Environment Hong Kong 2009
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Chapter 6 Air


To protect the health and well being of the community by achieving and maintaining satisfactory air quality through intervention in the planning process and by enforcing the controls in the Air Pollution Control Ordinance and the Ozone Layer Protection Ordinance.


Highlights in 2008

  • The Air Pollution Control Ordinance was amended in July 2008 to allow emission caps for power plants to be stipulated by technical memorandum (TM) and introduce emissions trading as an alternative means of achieving the caps from 2010. The first TM was issued in December and Lamma Power Station was the first to renew its licence under these new conditions.
  • Work continued on a study to review Hong Kong's Air Quality Objectives and develop a long-term air quality management strategy, with expected completion in 2009.
  • A 5-month public consultation on a proposal to ban vehicles from running their engines while idling was completed. The proposal was revised in light of the feedback and further consultations with the transport trades were carried out.
  • A tax incentive was introduced for environment-friendly commercial vehicles, while a one-off grant scheme to replace pre-Euro diesel commercial vehicles with new ones was extended.
  • The duty for Euro V motor vehicle diesel was waived in July, and a regulation mandating the use of ultra low sulphur diesel or better in industrial and commercial processes took effect from October 1.
  • The first six-month and 12-month reports from the Pearl River Delta Regional Air Quality Monitoring Network were released.

Photo - Clear skies are our goal.

THERE is unprecedented desire and commitment to achieve healthier air and clearer skies across Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta (PRD) region. Everyone wants improvements to air quality and Hong Kong is making progress towards that goal. Our recent initiatives are bearing the fruit of steady reductions in air pollution.

By the end of 2008, ambient levels of four key pollutants – respirable suspended particulates (RSP), nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and ozone – had dropped between 7 per cent and 20 per cent over five years earlier. The number of reduced hours of visibility also fell from a peak of 1 570 in 2004 to 1 100 in 2008. These improvements are the result of joint efforts by the Hong Kong and Guangdong Governments to tighten controls on all major sources of air pollution, especially power plants, industry and motor vehicles, in the PRD region.

We are continuing to work closely with our counterparts in Guangdong and have agreed on targets to reduce emissions to below 1997 levels by 2010. Hong Kong is confident of achieving those targets, although an extra push will be needed for power plant emissions, as described below.

With such progress in hand, we are now preparing for the next step towards cleaner air. Our Air Quality Objectives are being reviewed in light of stricter international standards. Public involvement in this process is crucial because tougher standards may entail further adjustments or costs. The next stage of air quality management in Hong Kong will require a firm consensus and commitment in the community on how far we will go to secure cleaner air.

Chart - Hong Kong's emission reduction targets

Power plants

Power plants are the largest source of air pollution in Hong Kong. Yet, thanks to emission control technology and the expanded use of cleaner fuels, we have been able to reduce emissions to below 1997 levels even while electricity generation has increased. We are confident the 2010 emission reduction targets can be achieved on time, and in 2008 we paved the way for this to happen.

The new Scheme of Control Agreements (see the Energy section for details) with the power companies, signed in January 2008, provide incentives and penalties to encourage power plants to reduce emissions. A new legislative amendment also means that emission caps for the power sector from 2010 and beyond can be stipulated by technical memorandum. The caps will be imposed on a power plant's licence based on its share of electricity generation for local consumption, and the plant may engage in emissions trading to achieve its caps. These measures are expected to reduce emissions, encourage cleaner production and improve efficiency.

Placing stipulations on power plants is an end-of-pipe approach. We also want to use less polluting fuels in the first place and pursue a higher content of clean fuel. In 2008 Hong Kong and the Mainland signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the long-term steady supply of cleaner fuels, such as piped natural gas, liquefied natural gas and nuclear electricity (see the Energy section for details). The combination of tighter controls on emissions and cleaner fuels will be important in helping us to achieve all of our clean air targets.

Photo - Lamma Power Station was the first to renew its licence under new, stricter emission controls.

Motor vehicles

Power plants contribute to background and regional air pollution. We are also concerned about air quality at roadsides, where motor vehicle emissions have a significant impact. Our monitoring shows impressive improvements since 1999, with NOx levels falling by 23 per cent, RSPs by 22 per cent and SO2 by 19 per cent. This is directly the result of tighter controls on vehicle emission standards and fuels.

Chart - Air quality trends in Hong Kong, 1999 - 2008

In less than a decade, we have introduced Euro V diesel and Euro IV vehicle emission standards, switched almost all taxis and about 60 per cent of public light buses to less polluting liquefied petroleum gas, required emission reduction devices to be fitted to pre-Euro diesel vehicles, and provided financial incentives for purchasing environment-friendly vehicles.

The incentives include a $3.2 billion package announced in 2007 which provides a one-off grant to vehicle owners to encourage them to replace their older diesel commercial vehicles with newer, cleaner ones. Pre-Euro and Euro I diesel commercial vehicles combined still made up about 40 per cent of the fleet (about 43 000 vehicles). We want these vehicles off the road as soon as possible, as newer and cleaner models emit over 90 per cent fewer RSP and 50 per cent less NOx. The grant offer runs until 31 March 2010 and by the end of 2008, 10 636 grant applications had been approved.

Photo - Electric cars are exempt from the first registration tax for vehicles.

The 2007 package also included a 30 per cent reduction on the first registration tax for new environment-friendly petrol cars, up to $50,000 per car. By the end of 2008, 11 per cent of new petrol cars had received the concession. A similar incentive was introduced for environment-friendly commercial vehicles in April 2008.

We also introduced a concessionary duty rate for Euro V diesel from December 2007. Since then, Euro V diesel has been available at all petrol filling stations in Hong Kong. The Government subsequently waived the fuel tax for Euro V diesel from July 2008.

New technology helps us to reduce motor vehicle emissions, as well as detect and measure these emissions (see Measuring Roadside Emissions for details). We hope to further reduce the environmental nuisance generated by idling engines through legislation (see Banning Idling Engines for details). Roadside air pollution is one of the most annoying and visible environmental problems in Hong Kong and there are high public expectations that we continue to give top priority to reducing it.

Air Quality Objectives review

As we tighten controls on power plants and motor vehicles, questions arise: how much tighter? Are the controls tight enough? We are guided in our policies by Air Quality Objectives (AQOs), which were established many years ago to define good air quality for Hong Kong. Recently, though, new scientific data has suggested internationally-accepted air standards for very small particulate matter are not sufficient to protect human health. A number of administrations have undertaken to revise their standards, including Hong Kong.

The World Health Organisation was one of the first to respond, setting out strict goals that countries can aspire to over the long term. In 2008 the United States and the European Union each announced new standards that are more lax than the WHO's, but tighter than what was there previously.

Hong Kong is reviewing its AQOs in light of these developments and public response, to produce new objectives that will better protect health, be achievable and have community support. The review began in 2007 with a consultancy study and has included several rounds of public consultation. The public will be consulted again in mid-2009 when the study is completed, before moving into the final phase.

This review is not just to set objectives. We also want to provide direction on how we can achieve these objectives. Some measures may require investment or higher costs, which will have to be balanced against the health costs of not tightening our standards. We will ask the public to give serious consideration to these issues in 2009 and help us to establish the way forward for cleaner air.

Photo - Professor LAM Kin-che, Chairman of the Advisory Council on the Environment and Chairman of the Forum, speaks at the consultation forum on the Review of Air Quality Objectives.

Looking Ahead

  • The study on Air Quality Objectives will be completed in mid 2009, followed by a comprehensive public engagement exercise.
  • A specification for biodiesel for use in motor vehicles will be developed and the feasibility of tightening the statutory specifications for motor vehicle fuels to Euro V will be examined.
  • The proposed legislation against vehicles with running engines while idling will be introduced into the Legislative Council for scrutiny in 2009, with the aim of implementing the proposed ban as soon as possible.
  • A trial will be conducted to confirm the technical feasibility of ferries switching from marine light diesel to ultra low sulphur diesel and to assess whether there will be implications for operating costs.
  • Stakeholders will be consulted on a proposed scheme to control emissions from non-road mobile sources operating within the airport and container terminals.
  • Stakeholders will be consulted on proposal of strengthening the control of emissions from petrol and liquefied petroleum gas vehicles, including the use of roadside remote sensing equipment and dynamometer for emission testing.
  • The Air Pollution Control (Volatile Organic Compounds) Regulation will be amended in 2009 to extend its coverage to vehicle refinishing, marine vessel and pleasure craft paints and coatings, adhesives and sealants. The extended control is planned to be implemented in phases from January 2010.
  • Legislation will be amended to ban the import of products containing hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) to meet the new phasing out schedule of HCFCs agreed under the Montreal Protocol in September 2007.