Policy address promises continued risk to Hong Kong's environment and health

Posted 11 October 2006

While WWF is encouraged that our Chief Executive has stated that Hong Kong will "..take the lead in addressing regional environmental issues…," we contend that Donald Tsang's policy address continues the government's unco-ordinated and piecemeal approach to resolving Hong Kong's air quality problem, ensuring that the population will continue to be exposed to a major health risk for the foreseeable future. WWF is disappointed that a holistic approach to conservation has also been totally neglected and the future of our natural environment is also at risk.

"The real tragedy is that the Hong Kong Government continues to see preservation of our natural environment as a side issue of concern primarily to green groups. It's not! What we are really talking about is quality of life for all Hong Kong citizens both now and in the future, with clean air, healthy and unpolluted seas teeming with life, and a rich countryside to enrich our busy city lives," stated Mr Eric Bohm, CEO, WWF Hong Kong.

"2000 people die prematurely each year from air pollution - Tsang's address fails to respond to recent guidelines from the World Health Organisation, by laying out a clear timetable to make our air breathable again" said Liam Salter, Head of Climate Change Programme, WWF Hong Kong. "The people of Hong Kong will continue to live in harm's way for the foreseeable future".

The speech did make new proposals to cut vehicle emissions in the form of a $3.2 billion incentives package for early replacement of old polluting commercial diesel vehicles and a 30% reduction in registration tax for low emission vehicles. These proposals are welcomed as isolated examples of good practice, but will not achieve the reductions that public health requires.1

The government is sticking to a timetable that will give the EPD 18 months to carry out a review of the 2006 WHO guidelines, followed by a consultation process. "At this rate we will not see new standards in place until late 2009 at best", said Mr. Salter, "We call on the Government to move into the fast lane to protect the peoples' health, with new, WHO-linked air pollution standards and a comprehensive plan of implementation ready to go by July 2007."

"While the initiative on vehicle emissions is welcome news, Hong Kong badly needs action to address the sorry state of our marine environment, including instigating sustainable fisheries management, and in developing a comprehensive conservation policy, including the Conservation Trust recently advocated by the Heung Yee Kuk and NGOs including WWF" noted Dr Alan Leung, Senior Conservation Officer. "Such actions are vital if Hong Kong is really going ‘to take the lead in addressing regional environmental issues'."

"The language in the policy related to conservation of the environment is illuminating" stated Eric Bohm, CEO. "We encourage voluntary participation" (Action Blue Sky Campaign), "Consult the public on legislating" (new law on idling vehicles)", "Initiate a study" (Aged and mechanical services assets), "To achieve the desired impact but also to minimize impact, we may progressively take small, incremental steps to impose charges" (polluter pays). "The speech is heavy on planning but very light on action," noted Mr. Bohm.

1 The vehicle replacement programme is expected to reduce NOx emissions by 10% and particulates by 18%. However 2005 figures show that on some days, Hong Kong’s roadside pollution levels exceeded 2006 WHO guidelines for these pollutants by 140% and 275% respectively (SCMP, WHO raises the stakes in quest for clean air, Oct 6 2006)