Civic Exchange urges HKSAR Government to take swift actions for improving air quality and protecting public health, in line with Audit Commission’s recommendations

HONG KONG: Wednesday, 14 November 2012 – Civic Exchange welcomes Audit Commission’s Report No.59 (the Report) dated 26 October 2012 and released today, in particular Chapters 1 and 2 on “Monitoring and reporting of air quality” and “Implementation of air-quality improvement measures”, respectively. This is a timely report for the new administration to consider as they are preparing for their air quality management strategy and plan, as well as a welcome reminder about how much works still need to be done in Hong Kong to deliver clean air to our people and to protect public health.

Managing Air Quality Objectives

Audit Commission’s Report highlights HKSAR Government’s past inadequacies in managing Hong Kong’s air quality objectives (AQOs) and in setting new AQOs that would protect public health (Chapter 1, Part 2). Civic Exchange argues that it is indisputable that Hong Kong’s AQOs must use the World Health Organization’s Air Quality Guidelines as our long-term goal. It is also extremely important that, as recommended by the Report, time targets and milestones must be set for achieving the AQOs as soon as possible, which is contrary to HKSAR Government’s past approach to achieve the AQOs as soon as reasonably practicable. Regular reviews should also be made in future to revise our AQOs for driving further improvement of our air quality, but not to be constrained by worries of non-compliance.

Administering Air Pollution Index

Administration of air pollution index (API) is also considered in the report as unsatisfactory (Chapter 1, Part 3). Indeed, Civic Exchange has been constantly calling for the government to make the API a better system for communicating air quality information and its associated health risks to the population. With the imminent implementation of the new AQOs, the HKSAR Government should also take this opportunity to revamp their API system for enhanced communication with the public. 

Measures on Vehicles and Ships

Chapter 2 of the Audit Commission’s Report focuses on the air quality improvement measures. Civic Exchange agrees with the Report’s recommendations that efforts need to be made by the HKSAR Government in cutting emissions from vehicles, ships, power plants, and non-road mobile machinery, as well as stepping up collaboration in regional air quality management with Guangdong. Among the major local emission sources, priorities must be given to clean-up the diesel commercial vehicles and ship. 

Simon Ng, Head of Transport and Sustainability Research of Civic Exchange, explains, “roadside air quality has been getting worse, and one key measure is to get the old and polluting diesel commercial vehicles off the road. On the other hand, ships have become the biggest emitter of respirable suspended particulates (36%) and nitrogen oxides (32%), and the second biggest emitter of sulphur dioxide (48%). Regulations are badly required for the control of ship emissions such as the use of low sulphur fuel at berth. In the long run, an emission control area should be set up in Pearl River Delta waters to maximize emission reduction and public health improvement.” 

Inter-department and Cross-bureau collaboration

Last, but not least, Civic Exchange recognizes that the Environment Bureau (ENB) and the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) cannot deliver clean air to Hong Kong on their own, without the support of other government departments and policy bureaux. For example, the Report questions the slow progress in implementing bus route rationalization in the past. To achieve better progress in the future, it requires collaboration among ENB, EPD, Transport Department and the District Councils. Also, we need Health Department’s support if the main objective of our air quality management plan is to improve public health. 

Measurable Improvement versus Marginal Gain

“Air pollution in Hong Kong is so worrying that we must go for policies and measures that would not just bring marginal difference, but substantial and measurable improvement in air quality and public health,” Ng exclaims. “It would require a new mindset, sheer determination, bold actions, collaboration within government, as well as support from the Legislature and society. It is heartening that ENB and EPD have acknowledged all the recommendations listed in the Report, and it is time to put promises into actions.” 

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