Hong Kong Offers $1.3 Billion to Replace Polluting Vehicles

Hong Kong plans to offer HK$10 billion ($1.3 billion) in subsidies to replace old diesel vehicles and limit their life-span to battle smog that’s responsible for more than 3,000 premature deaths a year.

The proposal seeks to cut particulates emissions by 80 percent and nitrogen oxides by 30 percent, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said today in his first policy speech since taking over on July 1. Leung also proposed to set a service limit for new diesel commercial vehicles at 15 years.

Leung faces the challenge of cleaning up Hong Kong’s air, which fails to match up to that of New York and London, as vehicle and marine emissions contribute to smoggy skies. Air quality has worsened since 2007, and a government failure to force aging buses and trucks off its streets is a key cause of pollution.

“We strive to improve air quality on all fronts,” Leung said. “We must phase out old diesel commercial vehicles with greater financial incentives while putting in place more stringent regulatory measures.”

The city is also considering legislation that will force ships berthing at its ports to switch to low-sulphur diesel, Leung said in the address.

Dirty Fuel

Maersk Line, the world’s biggest container-shipping company, this month threatened to stop using cleaner fuel at Hong Kong port from next year if the government doesn’t mandate higher quality oil for carriers berthing in the city. The company and 17 other operators have voluntarily used low-sulfur oil, which costs more, for the past two years.

Commercial diesel vehicles are the biggest contributors to roadside pollution, Christine Loh, undersecretary for environment, said in an interview last month. Past subsidies weren’t big enough to incentivize owners to replace high-polluting vehicles, she said.

Other than privately owned vehicles, franchised buses operated by companies controlled by billionaire Cheng Yu-tung also run on diesel.

The HK$10 billion in subsidies announced today is almost triple the combined HK$3.7 billion offered by Leung’s predecessor in 2007 and 2010. Leung is targeting owners of 80,000 heavy-polluting pre-Euro and Euro I to III diesel commercial vehicles.

High Pollution

There were 175 days of very high pollution in 2011, more than twice the figure from 2007, the government said in an audit report in November. Very high pollution is indicated by an index more than 100, which triggers a government warning for people with heart or respiratory illnesses to avoid prolonged stays in heavy-traffic areas.

Hong Kong has never met its target of not having a single day of very high pollution in a year, according to the audit.

The city isn’t alone in failing to deal with smoggy skies. Beijing this week started an emergency plan to respond to pollution levels which on Jan. 12 were estimated at a record high by Greenpeace and the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, a nonprofit organization in the Chinese capital.

Official measurements of PM2.5, fine airborne particulates that pose the largest health risks, rose as high as 993 micrograms per cubic meter in Beijing on Jan. 12, compared with World Health Organization guidelines of no more than 25.

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