Clear The Air News Blog Rotating Header Image

‘Beginner’ Air Quality Standards Criticised

Cheung Chi-fai – SCMP – Updated on Oct 16, 2008

The government is considering adopting a set of what critics called “beginner-level” World Health Organisation pollution standards to replace the city’s outdated air quality objectives.

The chief executive outlined the plan in the policy address, marking the first time the administration has offered clear ideas on how it is going to revise the objectives as a result of a review launched last year.

Donald Tsang Yam-kuen did not, however, give any time frame for achieving the objectives.

The proposed standards, if adopted, would see Hong Kong taking on pollutant level standards up to 64 per cent more stringent than the present ones. A new standard on fine particles suspended in the air might also be introduced.

“To improve the air quality in the long run, we will adopt targets in stages, giving due regard to the World Health Organisation’s guidelines,” Mr Tsang said.

Released in 2006, the WHO guidelines, based on the latest scientific evidence, are designed to protect people from air pollution. They list up to three sets of recommended interim targets for different types of air pollutants before the ultimate objectives are achieved.

Mr Tsang said one feasible way to improve air quality was to boost the use of natural gas to produce 50 per cent of electricity, which could be made possible by a recent deal with the mainland for a long-term gas supply.

Highlighting air quality as one of his top priorities, Mr Tsang said the government would continue to improve the air in co-operation with Guangdong as both parties were working on turning the delta region into a quality living environment.

Critics said the targets were too low to protect people’s health. They insisted more aggressive targets should be adopted.

“While the policy address says Hong Kong is a modern and advanced city, we are adopting beginner-level targets [designed] for the developing world. No developed country would ever set its eyes on these targets any more,” said Alexis Lau Kai-hon, an atmospheric scientist with the University of Science and Technology.

Professor Lau said he was also disappointed by the lack of effective measures to address air pollution.

But a senior environment official said Mr Tsang’s statement on air quality targets was a “strong political message” of commitment to the WHO’s ultimate standards.

“Now everybody knows the direction we are heading but we can’t decide a time frame now as there has not been any public discussion yet,” the official said, promising that the public would be consulted both on targets and control measures.

The official said the targets set would inevitably depend on achievability. The pace of implementation would depend on public acceptance and affordability.

Friends of the Earth expressed disappointment, while Greenpeace urged Mr Tsang to make a clear commitment to the WHO’s ultimate targets.

Leave a Reply

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