HK's Dirty Air

HK's Dirty Air

17 February, 2016
Standards Lax
Are Blue Skies Unrealistic?

As we continue to be tolerant or oblivious of Hong Kong’s poor air quality, allowing it to exist in our communities and damage our health, the result is stagnancy. And this stagnancy is reflected in the lack of improvement in the levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) over the past nineteen years.
A by-product of fossil fuel combustion, nitrogen dioxide causes adverse respiratory effects, including airway inflammation in healthy people and increased respiratory symptoms in asthma sufferers. The level of NO2 is an important indicator of roadside air pollution.
Although NO2 levels have dropped slightly this year, they remain harmful, and monitoring data from the three roadside stations (Central, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok) show that there has been little improvement in the past two decades. Furthermore, Hong Kong lags behind world trends and WHO standards in terms of speed and number of emission reductions.
In contrast to the Environmental Protection Department’s defense, voiced at a January 5th press conference, that Hong Kong’s stagnant NO2 levels are due to meteorological factors, Kwong Sum-yin, CEO of the Clean Air Network (CAN), disputes the importance of the role that the weather plays.
“We know that the weather plays a role in pollutant concentrations,” said Kwong, “but if we can set high standards to reduce emission levels and abide by them, the overall air quality is bound to improve.”
Kwong furthermore decried the Air Quality Objectives (AQOs) as overly lax and called for a renewal process. As CAN discovered and revealed, the fact that no instances of levels in excess of current standards were recorded over the past three years proves not that Hong Kong’s has satisfactory air quality, but rather that the current standards are too low. CAN argues that Hong Kong’s standards should be brought in line with the WHO standard and called for the government to further tighten standards for sulfur dioxide and particulate matter.
Moreover, unlike many international cities, Hong Kong has seemingly not yet recognized that demand-side transport management holds the key to sustainable development. This translates into the need for policies to encourage cycling and walking when the number of private cars billowing out pollutants has grown to over 700,000. CAN recommends the implementation of low-emissions zones on Des Voeux Road to ameliorate roadside air quality.
Clear blue skies are not an unrealistic vision to set our sights on. Further improvement in our air quality is possible, but it hinges on our acknowledgment of the actual air quality situation as well as government action to raise the standard of the Air Quality Objectives.
We can all make a conscious choice to voice our enthusiasm for cycling and walking, the use of electric vehicles over gas-powered cars, and a switch to cleaner, low-polluting fuels (such as ethanol or electricity) instead of gasoline or diesel. By engaging in small changes and talking to friends and family, we can make a joint effort to get creative and make blue skies happen!

By: Cynthia Chung


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