Presentation by Dr Sarah Liao, Secretary for the Environment, Transport and Works on HK's Commitment to the Environment at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Hong Kong
A. ON AIR QUALITY
• Hong Kong faces serious and complex air quality problems. The complexity of the problem lies in the fact that our city is under the influence of pollutants not only generated locally, but also regionally. We are working on both fronts.
• At the home front the most direct source is mobile source pollutants from vehicular traffic, while the major pollutants come from power generation.
1. Mobile Source
• 90% of the population's daily travel (i.e. over 11 million passenger trips per day) is by public transport. Commercial vehicles which feed on diesel contribute to about half of the vehicle mileage in Hong Kong.
• The SAR Government has been implementing a progressive programme targeting mobile source pollutants since 1999, including -
(a) Financial incentives for diesel taxis and light buses to be replaced by liquefied petroleum gas (LPG)models; 99% of taxis and 55% of light buses are now running on LPG;
(b) Motor vehicle diesel and petrol required by law to comply with Euro IV standards;
(c) Financial incentives for pre-Euro diesel vehicles to retrofit particulate removal devices;
• Compared with 1999, the number of smoky vehicles dropped by around 80%. Respirable Suspended Particulates (RSP) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) at roadside dropped by 13% and 19% respectively in 2006; and
• The declining trend of local emissions over the last 16 years is evident from the concentrations of air pollutants measured at our monitoring stations and reported on our website everyday (Figure 1).
2. More Measures are being Implemented to Reinforce the Progress Achieved -
(a) We will launch a $3.2 billion grant scheme from 1 April 2007 to provide incentives to expedite the replacement of pre-Euro (within 18 months) and Euro I diesel commercial diesel vehicles (within 36 months), totalling about 74,000 eligible vehicles, with Euro IV models. The replacement programme will reduce 10% of NOx and 18% of RSP of our total local pollutants;
(b) With effect also from 1 April 2007, we will encourage the use of environment friendly cars (high efficiency and low emission) through a 30% reduction in their First Registration Tax, subject to a cap of $50,000 per vehicle;
(c) Pursuing with the possibility of legislation to ban idling vehicles while waiting;
(d) Electronic Road Pricing or congesting charges are being seriously considered as they are proven to be effective tools to reduce traffic and hence pollution in busy areas.
(e) Heavy fine of $1,500 for smoky vehicles continues;
(f) Bring in remote-sensing devices to catch petrol and LPG vehicles which are not properly maintained;
(g) Mandated the installation of vapour recovery systems for fuel unloading and refuelling processes at all petrol stations by March 2008;
(h) Introduced into LegCo in end 2006 a new regulation to impose limits on the content of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) in paints, printing inks and selected consumer products. Set for implementation in phases starting from 1 April 2007, the new regulation will make Hong Kong a pioneer in VOC control on par with California; and
(i) As a further step to promote energy saving and efficiency, and introducing Mandatory Energy Efficiency Labels in 2007.
3. Power Plants
• Since power generation accounts for over 90% of Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) emissions and about half of NOx and RSP, effective control on power companies is core to our strategy for improving our overall air quality -
(a) No new coal-fired generation units will be approved and power plants required to maximize the use of natural gas;
(b) Imposing progressively tighter emission caps on power companies since 2005 to ensure the lowest possible emission of SO2, NOx and RSP from power plants; and
(c) For the environmental regulation of power companies beyond 2008, we propose to link their permitted rate of return on all fixed assets to their achievement of the emission caps in their licences; as well as higher return on renewable energy investment.
4. Regional Air Quality
• However, despite the actual reduction in local emission quantities, the general public probably would not feel the improvement in the same way. The reason is that the air quality of Hong Kong is affected not by the local emissions alone. All commercial and industrial activities in the Pearl River Delta (PRD) region are having an impact on air quality in Hong Kong.
• The regional air pollution problems come from the energy sector (mainly power generation), industries, motor vehicles and VOC-containing products (such as paints, adhesives and consumer products). Together they contribute over 85% of SO2, NOx, RSP and VOC emissions in the Region. (Figure 2).
• In 2002 the Hong Kong SAR and the Guangdong Provincial Government completed a three-year Joint Study on Regional Air Quality and reached a consensus to each reduce, by 2010, their emissions of four key pollutants. Using 1997 as the base year, the levels of reduction are, respectively, 40% on SO2, 20% on NOx and 55% on both RSP and VOC. Meeting these reduction targets would be critical to improving the regional air quality.
• Under this PRD Regional Air Quality Management Plan (the Management Plan) agreed by Hong Kong and Guangdong, a joint regional air quality network has been set up consisting of 16 stations covering the whole PRD Region - 13 in Guangdong and 3 in Hong Kong.
• Since November 2005, a PRD Regional Air Quality Index is released on a daily basis. In October 2006, the first half-yearly monitoring report was published to provide the public with more information on regional air quality.
http://serve.gdepb.gov.cn/raqi/QEng.aspx (English version)
http://serve.gdepb.gov.cn/raqi/QZht.aspx (Chinese version)
5. Guangdong's Efforts in Air Pollution Control
• Under the Management Plan, taking a number of actions to curb its air emissions.
• In 2006, over 2,000 factories in Guangdong were closed because of their environmental performance and another 8,000 were imposed with deadlines to improve their performance.
• Guangdong is also upgrading its economic structure so that its energy intensity (energy consumption per 10000 yuan GDP) is reduced. In 2006, the energy intensity in the first half of the year was 2.5% lower than the 2005 level. Guangdong has also pledged to lower the energy intensity level from 2005 by 13% in year 2010.
• Flue gas desulphurization (FGD) systems is being fitted to all large-scale power plants in Guangdong.
• So far, over 11,000 MW of power generation capacities have been fitted with the FGD systems with a total capacity of removing 160,000 tonnes of SO2 every year.
• Four large-scale gas-fired power plants are being completed in the PRD Region.
• Existing oil-fired power plants are also switching to natural gas. Two of them did so in 2006.
• Motor vehicles emission standards on par with Euro III standards are being introduced in PRD cities.
• Euro III motor fuels are also being introduced. 41 petrol filling stations in Guangzhou are selling these fuels. The network is expected to cover the whole Guangzhou in 2007 and will be expanded to other PRD cities.
• Shenzhen is also conducting pilot projects to control VOC emissions from oil depots, tanker trucks and petrol filling stations.
6. Participation by Stakeholders
• A change of mind-set is needed for government, businesses and the public in order to improve our environment. The Action Blue Sky is to promote public awareness and urge everyone to contribute for our blue sky.
• For businesses, there is the international call to adopting the same high standards of environmental measures for operations wherever they are, whether they are in China or America or Europe. The Clean Development Mechanism should be put to practice. Businesses should realize that they need to internalize core environmental values in investment decisions or policies.
• We have also adopted a programme to reduce green house gas in Hong Kong. Further reductions of any significance are only possible if more natural gas is used for our power generation.
• The battle against air pollution is a long hard process which demands continuous upgrading efforts and realistic policy objectives. We will launch a comprehensive review on Hong Kong's existing Air Quality Objectives (AQOs), in light of the recent WHO revision to its Air Quality Guidelines and Hong Kong's local circumstances. The review has to be conducted since any amendment to the AQOs would necessitate changes in many other policy areas. Full public engagement will follow to devise a practicable air quality management strategy to make these AQOs achievable and acceptable to the public.
B. ON NATURE CONSERVATION and GREENING
• We are committed to protecting our natural environment . Despite our limited size, over 40% of the land area is designated as protected areas such as country parks or special areas. In the past three years we have planted 3.7 million trees and this is an ongoing effort in HK.
• We conducted a Review on Nature Conservation Policy and announced a New Policy Statement in end of 2004.
• Under the new Policy, we extended our efforts in privately owned lands and identified 12 priority sites for enhanced conservation using an objective and scientific scoring system.
• To protect these ecologically important sites under private ownership, we launched a Pilot Scheme for Public-private Partnership (PPP) and Management Agreement (MA). Under PPP, development at an agreed scale will be allowed at the less ecologically sensitive portion of a site, provided that the developer undertakes to conserve and manage the rest of the site on a long-term basis. About $5 million has been provided to fund 3 MA projects where NGOs work with private landowners to enhance the ecology of their land located on the priority sites.
• We will also continue with and enhance the existing conservation measures, and explore the establishment of a nature conservation trust.
• By tapping into the resources and creativity of the private sector, we can create a win-win situation for landowners and the community, and provide a practicable way to better conserve the environment.
• Our partnership also extends to NGOs. We have been cooperating with WWF-HK in managing the Mai Po Inner Deep Bay Ramsar site, the largest wetland in Hong Kong. The Government provides funding to WWF-HK for habitat maintenance and management works every year. Mai Po continues to be a suitable roosting and foraging sites for migratory birds.
• We have a very active promotion and environmental campaign programme. In the past 2 years, the Environment and Conservation Fund has funded more than $12 million to support projects contributing to environmental protection, nature conservation and promoting ecotourism in Hong Kong.
• On the urban side we are actively greening our environment whenever there is the opportunity. In fact greening is part of our public works procedure such as highways, slopes,buildings and river channels. Master plans for greening in many districts in the urban areas are being drawn up and implementation work has started at two districts.
C. SOLID WASTE MANAGEMENT
• We have an imminent and serious waste problem. At present, we rely solely on the three strategic landfills to dispose of our solid waste. They are the West Territories (WENT) Landfill, Northeast New Territories (NENT) Landfill, and Southeast New Territories (SENT) Landfill. They take up 270 hectares of land, cost $6 billion to construct and more than $400 million per year to operate.
• In 2005, we produced some 17,540 tonnes of municipal solid waste everyday. Unless we take decisive and immediate measures to reduce our waste, our landfills will be full within 4 to 8 years.
• To tackle the waste problem in a holistic and comprehensive manner, the Government published "A Policy Framework for the Management of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) 2005-2014" (Policy Framework) in December 2005.
• Our primary objective is to address the problem at source by reducing waste generation, and to promote the reuse, recovery and recycling of waste.
• For those unavoidable waste, we must treat and reduce their volume through appropriate treatment technologies.
• Our Policy Framework has set out various initiatives to achieve the above objectives. We are pleased to say that our efforts are beginning to bear fruit.
• The result of the source separation of domestic waste programme launched in January 2005 has been encouraging.
• As at January 2007, 504 housing estates with almost 700 000 households and over 2 million residents signed up for the programme. Out of these estates, 215 have floor-to-floor mode of waste separation, while the remaining have waste separation facilities on ground floor.
• For those estates that have floor-to-floor facilities, the recyclables collected have increased by 56%.
• For housing estates that only have ground floor separation facilities, there have also been a 36% increase in recyclables collected.
• In general, these estates have achieved an overall 3-4 % reduction in waste disposal.
• In addition to source separation, we need to establish a circular economy in Hong Kong that turns our waste into useful products so that they can be channelled back into our economic chain.
• Locating in Tuen Mun Area 38, the 20-hectare EcoPark aims to provide long-term land at affordable costs for recycling and environmental industries with a view to encouraging investment in advanced environmental technologies.
• The EcoPark will be developed in two phases. Tenancies of the first batch of Phase I lots will be awarded in the first half of 2007, and the tenants concerned are expected to start operation in early 2008.
• Phase II of the EcoPark is expected to commission by 2009.
• Producers and consumers play an equally important role in the development of a circular economy. We propose to introduce PRSs, under which manufacturers, importers, wholesalers, retailers and consumers, etc will be held responsible for the proper management of specific products from cradle to grave, with a view to minimizing their environmental impact.
• We propose to introduce PRSs for plastic bags, vehicle tyres and waste electrical and electronic products as a matter of priority. In particular, a consultancy study on PRS for plastic shopping bags is near completion. Subject to public support and consensus, we will introduce the Product Eco-responsibility Bill to the LegCo in this year.
• Even though the above measures will reduce the volume of waste generated and disposed, there will still be considerable unavoidable waste that needs to be disposed of in our landfills.
• In the short to medium term, we need to extend the three existing strategic landfills.
• However, our sole reliance on landfills for waste disposal is not sustainable as they occupy substantial amount of land and pose long-term environmental problems, such as emission of greenhouse gas and discharge of leachate.
• In the longer term, we plan to develop multi-technology, state-of-the-art integrated waste management facilities (IWMF) with thermal treatment as the core technology to reduce the volume of waste before final disposal.
• A multi-technology approach will be adopted for the IWMF. The technologies to be employed will include biological treatment, mechanical sorting and recycling and thermal technology.
• Thermal treatment would be the core technology of the IWMF because of its effectiveness in waste volume reduction (up to 90%) and less demanding land uptake requirement.
• Overseas examples have shown that modern thermal waste management facilities are safe and environmentally friendly.
• The success of the waste management strategy hinges on the support of the public.
• We have reserved $10 million in the Environment and Conservation Fund to support public education programmes that promote our environmental initiatives under the Policy Framework. Funding applications will be invited in the 1st half of 2007.
• With the right policy and public support, we will be able to resolve our MSW problem in a sustainable manner.
D. WATER QUALITY
• To protect the water environment in Hong Kong, we have established Water Quality Objectives (WQOs) for different water bodies, taking into account their beneficial uses.
• For example, marine waters in the east and the south tend to support recreational uses and the Objectives are set accordingly. On the other hand those in the central harbour are mainly geared to its use as an artery for commerce. For inland waters for potable water supply, irrigation and pond fish culture, the objectives will match the uses.
• Our master sewerage plan is designed to ensure that we make steady progress towards achieving all our Water Quality Objectives.
• There are a total of 70 sewage treatment plants in Hong Kong, connected through a sewerage network of over 1,500 kilometres in total length. They are now serving 93% of our population. The proportion will increase over the coming years with further extension of the sewerage system.
• In deciding the level of treatment provided by our sewage treatment plants, which range from preliminary treatment to tertiary treatment, we would consider carefully the assimilative capacities and uses of the receiving water bodies.
• Through our sewage treatment and enforcement programmes, our environmental water quality has improved quite significantly over the years. In the past two decades, the number of rivers of good or excellent quality has increased from 34% to 81%, and the number of beaches of good quality has gone up from 23% to 56% over the same period. These are significant achievements given the growth in population and the economy over the period.
• The Harbour Area Treatment Scheme (HATS) is one of the most important environmental programmes ever undertaken in Hong Kong.
• Stage 1 of HATS, comprising the Stonecutters Island Sewage Treatment Works (SCISTW) and over 20 kilometres of deep tunnels, was fully commissioned in 2001 to bring improvements to our harbour water quality.
• The plant is widely recognized as one of the most efficient treatment plants of its kind in the world. It removes 70% of the organic pollutants and 80% of the suspended solids from the sewage and in so doing prevents 600 tonnes of sewage sludge from entering into the harbour each day. The efficiency of the treatment process has been reported in the international scientific press. It is particularly suitable for areas where there are high seasonal hydraulic loading variations and limited space.
• As a result, compliance with Marine WQOs within Victoria Harbour has improved significantly from 50% in 2001 before Stage 1, 90% in 2006.
• Moreover, other indicators such as the levels of dissolved oxygen, essential for all marine life, the level of the bacteria E. Coli and the amount of other pollutants, such as ammonia, have also improved overall.
• Still, these are no reasons for complacency. Everyday, some 450,000 tonnes of essentially untreated sewage from the northern and western side of Hong Kong Island continues to be discharged into the harbour. This is a situation that hardly commensurate with Hong Kong’s status as an international city.
• Hence we need to implement Stage 2A of HATS in a timely manner. Through Stage 2A, we will collect all the remaining sewage from the harbour area catchment and transfer it, through over 20 kilometres of new deep tunnels, to the sewage treatment plant at Stonecutters Island.
• We will also expand the treatment capacity of the plant to accommodate future sewage build-up arising from population growth. Disinfection facilities will be installed in the plant to reduce bacteria levels in the harbour and facilitate the reopening of beaches in Tsuen Wan which are located close to the outfall of the plant.
• We have commenced the environmental impact assessment for Stage 2A and for the disinfection facilities. We plan to advance the commissioning of the disinfection facilities to 2009, while the whole Stage 2A is due to be completed by 2014.
• To build HATS Stage 2A and other sewerage programmes throughout the territory, the Government will need to commit more than $20 billion over the coming ten years. With these new facilities, the annual operating cost of our sewage services will more than double over the same period.
• To provide sewage services in a sustainable manner, the polluter-pays principle must be adhered to. Households and the trades in Hong Kong must contribute to the cost of treating the wastewater they discharge.
• In late 2006 we announced a scheme to increase the sewage charge in a gradual and modest manner over the coming ten years. The average charge to be paid by Hong Kong households will increase from $11 per month at present to about $ 27 per month in 2016/17.
• Even with the proposed ten-year increases the sewage charge in Hong Kong will still be very low among developed economies. For example, households in Singapore and Vancouver are paying around $45 per month for their sewage charge now, while those in London, Sydney and Melbourne pay more than $100.
• The polluter pays' principle is vital in providing the disincentive for people to waste valuable water resources and for the sustainable development in our city. We are working on the necessary legislation to achieve this objective.
Dr Sarah Liao
Secretary for the Environment, Transport and Works
Ends/Monday, February 26, 2006