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Air Pollution

Clean Up Hong Kong Air Pollution

The right route

CHRISTINE LOH

SCMP Dec 20, 2007

To clean up air pollution, should we be doing more of the same – that is, taking an incremental approach – or making a change in direction? Going down the same path but doing more is fine if the course is right. After all, we cannot do everything in one fell swoop. But if the steering is off, then a directional adjustment is needed.

According to results of a survey released on Monday, the majority of 81,000 Hong Kong respondents would be willing to pay more for transport in return for cleaner air. This should surprise no one; poor air quality has bothered Hongkongers for many years.

The issue is: which things does the government want people to pay more for? Let’s take roadside air pollution as a point of discussion. It is not only appallingly high, but has become almost a normal condition. If the public paid more for public transport, would that improve roadside air quality?

Would higher transport costs go towards subsidies to build more rail lines? Or to encourage operators of buses and light buses to replace old vehicles earlier with less-polluting models? How would commercial trucks be dealt with, since they spew out the highest amount of polluting emissions?

Taxis and many light buses have already converted to LPG; new vehicles must have Euro-IV-standard engines; and only ultra-low-sulfur diesel is available. But those measures have not been nearly enough to clean up roadside air pollution. Thus, doing more of the same – pushing new vehicles to have Euro-V-standard engines, and using even cleaner fuels when they become available – will not make much difference if Hong Kong’s old vehicles are not replaced.

How can we make owners replace their vehicles? The government has already announced a public subsidy scheme – the “carrot”. But there’s no “stick” unless owners are given a deadline, in the near future, for replacing the most polluting vehicles.

London faced a similar challenge. Its solution is to turn the whole of Greater London into a low-emission zone and is starting a phased-in scheme from next February, pushing commercial vehicle operators to upgrade their vehicles. It uses its existing electronic road pricing system to track vehicles going into the city; those with old, polluting engines must pay a penalty every time they cross the city boundary. So, if you are running a trucking business and you have to go to London frequently, the penalty becomes an expensive operating cost; you had better buy a new lorry. The authorities also offer a replacement subsidy scheme, so the stick and carrot work together.

Launching the electronic road pricing system was a change of direction for London, and would be for Hong Kong as well. But our government has not yet been able to adopt it, although the scheme was first raised in the 1980s.

Many of Hong Kong’s roads are narrow, with high vehicle density, creating our infamous “street canyon” effect that traps vehicular pollution. That in turn contributes to the extremely poor roadside air quality. With so many people affected on a daily basis, it is shocking that much more has not been done already to protect public health. Just think of how many people live and work right next to, or near, heavily used roads – and how many schools, hospitals, clinics and elderly homes are affected. It’s a pity we don’t have a surgeon general to champion public health; there are plenty of voices arguing for commercial interests.

The government’s recent interest in building more rail lines makes sense. But it must also make clear that it will reduce road building and use demand-side mechanisms like road pricing to deal with congestion. It should use town planning to ease the street canyon effect and tighten air quality objectives, in addition to taking old, polluting engines off the road.

Unless there is a clear policy to change direction, incremental measures, including banning idling engines, will not make enough of a difference.

Christine Loh Kung-wai is chief executive of the think-tank Civic Exchange

cloh@civic-exchange.org

Air Quality Monitoring Network

A report on the results from the Air Quality Monitoring Network (AQMN) (2006)

Air Science Group
Environmental Protection Department
The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region

This report summarises the 2006 air quality monitoring data collected by the Environmental Protection Department’s monitoring network.

As a result of the enhanced vehicle emission control programme implemented by the Government since 2000, concentrations of respirable suspended particulates, nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide at roadside have been dropping gradually over the past few years.

Over the past years, concentrations of ozone have been on a slow rising trend, reflecting a deterioration in regional air quality. On this front, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government and the Guangdong Provisional Government are implementing a Regional Air Quality Management Plan to improve air quality in the Pearl River Delta Region.

As in previous years, concentrations of sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide and lead remained at levels well below their respective Air Quality Objectives limits in 2006.

See the full report on the results from the Air Quality Monitoring Network

Superfund Urged To Combat Pollution

The Council for Sustainable Development (CSD) of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region yesterday suggested that a superfund be set up with money from budget surplus to protect environment.

Speaking at the Air Summit, where Chief Executive Donald Tsang was also present, Edgar Cheng, chairman of the council, said that it was time to set up an Air Quality Clean-up Superfund as Hong Kong had a huge fiscal surplus.

He, however, didn’t specify how much the sum should be.

Cheng also said the superfund “will be money well spent and a true investment in the future. It also shows that Hong Kong is serious and committed to tackling air pollution”.

He also pointed out that the special administrative region must balance mandatory measures and voluntary actions to combat pollution.

Cheng said the council would submit a report with recommendations to the government by the middle of next month.

At the summit the council released results of more than 81,000 public questionnaires which they had received from June to October.

Most respondents (77 percent) supported increasing transport costs for cleaner air.

Seventy-six percent said the special administrative region should use as much public transport as possible.

More than 40 percent backed having an electronic road pricing.

About half of respondents preferred color alert system on polluted days.

John Bacon-Shone, director of Social Sciences Research Center of the University of Hong Kong, who analyzed the questionnaires’ results for the council, said the results had shown most people are in favor of the “polluter pays” principle.

For example, pre-Euro trucks should pay more because these were polluting vehicles, he explained.

He, however, added that respondents were not asked about the amount of increase in transport cost.

In his opening speech to the summit, the chief executive stressed the importance of clean air in boosting Hong Kong’s economy.

“To keep our economy growing, we have to improve air quality and provide a good living environment to attract investors and talents to stay in Hong Kong,” he said.

“We should think if we were willing to change our habits or pay some price to improve air quality,” Tsang pointed out.

The chief executive added that he would fully consider the council’s recommendations to set up a long-term environmental policy for Hong Kong.

Jonathan Wong, biology professor with Hong Kong Baptist University, said it would always be good to put more resources into environmental protection.

However, he pointed out since the government had already pumped in HK$1 billion into the Environment and Conservation Fund, the council might have overlapped function with the Environment Conservation Committee.

Wong said he was not clear whether the superfund was intended for community education or changing infrastructure.

(China Daily HK Edition December 18, 2007)

Local and Regional Pollution Sources for Hong Kong

Relative Significance of Local vs. Regional Sources: Hong Kong’s Air Pollution

香港的空氣污染:探討本地及區域污染源的 相對重要性

Alexis Lau 劉啟漢, Andrew Lo 羅致安,
Joe Gray, Zibing Yuan 袁自冰
Institute for the Environment
The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
香港科技大學環境研究所

Christine Loh 陸恭蕙
Civic Exchange 思匯政策研究所

No matter how one chooses to measure it, the air quality in Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta has deteriorated rapidly over the past 20 years. For the layman, the distance one can see is a good indicator of air quality. The deterioration of Hong Kong’s air quality has resulted in a steady increase in the number of hazy days.

我們無論選擇以哪種方法量度空氣質量,都會得出以下的結論:香港及珠江三角洲的空氣質量在過去二十年間迅速變壞。對 一般人士來說,能見度是一個反映空氣質量的理想指標。香港空氣質量惡化,同時令煙霞日數穩步上升。

Monthly Number of Hazy Days in Hong Kong

Monthly number of hazy days – 每月煙霞日數 

As the air quality grows worse, questions arise about where the pollution is coming from, and what can be done about it. How significant are local and regional pollution sources for Hong Kong’s air quality? The answer to this question is complex, and in fact can be quite different depending on how one approaches the problem.

當空氣質量持續惡化,隨之而來的問題包括:污染從何而來?我們可以採取什麼措施?本地及區域污染源對於香港空氣污染 問題分別有多重要?其中,最後一個問題的答案是非常複雜的。事實上,由於分析這個問題的方法可能因人而異,因此各人 的答案亦將有所不同。

In this report, we first summarize the results from two traditional approaches – one based on total emissions in terms of tonnage and another based on receptor source apportionment in terms of mass concentration. We then introduce our new approach, which gives a time-based perspective. It answers the question of how many days in a year Hong Kong’s air quality is affected by regional and local emissions respectively. This type of analysis has not been undertaken in Hong Kong before.

傳統上,量度空氣污染的方法有二:其一是以污染物的重量作基礎,量度總排放量;其二是按污染物的質量濃度,進行污染 源解析。我們在以下篇幅將會首先概述以上述兩種方法進行研究所得出的結果。然後,我們會介紹一種以時間作基礎,研究 空氣污染的新方法。這種分析方法在香港是前所未有的。它可以幫助我們瞭解在一年當中,香港的空氣質量有多少天是受區 域性排放影響,而又有多少天主要是受本地排放影響。

Using 2006 data, we found that regional sources are the primary influence on Hong Kong’s air 132 days (approximately 36% of the time) while local sources are the crucial factor on 192 days (nearly 53% of the time). Based on these results, it is clear that reducing emissions of air pollutants in Hong Kong would have a significant positive impact on local air quality, which would in turn improve public health.

我們的研究分析了2006年的數據,發現香港的空氣質量主要受區域性污染源影響的日數,是每年132日(以時間計算約佔 36%);本地污染源作為主要原兇的日數,則達到每年192日(約佔53%)。以上研究結果讓我們清楚知道,減少香港空氣 污染物的排放,將可以明顯改善本地空氣質量,從而改善公眾健康。

The results of this study are important to policy makers and the public because they show that:

  • By taking more environmental responsibility locally, Hong Kong can do much more to improve air quality and therefore public health.
  • There is no reason for Hong Kong to feel debilitated by the belief that on its own it cannot make substantial improvement to the city’s air quality.

To conclude, we offer broad policy recommendations as to how local emissions can be reduced. We believe that there are a number of potentially effective solutions that can be implemented relatively quickly. In particular, we recommend that Hong Kong adopt and enforce the World Health Organization’s (2006) global air quality guidelines, and devise a comprehensive energy policy.

本項目的研究成果對政策制定者和公眾人士都至為重要,因為研究結果指出:

  • 香港只要在本地環境問題上作出更大承擔,就能進一步改善空氣質量及公眾健康。
  • 香港不能單靠自身努力,改善本地空氣質量的想法是錯誤的。我們不應受這個想法影響而感到無能為力。

最後,我們提出幾項減少本地污染物排放的政策建議,作為報告的終結。我們相信有一些具成效的措施,是可以在較短時間 內開始實施的。其中,我們建議香港採納和執行世界衛生組織(2006)的全球空氣質量指引,以及訂立一套全面的能源政 策。

Full report here: http://news.cleartheair.org.hk/documents/air-pollution-sources.pdf

Higher Transport Costs For Cleaner Air

Survey finds Hong Kong people willing to pay higher transport costs for cleaner air

The Associated PressPublished: December 17, 2007

HONG KONG: Hong Kongers would be willing to pay higher transport costs if it means breathing cleaner air, according to a survey published Monday, as the city’s dazzling skyline was once again shrouded by a thick, dirty haze.

The survey was released to coincide with a summit called by the government to discuss the deteriorating air quality in the bustling financial hub and how to tackle it.

Hong Kong’s skies are often heavily polluted by its two coal-burning power plants, marine and road traffic and factories over the border in mainland China, fueling concerns that tourists and investors may shift their attention to cleaner cities like Singapore.

Pollution monitoring stations in Hong Kong registered a “high” pollution reading Monday, meaning that regular exposure over months or years could cause long-term health effects.

A week earlier, downtown Hong Kong and some other areas recorded “very high” levels, prompting the government to advise people with heart and respiratory illnesses to stay at home.

Anthony Hedley, professor of community medicine at the University of Hong Kong, said cleaning up the city’s air was a “medical emergency.”

More than 75 percent of 82,000 people surveyed said they would happily pay higher transport costs if it meant the thousands of buses, taxis and minibuses clogging Hong Kong’s roads used cleaner fuel.

It also revealed that 42 percent supported a road tax system under which drivers are charged more for heavily polluting vehicles.

The money could be used to subsidize greener vehicles and public transport, the survey, commissioned by the government’s Council for Sustainable Development and carried out by the University of Hong Kong, found.

Speaking at the summit, Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang vowed to consider the council’s findings when formulating a long-term plan for cleaning up the air.

“We firmly believe if Hong Kong’s economy is to maintain a sustainable growth, it is necessary to improve our air quality, provide a quality living environment to attract investors and talent to stay in Hong Kong,” Tsang said.

Hedley, however, said the government needed to act fast as residents were already paying a heavy price for poor quality air, citing an earlier study that found that pollution contributes to 1,600 deaths in the city each year.

“The longer they delay, the more difficult it’s going to be to turn around. It’s already far too late,” he said.

The latest survey was conducted over the last five months, with responses collected via a dedicated Web site, through written submissions and face-to-face questioning at seminars and other events.

No margin of error was given as the survey was not based on a random sampling.

Hong Kong Air Pollution Fight

Hong Kong public calls for air pollution fight

Mon Dec 17, 2007 7:57am EST Reuters

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Most Hong Kong people were willing to pay for a tougher crackdown on chronic air pollution through road pricing and other measures, a government-backed report said on Monday.

The head of the government advisory body that collaborated on the report with Hong Kong University also said the city should establish a “superfund” for cleaning up the environment.

Released during Hong Kong’s traditionally smoggy winter months, the report is the most ambitious so far to gauge public attitudes about pollution, which frequently obscures the famous harbor.

“The public really wants something to be done even if certain costs are added to them…so it’s really a good political capital that they (the government) have to drive on more initiatives,” said environmentalist Alexis Lau.

Edgar Cheng, the Chairman of the Council for Sustainable Development, called for the government to establish the fund.

Cheng didn’t specify the size of the fund, but said the government could afford it, with an expected surplus of HK$50 billion dollar ($6.4 billion) this fiscal year.

“We figured out that if we want to clear up everything, it will cost HK$20-30 billion,” Cheng said.

Of the 81,000 people polled in the survey, 77 percent said they would be bear increases in transport costs in return for better air, through the use of cleaner vehicles and fuels.

Forty-two percent said they backed electronic road pricing, which would charge vehicle usage on roads during peak periods — a contentious measure opposed by the motor trade for decades.

A consensus was also found for greater public transport usage on bad air days and certain mandatory measures like the use of green lightbulbs and turning off air-conditioners in empty rooms.

Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang said he would study the report.

“Improving air quality and the overall environmental quality is a long term battle, which must have the participation of everyone in society in order to realize results,” he said.

Coal-fired power stations are blamed as the city’s worst polluters, but increasing emissions also blow across the border from tens of thousands of factories in southern China.

(Reporting by James Pomfret; Editing by Grant McCool)

Air Pollution Causing Health Problems: Survey

Pollution causing health problems: survey

2007-12-12 HKT 04:12 RTHK

Sixty percent of respondents to a survey say they’ve suffered very serious health problems because of Hong Kong’s polluted air. And almost eight out of 10 say they’re dissatisfied with government action to tackle the problem. Almost all of the 1,000 people questioned by the WWF also expressed concern about climate change.

Bad Press for Hong Kong Pollution

Bad press for HK pollution

Updated on Dec 11, 2007

Attending an Islamic banking conference in Bahrain, I noticed a report in the Bahrain Tribune about pollution in Hong Kong.

It was embarrassing to have to try and defend the quality of life we know we should have in Hong Kong against comments condemning Hong Kong as “a filthy place to want to live or visit”.

Given the conference is attended by some of the leading figures of Islamic financing, an area our hapless government seeks closer ties with, it is time for Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen to do something to stop Hong Kong being condemned internationally as an unfit place to work.

Mark Peaker, The Peak

Air Pollution Index Sets Record High

Bad-air days leave critics choking mad

Activists attack government’s ‘go-slow’ policy as pollution index sets record for year

Mary Ann Benitez
Updated on Dec 08, 2007

Critics rounded on the government over bad-air days as the air-pollution index hit a year’s record high of 151 yesterday, with the situation expected to continue this weekend.

Air-quality activists blamed the “go-slow” policy of the government on air pollution, and others said that based on international standards, air pollution was actually worse than local readings indicated.

Readings touched or exceeded 100 at some time during the day at nine out of 11 general stations, and all three roadside stations in Causeway Bay, Central and Mong Kok exceeded 100.

Today the highest roadside API [Air Pollutant Index] was 151, which is also the highest this year up to today, followed by 147 on October 7,” a spokeswoman from the Environmental Protection Department said yesterday.

“We expect the current episode will last for a couple of days until we have fresh wind with greater wind speed to help disperse the pollutant over the territories.”

The department’s principal environmental protection officer, Dave Ho Tak-yin, told RTHK the very high API readings were caused by “trappings of air pollutants under light winds coupled with the influence of regional air pollution”.

But Anthony Hedley, chairman of the University of Hong Kong’s Department of Community Medicine, said the API readings were misleading because they were based on 20-year-old air-quality objectives.

What we need to do is to resolve that by adopting the World Health Organisation air-quality guidelines. If we use those as standards, then we will have a realistic estimate of the risk,” he said.

Hong Kong’s air-quality objective for particulates, for example, is 180, but the WHO guideline is 50.

So the actual readings “would be very much higher”, Professor Hedley said.

The EPD spokeswoman said Hong Kong’s API systems were “similar to the air-pollution [indices] and reporting systems currently used by most places in Asia such as Singapore, Taipei, Bangkok and Indonesia”.

Christian Masset, chairman of Clear the Air, said the episodes of severely polluted air were “the result of the government’s go-slow approach”, which he called ” “bad for the people and for the image of Hong Kong”.

He said the occasional improvement of air quality was due to meteorological conditions and had nothing to do with government.

Alvin Chan Yee-shing, council member of the Hong Kong Medical Association, said a 150 reading was not only bad for the sick, it was bad for every citizen’s health.

Elderly patients who would benefit from a walk in the park or doing tai chi outdoors were being put at a disadvantage, he said.

Alfred Tam Yat-cheung, vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Asthma Society, said: “There is every reason to warn people to be careful, to limit outdoor activity. Don’t stay on the roadside, because that is the most polluted place in the whole territory, and go to the doctor when you have respiratory complaints.

The Department of Health said parainfluenza was “the dominant flu-like symptoms that were spotted in patients recently”.

Hong Kong Issues Warning On Pollution

Reuters – Published: December 7, 2007

HONG KONG: People with heart or lung problems were warned Friday to avoid outdoor activities in Hong Kong as it experienced one of its most polluted days of the year, with the hills across the harbor almost invisible.

Pollution monitoring stations registered “very high” readings in several spots and the Environmental Protection Department said the poor air was expected to continue.

Hong Kong’s air has become increasingly clogged with pollutants from cars, ships, power plants and a booming manufacturing sector across the border in China’s Guangdong province.

Air Pollution Index readings surpassed 101, entering a zone that the Environmental Protection Department considers “very high,” at several sites.

They included the Central business district, which hit 150 by mid-afternoon.