With air pollution reaching record-breaking levels in Hong Kong only recently, nonprofit public policy think tank, Civic Exchange, suggests air quality across the PRD is one of the main threats to public health and continues to adversely impact the economy.
“In summary, on a hazy day, Hong Kong suffers acute air pollution, which has a regional origin. However, even on a relatively clear day, Hong Kong often suffers chronic air pollution, which is mostly locally generated. There is much that can be done to reduce pollution but it requires a systematic and long-term approach. Without this, residents of the region will suffer unnecessary mortality and illness, and economic growth will be ultimately threatened,” said Christine Loh of Civic Exchange.
The HKSAR and Guangdong governments have pledged to reduce by 2010 the regional emissions of particulate matter (PM10) by 55%, and have drawn up a Regional Air Quality Management Plan (the “Regional Plan”) to achieve this. To achieve the target, the authorities would need to involve business, professional, public health, scientific and community stakeholders, and must provide a transparent and participatory process to address significant sources of pollutants.
Civic Exchange released today three reports which all point to the need for well thought out action on managing local and regional air pollution in the short, medium and longer-term.
The reports, including a strategic policy “White Paper”, are aimed at providing the Legislative Council’s Environmental Affairs Panel as well as NGOs and residents with a check-list of issues that can help Hong Kong to focus better on what needs to be done to improve air quality management in order to protect public health as well as the region’s economic interests associated with air quality.
Health Concerns over Particulate Matter
The air pollutant particulate matter (PM) is an issue of growing public health concern around the world. The World Health Organization found that fine particles (known as PM2.5) are more hazardous than larger ones (known as PM10 or, in Hong Kong, as RSP) in terms of health.
Neither Hong Kong nor Guangdong has standards for PM2.5, and their respective PM10 standards are far more lax than existing and proposed standards in Europe, the US and Australia. Levels of both PM10 and PM2.5 in Hong Kong and the PRD are high and pose a significant risk to human health.
For public health protection Hong Kong needs to reduce emissions of PM locally, and reducing emissions of both PM and certain gases from which it is can be formed (particularly sulphur dioxide) to the lowest level reasonably practicable. Ultimate success will depend on the effectiveness of cross-border collaborative efforts.
Economic Impacts of visibility
Since 1991, Hong Kong has increasingly experienced periods of impaired visibility that have been attributed to air pollution. The latest international research on the economic impact of visibility shows that the cost of visibility is potentially significant resulting from aspects such as loss of tourist revenues, impacts on property values and knock-on effects impacting the local economy such as reduced investment.
With Hong Kong’s topography and hilly terrain which provide exceptional vistas and world famous cityscapes, the impact haze is quite clear and immediately noticed. This constant reminder of how dirty the air really is will undoubtedly affect not only tourists, but also people’s willingness to live and raise families in Hong Kong, which has implications for the region as an attractive place to invest in and relocate to.
Civic Exchange’s White Paper recommends a number of inter-linked and necessary steps to properly control air quality in the region for the long term.
“In the past, there has been little sign that air quality concerns would override other government commitments to improve economic growth in the region. As many of the control measures of the HKSAR and Guangdong joint Regional Air Quality Management Plan will require substantial funds to implement, or will affect influential industrial or business sectors, the two governments will need significant political will to carry them through. Understanding the impacts and costs of air quality deterioration, as well as knowing that economic development and environmental protection need not be mutually exclusive, can help provide public support for action,” said Loh.
1. Release an annual progress report on the implementation of the Joint Government Regional Plan;
2. Release a report on the on-going effectiveness of the HKSAR Government’s own measures to improve local air quality, such as government’s measures to retrofitting vehicles with particulate traps, conversion of taxis from diesel to LPG, etc.;
3. Release all completed public health research reports commissioned by the HKSAR Government that relates to air quality;
4. Release EPD’s funding requests for new air quality related research for 2005-2008 to allow priorities to be publicly debated and funding shortfalls made up;
5. Consider the formation of an Air Quality sub-group under the Legislative Council’s Environmental Affairs Panel to enhance public scrutiny.
6. Establish the regional air quality monitoring network as outlined in the Joint Government Regional Plan;
7. Ensure adequate funding is provided to establish a comprehensive emissions inventory for the region that is regularly updated;
8. Provide the necessary resources and authority to effectively implement and monitor the Joint Government Regional Plan;
9. Review PM (particularly PM2.5) and Ozone standards for the Hong Kong and the PRD;
10. Conduct regular health and economic impact assessments on a long term coordinated rather than an ad hoc basis;
11. Build cross-border capacity in the economic, scientific, regulatory, inspection and policy sectors to enable middle and top management of both governments to improve understanding of air pollution problems and devise effective solutions;
12. Build local as well as cross-border political support amongst stakeholders including industry, business and the community for measures to reduce air pollution;
13. Create a clear and inclusive process for determining standards, targets and control measures to abate regional air pollution;
14. Formulate a regional energy plan which considers how investments can be made in the PRD region for clean energy production; and
15. Form an NGO advisory committee on air pollution issues, involving key stakeholders such as industry representatives, health providers, environmental groups and community associations, which can also work on a regional basis in the longer-term.
Further Air Pollution Studies
Civic Exchange will also release soon the results of a 2-year scientific collaborative study involving academia, business and government, which helps develop a better understanding of the regional pollution problem.