Hong Kong to Raise Air Quality Standards and Cut Emissions

Hong Kong will raise its air quality standards for the first time since 1987 as the former British colony targets a reduction in vehicle and vessel emissions to clear up smoggy skies.

Hong Kong will use air quality standards set by the World Health Organization as a reference for its own objectives, the government said today in a statement. The new air quality targets and monitoring index will be unveiled next year, and the government will review its goals at least once every five years.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has made cleaning up the city’s skies a priority with air quality in Hong Kong worsening since 2007 and failing to match New York and London. The Chinese city has never met its air quality targets since they were adopted 26 years ago, according to a government audit in November.

“The ultimate objective is to balance development against our latest air quality objectives by 2020,” Wong Kam-sing, secretary for environment, said today at a press conference. “We can say that we’re prepared to deploy a lot of resources into this.”

In January, Leung said the city will 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 city is seeking to enact legislation that will mandate ships berthing at its ports to switch to cleaner fuel over the next two years, the government said in its statement.

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 number of more than 100, which triggers a government warning for people with heart or respiratory illnesses to avoid prolonged stays in heavy-traffic areas.

The new air quality index will be stricter and contain more information on the health impact of pollution, Christine Loh, undersecretary for the environment, said at the conference.

“With the tightening of the air quality objective and the use of the (new index), the number of hours that the air pollution is rated at ‘high’ or ‘very high’ will substantially increase,” the government said in the statement.

The city wants to cut sulpur dioxide emissions by 25 percent from 2010 levels by 2015, and by as much as 75 percent by 2020, the government said. It is seeking a reduction of as much as 30 percent for nitrogen oxide emission by 2020 from 2010 levels.

Commercial diesel vehicles are the biggest contributors to roadside pollution, Loh said in December.

The government today also highlighted plans including low emission zones for franchised buses and installing emission reduction devices in those vehicles.

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