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Sulfur Emissions Remain Well Above Target

Sulfur emissions drop but remain well above target, says top official

Cheung Chi-fai – SCMP – Updated on Jan 08, 2009

Sulfur dioxide emissions in the city have dropped back almost to 1997 levels, but they are still well above the government’s emission-reduction targets. Meanwhile, the city’s air quality standard, in terms of sulfur content, is much less stringent than that set by the World Health Organisation.

Environment Secretary Edward Yau Tang-wah told lawmakers yesterday that Hong Kong was narrowing the gap towards meeting the 2010 reduction targets agreed with Guangdong six years ago.

Last year, the total sulfur dioxide emission was just 2 per cent above 1997 levels, compared to 12 per cent above that level in 2006.

But considerable work remained as the target required the city to cut sulfur emission by 40 per cent below 1997 levels, or at least 26,000 tonnes.

“We are confident that we will be able to further reduce emissions and finally meet the target,” Mr Yau said.

He admitted difficulty in adopting WHO guidelines on sulfur pollutant concentration to replace the city’s 21-year-old air quality objective for the pollutant. The city’s standard for daily sulfur concentration is 350 micrograms per cubic metre of air, versus 20 in the WHO standard.

Endorsing the WHO target would mean a cut of at least 95 per cent in sulfur concentration.

He said the government was committed to reaching the WHO targets, but the public should decide on the pace of achieving them, the measures required and the trade-offs, such as higher power prices.

One of the measures being studied was a low emission zone that banned polluting franchised buses. A trial might be staged in collaboration with bus companies, Mr Yau said.

Three universities have also joined forces to work out ways to improve the air pollution index system, which has been criticised by lawmakers and green groups for failing to inform the public about the real health risks of air pollution.

Democrat legislator Kam Nai-wai urged Mr Yau to come clean on the air quality review soon to be released. “No more self-deception please by proposing any new objectives that the government thinks are achievable at the expense of public health.”

Albert Chan Wai-yip, of the League of Social Democrats, called environment officials “killers” because of their apathy to the seriousness of pollution, saying 35 asthma patients were admitted to hospital each day.

“Officials are giving more exemption to transport operators on idling engines. But the public has no exemption from air pollution and their lives are always under serious threat.”

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