Today the Environmental Protection Department held a press conference to analyse 2015 air quality. It is found that in general, Hong Kong’s air quality in 2015 has slightly improved compared to last year. However, Clean Air Network points out that pollutant levels still fall short of the WHO standards. Also, old records show that the overall air quality has seen little improvement for the past nineteen years.
The NO2 emission remains at a harmful level and Hong Kong’s performance in tackling air pollution falls way behind other world cities.
The concentration level of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), an important indicator of roadside air pollution, dropped slightly this year. However, if compared to the data in 1998 when the government started to release monitoring NO2 concentration from three roadside stations (Central, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok), the number of this year shows no improvement: the average roadside NO2 level back in 1998 was 96µg/m3; in 2005 it was 95µg/m3; in 2015, it was 98µg/m3.
Hong Kong is also behind the world trend in terms of the speed and absolute number of emission reduction. CAN compared NO2 annual levels in six other countries/cities: New York, Singapore, Seoul, London, Shanghai and USA, and discovered that Hong Kong’s level was way behind Singapore and London. Even New York, Seoul and Shanghai were catching up fast albeit a higher starting level.
Current Air Quality Objectives (AQOs) are too lax and renewal process needs to start now
In the press conference, EPD put great emphasis on meteorological factors. Kwong Sum-yin, CEO of Clean Air Network, said “We know that the weather does play a role in pollutant concentrations, but if we can set high standards to reduce emission levels and abide by them, the overall air quality will absolutely improve.”
For example, the standard for 24-hour average concentration of Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) in Hong Kong is 125µg/m3. However, this standard is way lower than the actual general pollution level in Hong Kong. As a result of this huge gap between set standard and reality, CAN found zero exceedance recorded in the past three years. It is, therefore, reflected that the current bar is set too low and CAN urges the government to align the standard with that recommended by WHO: 20µg/m3.
The government has promised in the previous review section to review Hong Kong’s air quality objectives every five years. Since Hong Kong’s current standard still falls short of WHO recommendations, it is high time that the government start the consultation process. Specifically, CAN urges the authorities to further tighten the standard for SO2 and PM2.5.
Transport management needed for further improvement
Many international cities have realized that demand-side transport management is the way to go in promoting sustainable development. More and more cycling routes, pedestrian zones and Electronic Road Pricing(ERP) policies have been set up worldwide. In Hong Kong, the number of private cars has grown to over 700,000 while policies to encourage cycling and walking are still yet to be seen. To improve roadside air quality, CAN recommends the establishment of real low emission zones such as Des Voeux Road Central Tram & Pedestrian Zone, and the adoption of ERP that is pegged with emission levels.
Clean Air Network welcomes the government’s press conference as an act enhancing transparency with air pollution data. This is the first time EPD has given such a quick analysis on air pollution and CAN hopes the government could keep up with the practice and hold regular reviews in the future.