Hong Kong to clean up air pollution

The Government of Hong Kong and regional Government of the Chinese province of Guangdong have announced that they will be jointly introducing measures to bring long-term improvements to air quality.

The two administrations have decided on a set of targets to reduce four major air pollutants throughout the two regions by 2010. The targeted pollutants are sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, respirable suspended particulates (RSPs) and volatile organic compounds, which – under the plan – will have to be cut by 40%, 20%, 55% and 55% respectively.

The joint statement was published as a result of research into air quality in the region, which revealed that in Hong Kong, ozone levels have increased by around 39% since 1991, and nitrogen dioxide levels have risen by 26%. Due to poor air quality, the percentage of time of poor visibility has increased threefold. However, RSP concentrations have decreased by 8% over the same period.

Meanwhile, in the Pearl River Delta Economic Zone (PRDEZ), in Guangdong, there was no long-term data on air quality available to the researchers. Instead, the visibility trends in some cities were used. In two cities, Shenzhen and Guangzhou, the percentage of time with poor visibility in the late 1990s was nine times and five times the levels in 1991.

Without a strategy to tackle these pollutants, increasing population and economic activity will result in a rise in sulphur dioxide emissions by 53%, nitrogen oxides by 34%, RSPs by 34%, and volatile organic compounds by 25% on 1997 levels in the next eight years, according to the research. By 2010, the population in the region is predicted to increase by 20%, economic activity by 150%, electricity consumption by 130%, and vehicle mileage by 190%.

“Achieving the emission reduction targets would have a positive impact on public health, productivity of our workforce, Hong Kong’s image as a world class city and our sustainable development,” said a Hong Kong Government spokesman.

The two governments’ strategy will include a regional air quality management plan, which is yet to be developed, and the setting up of an expert group of officials from the Hong Kong Environment Protection Department and the Guangdong Environmental Protection Bureau. The expert group will be responsible for monitoring trends in regional air quality and for evaluating the effectiveness of measures.

The Hong Kong Government has already implemented a number of schemes to improve the air quality of the region. “For example, the HKSAR (Hong Kong Special Administrative Region) Government has implemented a series of measures to reduce vehicle emissions since 1999, including replacing diesel taxis with liquefied petroleum taxis, introducing ultra low sulphur diesel and retrofitting pre-Euro light diesel vehicles with particulate reduction devices,” said the spokesperson. “These measures have brought improvements to roadside air quality.”

Also, in 1999, a new HK$1.4 billion (US$180 million) programme to reduce pollution from vehicles was introduced, which is designed to reduce particulate and nitrogen oxides emissions from vehicles by 80% and 30% respectively by the end of 2005.

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