Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Cleaner Air in Five Years?

Christine Loh is pushing for Hong Kong to clean up its air... will it clear up?
Undersecretary for the Environment Christine Loh Kung-wai believes we'll be seeing a dramatic improvement in Hong Kong's air quality in the next five years with measurable results starting in the second half of this year.

That's because objectives set out in last year's air quality road map have been met with little political resistance compared to other environmental issues like waste, energy and conservation.

One of them is a HK$11.4 billion initiative to replace 82,000 old commercial diesel vehicles starting from next month. Another is to replace catalytic converters, devices that reduce harmful emissions, on 20,000 light buses and taxis powered by LPG.

This initiative is expected to be approved by the summer, while another plan to retrofit 1,400 franchised buses with selective catalytic reduction devices is projected to be also approved this summer.

She explained that currently the biggest emissions in Hong Kong is sulphur dioxide and so in addition to the streets, the city is pushing to legislate all ocean-going vessels berthing in Hong Kong must use low-sulphur fuel; this is expected to happen in the summer and take effect early next year.

In 2012, a study found 75 percent of deaths linked to sulphur dioxide in the Pearl River Delta each year were Hong Kong people.

Also, smaller ships will be required to switch to cleaner marine diesel, a plan she hopes to get started on from April 1.

"We think, after the implementation of both measures, we will see an estimated 20 percent drop in local sulphur dioxide emissions. This is really quite substantial," she says.

However she stresses it's important for the community to be "galvanized" for all the measures to succeed, and that while government should take the lead, corporations and people should do more to make their own contribution to help clear the air.

This can be difficult when more of the wealthy buy cars and hire chauffeurs to drive them; the rest of us can't even afford private cars, but still appreciate the pretty efficient public transportation system we have here.

There are still cars idling when they could be turned off and not enough legal enforcement in this area, and there needs to be a serious discussion about streamlining bus routes even further.

But in the end, are we really going to see such a dramatic improvement in the next few months?

We're optimistic, but not holding our breath. The main issue is getting people to understand this is the one world we live in and we are polluting it more and more each day. All the money in the world will not scrub the environment clean in an instant; we need to do our part, from walking more to using cleaner technology to help everyone breathe a bit easier.

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