Letters to the Editor of South China Morning Post – Response to a reader’s letter on air quality

I refer to Ms Catherine LaJeunesse’s letter “When will our officials act on air pollution?” dated 19 September 2017.

The Government is committed to improving air quality.  We published a Clean Air Plan in 2013 and its progress report in June this year setting out specific control measures on key emission sources.  On vehicle emissions, we have implemented a HK$11.4 billion incentive-cum-regulatory scheme since 2014 to progressively phase out 82,000 pre-Euro IV diesel commercial vehicles by end-2019, subsidized franchised bus companies to retrofit Euro II and III buses with emission reduction device and test out electric buses, set up franchised bus low-emission zones at busy districts as well as strengthened the emission control of liquefied petroleum gas and petrol vehicles etc.  To control vessel emissions, we have tightened the sulphur content of locally supplied marine light diesel since April 2014.  In July 2015, Hong Kong has become the first Asian city to mandate ocean-going vessels (OGVs) at berth to switch to low-sulphur fuel.  We have also progressively tightened the emission caps of power plants. 

From 2012 to 2016, we have seen discernible improvements in our air quality. Roadside concentrations of major air pollutants including respirable suspended particulates, PM2.5, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide have decreased by 28 to 31 per cent, while ambient concentrations of these pollutants have dropped by 8 to 21 per cent.

Looking ahead, we have just further tightened the emission standards of newly registered vehicles in phases from July this year to October 2018.  We will also issue a new technical memorandum by end 2017 to further lower the emission caps of power plants from 2022 onward. On vessel emissions, we plan to mandate most vessels (not just OGVs) to use low-sulphur fuel while in Hong Kong waters (not just at berth) starting 2019.  Furthermore, we embarked on a review of the Air Quality Objectives (AQOs) last year to identify possible new measures and assess possible scope for tightening the AQOs.  We aim at completing the review in 2018. 

The serious air pollution incidents recently were caused by regional photochemical smog happened under calm and hot days.  Pollutants emitted in Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta Region were trapped under light wind and reacted to form ozone and fine particulates under sunlight.  We have been, and will continue working in collaboration with the Guangdong Provincial Government to improve air quality of the region.

Dave Ho
Acting Assistant Director of Environmental Protection