Congestion charge could tackle Hong Kong pollution

Hong Kong looks set to follow the London's example by introducing a congestion charge in an effort to improve the city's notorious air quality.

The possibility of road charges to dissuade drivers from making unnecessary journeys was just one of the potential tools to drive down pollution suggested by the city’s Council for Sustainable Development this week.

Other potential tools proposed by the council including banning idling vehicles, specific action on days when a high air pollution index was recorded such as turning off diesel generators and better management of the city’s energy demand.

The council also said it would be taking steps to persuade the public to use less polluting paints, solvents and cleaning products.

Dr Edgar Cheng, vice chairman of the CSD, told a gathering of senior business people that the city’s chief executive, Donald Tsang, had asked the council to look into ways to address what is now widely recognised as one of the biggest problems facing the Hong Kong’s economic success, as well as the health of its residents.

But getting the message across that pollution did not necessarily mean a cloud of filthy smog hanging over the city was the first challenge, he said.

While smog was a regional problem, it must be seen as distinct from the air quality in the city streets which could fluctuate wildly on a day to day basis.

“Everyone feels good when the sky is clear and blue. It is good for tourism and we get less complaints from the general public,” he said.

“But clear does not mean clean. When you check the Air Pollution Index (API) on a clear blue sky day, it is not always automatically low.”

He said that 80% of regional air pollution came from the mainland’s Pearl River Delta, with Hong Kong itself responsible for just 20%, but local air quality was more closely tied to the city’s power stations and transport.

“We can blame the smog on both PRD and HK,” said Dr Cheng.

“But we in HK have to take a bigger responsibility on health hazard caused by air pollutants generated locally.

“[Therefore] the emphasis of the Council Report on Better Air Quality is on how to combat local air pollution, not regional one, because first, we feel that there are a lot of things we can do locally and we need to do them urgently and it will definitely have major positive impact on our health.

“We also feel that it is important for us to clean our backyard as much as possible while our government is also working with our counterpart in the PRD on how to tackle the regional air pollution.”

The Council put forward 14 recommendations which will be considered by the city’s government.

Sam Bond

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