspended for 33 years over pollution concerns.

Hong Kong Amateur Swimming Association assistant honorary secretary David Chiu Chin-hung said the association has been keeping an eye on the water quality in Hong Kong and thinks it is acceptable this year. Swimmers will be swimming all the way from Lei Yue Mun to Sai Wan Ho.

“The reason why we don’t choose to hold the race at Tsim Sha Tsui is that we need to wait for part two of the Harbour Area Treatment Scheme to finish in 2014, which is two more years to go.

“We will keep contact with the Environmental Protection Department,” Chiu said.

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