Clean Air Network just published 2018 Annual Air Quality Review in response to the suggestion made by the government in Hong Kong’s 2nd Air Quality Objectives (AQOs) Review.

It is a statutory requirement to review AQOs and complete any necessary legal amendment at least once for every 5 years. Protecting public health should be the prime objective of AQO review. However, the government attempts to “shift the goalposts” so that the AQOs will be easily attained in the future. The Environmental Protection Department (EPD) is only willing to tighten AQOs in which the respective pollutants can achieve the target by 2025.

It is even more ridiculous to see EPD’s suggestion to relax AQO de facto – the number of allowable exceedances, meaning allowing pollutants to breach AQOs by certain times per year, is suggested to be changed from 9 times to 35 times per year for PM2.5. This obviously violates the interpretation of “public interest” in Hong Kong Air Pollution Control Ordinance.

The air pollution concentrates in the western part of Hong Kong in 2018. The general air quality does not have significant improvement as a whole since the level of ozone has reached 20-year high and the level of PM 10 increased since 2016.  Since both PM 10 and ozone will breach the AQO in 2025, if tightened, the government rejected to adjust their AQOs, which would remain unchanged for another 10 years. This is totally unacceptable from a health point of view.

If we do nothing from now, it means the air quality in 2020 would remain the same (or even worse) as in 2018. This would result in enormous health cost, meaning 493 premature deaths and over 90,000 new episodes of upper respiratory tract infections every year.

HK Health cost and economic cost by air pollution

If we look closer, the government’s underlying intention seems clearer.

2025年香港預測的二氧化氮水平分佈及明日大嶼計劃

Image: Projected annual average NO2 concentration in 2025 (black shaded area: proposed reclamation area for Lantau Tomorrow; pink and orange shaded area: areas that will fail to achieve AQO)

Figures presented to the AQO Review Working Group (chaired by Under Secretary for Environment Bureau) show that the areas where nitrogen dioxide levels are predicted to exceed AQO in 2025 are the same areas where the government proposes phased reclamation for its Lantau Tomorrow Vision.

From the past experience, we know that the government may issue a waiver for the infrastructure projects. Infrastructure projects in the northeast New Territories were facing tighter regulations then, but the government ensured development wasn’t halted by environmental concerns.

This will impact every Hongkongers. In the coming Jan 30, Legislative Councilor Chu Hoi Dick will table an oral question related to AQOs and Lantau Tomorrow Vision on the Council Meetings of Legislative Council. Let’s see how the government would respond to the critique.

 

Read more:
Asia’s World City with “Third-world” Air Quality
 2018 Annual Air Quality Review & Response to AQO Review

Story posted on
28th Jan, 2019

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