Regional collaboration for cleaner air future
By Christine Loh – Under Secretary for the Environment, HKSAR Government
Understanding the science of air pollution is vital to making the right policy decisions for any government. There are many sources of pollution arising from many activities, including power generation, industrial and manufacturing operations, transportation and logistics, waste incineration, commercial activities and even at the household level. The origin of sources may also be brought from one place to another by wind flow. Thus, there are local, regional and even super-regional emission sources.
Local vs regional air quality
A question frequently asked in Hong Kong was the relative significance of local versus regional air pollution sources. In other words, the extent to which Hong Kong’s air quality is affected by emissions from the PRD. At one time, there was a sense that Hong Kong’s air quality was so greatly affected by pollution from the PRD that efforts to clean-up locally would not make much of a difference. This question was settled by an innovative piece of research published in 2007. It found that in terms of mass concentration, regional sources from the PRD accounted for approximately 60% of the pollution level in Hong Kong in annual average terms and that this percentage would rise to 70% in wintertime. However, it did not mean that the pollution sources from the PRD had the same impact on Hong Kong everyday as the types and levels of emissions depended on meteorological factors. By showing the source(s) of pollution that affected Hong Kong on a day-to-day basis for the year of 2006, this seminal piece of research showed that Hong Kong’s own emissions were an important source of pollution that impacted on its own people. The study reassured Hong Kong that by cleaning up its own pollution Hong Kong people’s health would improve. It also meant that by cleaning up air pollution in the PRD, it would have a strong impact on Hong Kong. The same researched pointed to local vehicular and marine sources were the main pollution sources affecting Hong Kong and that Hong Kong can benefit enormously by reducing these sources of local pollution.
Never good enough – cross-boundary collaboration the future way out
It is encouraging to note the marked drops in all major air pollutants’ concentrations over the past few years after rolling out numerous air quality control measures as well as putting in tremendous collaborative efforts with the Guangdong Government. Nevertheless, while Hong Kong’s air quality is still far from meeting the ultimate WHO AQGs, continuous commitments are required to prioritise policy decisions that can reduce people’s exposure to air pollution. Furthermore, the fulfilment of the forth coming vision for the Greater Bay Area requires environmental conditions be factored in, so that people’s well-being and health could be taken into account.