“An Inconvenient Truth for the Airport Authority”

Posted 07 February 2012
Latest WWF’s public poll finds over 73% of respondents think the environmental and social costs of a potential third runway should be considered.

Today, WWF is releasing a new public poll. It clearly shows that should the government make a hasty decision and proceed with planning for a third runway at Hong Kong International Airport in the wake of Airport Authority Hong Kong’s self-serving interpretation of its public consultation report (released 29 December 2011), that the government risks being out of line with the Hong Kong public’s expectations. Among the poll’s findings, are that over 73 percent of respondents think that it is important for government to take environmental and social costs into account when considering a third runway option.

The government will make a decision on whether to go ahead with planning the most expensive infrastructure project in Hong Kong’s history by March of 2012. In December, Airport Authority Hong Kong (AAHK) recommended that the third runway option be adopted by the government, and that it moves quickly to the EIA process; citing that 73 percent of questionnaire respondents during public consultation said they “prefer the third runway option”. Dr. Andy Cornish, Director of Conservation at WWF-Hong Kong pointed out that “AAHK has painted a rosy picture of public support for a third runway. Our newly-commissioned poll shows another story. The figures demonstrate that in fact there are deep-seated public concerns on the runway’s environmental and social impacts that are not being addressed.”

Funded and commissioned by WWF-Hong Kong and Greenpeace Hong Kong, this public poll was conducted by the Public Opinion Programme of the University of Hong Kong from 13-16 January 2012 and interviewed 1,001 Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong residents aged over 18.

According to the poll’s findings, respondents expressed concerns about various environmental issues: reclamation (68%), the Chinese White Dolphin (65%), carbon emissions from growth in air traffic (63%), and fisheries (58%).

The poll also indicated that the public were asked to give their opinion without being in possession of all the facts. In particular, while carbon emissions from air traffic growth were a concern, 44.8 percent did not know whether carbon emissions were among the environmental issues that had been addressed by the AAHK in their third runway consultation. 37.9 percent were correctly aware that the issue had not been addressed.

Dr William Yu, Head of the Climate Program at WWF-Hong Kong said, “The study shows that the public were not able to make an informed decision before expressing their support for the third runway. For example, almost half of the respondents believe that the current Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process will address increased carbon emissions brought by the new runway, which is not true. The overwhelming percentage (near 80%) of respondents, who support consideration being given to the hidden costs of carbon emissions, shows that AAHK should not avoid responsibility for future increases in aviation emissions and their associated costs.”

Yu added that Australia has already imposed a carbon tax on the aviation industry. The European Union has applied the Emission Trading Scheme to Hong Kong airlines. China is also studying a carbon tax. WWF has previously estimated that the estimated total carbon tax to be imposed on Asia-Pacific flights alone from a third runway could range up to HK$59 billion for the next 20 years (Year 2008-2030)

The new poll also shows widespread discontent with current development policy in Hong Kong. When asked whether the government generally strikes a good balance between economic development and environmental protection, only 26.6 percent said “yes” while 56 percent said that too much emphasis is placed on economic development.

Dr Andy Cornish, added that “AAHK has made their intent quite clear. They want government endorsement to proceed to the statutory EIA process as quickly as possible, knowing full well that neither aviation emission costs nor social and environmental costs are included. They have no intention of conducting a Social Return on Investment (SROI) study on social and environmental costs, nor revealing the impact of a third runway on aviation emissions despite the fact that a desire to see these issues addressed was also clearly evident in public feedback to their own consultation.

“WWF calls on the Hong Kong government to address the considerable public concerns over reclamation and carbon emissions, and impacts on Chinese white dolphin, on fisheries and on the whole of society from a potential third runway. We simply don’t have enough information at this time to make a well-informed decision for Hong Kong on whether to proceed with this megaproject. A SROI study which includes the potential costs of aviation carbon emissions as well as other environmental and social costs should be carried out before spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a massive EIA. Furthermore, these findings should be released for in-depth debate and further public consultation.”