The environment minister has defended Hong Kong’s new clean air blueprint against accusations it lacks ambition, telling critics the plan is realistic for such a densely built city that also serves as a global shipping hub.
Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing said on Wednesday that Hong Kong’s tightly packed skyscrapers, large number of cars and major international port, as well as the scale of population growth and development in surrounding areas, posed significant challenges to improving the city’s air quality.
“In the eight years since the first Clean Air Plan was released, major air pollutants have decreased by 40 to 50 per cent. This was not easy to achieve,” Wong told a radio show.
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“We will work at increasing cross-departmental cooperation to improve air quality … but we also need to know our own limits as we go forward, we have to do it in a steady way.”
Wong on Tuesday unveiled the Clean Air Plan for Hong Kong 2035, pledging to reach air quality levels comparable with major cities such as Paris and Tokyo by that year.
But the plan stopped short of setting a timeline for Hong Kong to achieve the air quality standards laid down by the World Health Organization (WHO), drawing criticism from the city’s environment watchdogs.
The Green Earth labelled the plan a “bad cheque”, while the Clean Air Network pointed out the two cities specified by the government were at the lower end of the scale in terms of air quality for major metropolises.
Fung, the network’s CEO, told the same radio programme that while Tokyo had recorded a concentration of fine particulate matter suspended in the air, known as PM2.5, that was 26 per cent below Hong Kong’s, the levels in New York and Melbourne were 70 per cent and 65 per cent lower respectively.
Hong Kong’s average PM2.5 concentration in 2018 was 23 micrograms per cubic metre of air.
The plan set out six major areas to help achieve the overarching targets – including promoting green transport, clean forms of energy, and upgrading air quality monitoring systems – with collaboration in the Greater Bay Area on monitoring and studying the formation of ozone being a particular area of focus.
Ozone’s complicated formation process, through two other pollutants mixing and reacting with sunlight to form smog, has vexed researchers and policymakers alike, while its concentrations in the city have nearly doubled over the past two decades.
Responding to criticism over the lack of a timeline for meeting the WHO standards, Wong said his bureau planned to undertake a study within the next two to three years to understand the nature of ozone pollution. “This is a regional problem, so we need to do this through regional cooperation.”
Conceding the plans to study the formation of ozone were “reasonable”, Fung added: “We hope that within three years not only do we know the sources of ozone, we should also have a clear strategy and guideline for dealing with the problem by then.”
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This article Hong Kong’s urban design and international port status limit its ambitions for cleaner air, minister says in defence of new anti-pollution blueprint first appeared on South China Morning Post