Press Release: Health Threats From Marine Emissions Increase as Ports Grow

Hong Kong public policy think tank Civic Exchange today released a report outlining the threats to public health caused by rising toxic emissions from the rapid growth of marine related activities in Hong Kong and Shenzhen. The report was prepared with the generous support of the Millipede Foundation.
The report: “Green Harbours: Hong Kong & Shenzhen – Reducing Marine and Port-related Emissions” also identifies a number of short medium and long-term solutions for tackling the problem, and calls on the Hong Kong SAR and Shenzhen Governments to develop a strategy to reduce the threats based on best practice from around the world.
“The volume of shipping-related air pollution and the corresponding threats to public health are real, growing, and beyond dispute,” said Christine Loh, Chief Executive of Civic Exchange. “The Government now has a digest of actions from which to build a strategy to reduce the toxic hidden costs of an industry that is vital to Hong Kong and Shenzhen.”
Emissions from ports comprise thousands of tons of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and respirable suspended particles. All of these have harmful effects on the heart and lungs, especially of young children and the elderly.
The report notes that elsewhere, especially Europe and North America attitudes are changing to reflect these concerns. Governments are responding to public health concerns with both increasingly stringent emissions controls, and incentives to port operators and shipping companies to clean up.
Some emissions-reducing actions have already been implemented in Hong Kong and Shenzhen. These include switching dockside equipment from diesel power to electricity, partnering with other ports to introduce better practices and Government controls on the upper limit of sulphur content in bunker oil burned by ships.
However the region still lags far behind Europe and North America, and local port operators and ship-owners are calling on the Hong Kong and Shenzhen Governments to set much tighter standards. The main reason is that shipping industry is highly price-sensitive, and companies planning to invest in newer, cleaner technology are fearful of being undercut by companies that continue to use older, more polluting and crucially,
cheaper, technologies.
“The good news is that emitters are already taking positive steps to reduce emissions, from using electric quayside machinery to burning cleaner fuel,” noted Simon Ng Visiting Scholar at the Institute for the Environment, Hong Kong University of Science & Technology. “What we need now is for the Government to step forward and champion a comprehensive green port initiative for both Hong Kong and the neighbouring ports in Shenzhen.”
Beyond Hong Kong local shipowners are already playing an important role in pushing for the introduction of new measures to address the threats of toxic emissions and climate change. Since they must operate in destination ports all over the world shipping lines are often more familiar with international best practice than local officials. They are eager to see practices from leading ports such as Long Beach and Rotterdam, and especially cooperative agreements for cross boundary jurisdictions introduced to the Pearl River Delta.
Arthur Bowring, Managing Director of the Hong Kong Shipowners’ Association noted: “We are very much aware of the effect that ship emissions have on the health of people who live close to shipping channels and port areas, and are keen to encourage global regulation that will dramatically reduce these emissions without introducing competitive disadvantage. The members of our Association have experience in complying with policies and practices that improve air quality in ports and harbours around the world, and are keen
to work with the Hong Kong and Shenzhen Governments in formulating policies that will reduce air pollutants from ships in the Pearl River Delta.”