Air Pollution: A Crisis That Won't Wait

Panelists from the public and private sectors debate measures needed to reduce Hong Kong's air pollution on May 17, 2010. (7 min., 29 sec.)

HONG KONG, May 17, 2010 - While much of Hong Kong's air pollution originates from the Pearl River Delta, a significant amount is created within the city, according to an environmental scientist specializing in urban air pollution.

Speaking at a panel discussion on Hong Kong's air quality hosted by Asia Society Hong Kong Center, Alexis Lau of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology told the audience, "If you walk out onto the street, a lot of what you breathe is local pollution. You don't hear much about marine emissions, but if you go along the harbor, look at the ships emitting black smoke. If they were vehicles, they would have been taken off the roads. But with ships, in terms of sulphur dioxide pollution, that is the main source."

Hong Kong's Deputy Director for Environmental Protection, Carlson Chan, maintained that the government is tackling the issue Lau cited. "We are also conducting the trial use of ultra-low sulphur diesel with ocean-going vessels."

Chan also underscored that the government's priority lies in dealing with the 160,000 commercial vehicles on Hong Kong roads. "We have got a large number of old vehicles—buses, minibuses, trucks, lorries. Some are more than ten years old. The emission standards were not on par with the latest. How do we deal with these old commercial vehicles? We have an incentive scheme to replace old vehicles with new ones and to tighten emission standards."

With power companies traditionally identified as major polluters, CLP Power—Hong Kong's largest supplier—said that it was equally concerned about air quality. Its Environmental Affairs Director, Jeanne Ng, pointed out the power sector was heavily regulated and environmental performance was embedded in its daily operations.

"We operate the power stations and we live there too. We care about the air. We only have a license to operate because the community allows us to," Ng said.

Nicholas Sallnow-Smith, chairman of The Link Management Limited, one of the largest operators of shopping mall and carpark facilities in Hong Kong, urged businesses to take the initiative in the adoption of green technology.

"It should be taking the lead, talking with the government on how to make improvements. For example, green roofs—we have 147. If we can get past Buildings Department issues, then it saves on heat load. And simply because it is the right thing to do and hopefully encourage other companies to do the same. To do this quickly, we need to short-circuit the regulations or it will take five years to do. We need to make big leaps."

Edwin Lau, director of Friends of the Earth Hong Kong, said, "What the public wants to know is the timetable the government will roll out all these things to reduce pollution. It is why the public is so frustrated. Hong Kong is not a poor city .... We are a wealthy city, and if the problem can be solved by putting some money—we have a big kitty—then it is not a problem if we can solve it financially."

Reported by Penny Tang, Asia Society Hong Kong Center