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Environmental assessment for third runway inadequate

SCMP letter Aug 13, 2012

Without assessing the social costs of the [proposed] third runway project, Hong Kong Airport Authority swiftly submitted a project profile to the Environmental Protection Department in late June so it could embark on an environmental impact assessment.

However, the authority appears, on purpose, to have omitted a health impact assessment and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions assessment from the profile for the department on which it will base the project’s study brief. As a member of the Advisory Council on the Environment, I told the department that the study brief must include the key assessments of carbon dioxide emissions and health impacts. For such a huge project, the environmental and health impacts will not be small, so the authority should diligently examine and disclose any potential impacts. The study brief issued on Saturday includes a health impact assessment but not one for CO2 emissions.

Carbon dioxide is a major greenhouse gas. Additional flights and related land and sea transport will generate additional CO2.

The government issued Hong Kong’s Climate Change Strategy and Action Agenda for consultation in late 2010; it includes the goal of reducing the city’s greenhouse gas emissions by 50 to 60 per cent by 2020. Without a CO2 assessment, it is impossible to tell if the project is compatible with the government’s policies and goals.

In June, the World Health Organisation announced that the carcinogenic risks of exhaust fumes from diesel engines had been updated from “probable” to “definite”. Although aircraft do not burn diesel, the vehicles and ships that carry goods and passengers to the airport do, and therefore we welcome the requirement of a health impact assessment that covers emissions from flights and associated transport in order to safeguard public health. After all, as well as protecting public health it is equally important that the director of environmental protection ensures the project is in line with the government’s low-carbon and climate-change goals.

It is not acceptable to exclude a CO2 emissions assessment from the study brief. Although the study brief does not require the Airport Authority to use the government’s revised air quality objectives to assess the project’s impact on air quality, it should use the revised objectives, as promised.

The Airport Authority did not include assessments of health impacts or CO2 emissions in its project profile, making me feel it is not committed wholeheartedly to sustainable development.

Edwin Lau Che-feng, director, general affairs, Friends of the Earth (HK)

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