Submission on the Chief Executive’s 2020 Policy Address
Views from Clean Air Network (CAN)

 

Globally, air pollution is the single greatest environmental threat to public health [1]. Many of the causes of air pollution are major contributors to climate change, which also impacts on the population’s health.

In Hong Kong, it is likely that a majority of the population is exposed to roadside air pollution on most days in the year. Roadside Nitrogen Dioxide, roadside Particulate Matters, and ground-level Ozone are the air pollutants causing concern today.

It is estimated that, in one year alone (2019), over 1,700 premature deaths and over HKD20 billion in economic losses, 130 thousand additional hospital bed days and 2.3 million additional doctor visits were caused by air pollution in Hong Kong [2]. Air pollution has been linked to cancer, asthma, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity and dementia.

The effects of air pollution can be lifelong. It can start before birth and are shown to have a greater impact on babies, children, young people and elderly. People with chronic health status, including respiratory and circulatory diseases are especially vulnerable. The more deprived districts experience worse air quality, hence further driving health inequalities.

Our message is clear: air pollution is a clearly modifiable and avoidable cause of morbidity and mortality and as such, action can and should be taken to reduce or remove this harm.

 

Challenges from COVID-19

In 2020, Hong Kong and the world have experienced unprecedented social and economic challenges due to COVID-19. Understandably, the primary focus of the upcoming Policy Address may be placed on the provision of support and relief measures to the society. Nonetheless, CAN recommends the HKSAR Government that they should not lose sight of the urgency to address the environmental health issues and the climate emergency.

In addition to the damage to public health, productivity loss, reputation of our city that was known to the public, COVID-19 highlighted the pressing need for more ambitious measures to tackle air pollution

  • long-term exposure to air pollution is associated with an increase in COVID-19 death rate [3].
  • patients suffering from conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, or respiratory diseases have proved to be particularly vulnerable to the outbreak. And air pollution is one of the key factors for developing such health conditions [4]
  • air pollution caused huge public health cost. For instance, Hedley Environmental Index [5]estimated some 130 thousand additional hospital bed days and 2.3 million additional doctor visits, over 1,700 premature deaths and over HKD20 billion in economic losses were caused by air pollution in one year alone (2019) in Hong Kong. Minimising public’s exposure to the toxic air pollutants would reduce health consequence and hence reduce demand on hard-pressed public health resources.

 

We have reiterated high quality of life is expected in an affluent and global city such as Hong Kong, in particular, air that is safe to breathe, but that is clearly not the case today. We urge the HKSAR Government to see its responsibility to clean air as a way to protect public health as a top priority.

 

Background: What we have achieved and what is still inadequate

CAN welcomes the HKSAR Government’s positive response to our prior recommendations set out in 2019, briefed in below areas. We reiterate our call for more ambitious measures to be conducted in order to minimize health risk due to air pollution public health.

i) The Environment Bureau of HKSAR Government committed to publish the New Clean Air Plan by first half of 2021.

ii) The Financial Secretary of HKSAR Government committed to publish the EV (Electric Vehicle) Roadmap by first quarter of 2021.

iii) The first hybrid (diesel-electric) local ferry was launched in July 2020.

iv) The Environment Protection Department of HKSAR Government commenced a three-year study project to study ozone formation and PM2.5 pollution in the Greater Bay Area.

v) The Environment Protection Department of HKSAR Government set up two new general air pollution monitoring stations in the North and Southern Districts.

vi) The HKSAR Government reviewed the Pilot Green Transport Fund and expand the scope to cover NRMM and working vehicles used in specified activities and locations including construction sites, container terminals, the airport, designated waste disposal facilities and specified processes.

 

Nevertheless, accountable measures to protect people from potentially polluted air remains insufficient.

vii)Since the launch of the “Clean Air Plan for Hong Kong” in 2013 and implementation of various emissions control measures, the air pollution, including Nitrogen Dioxides, Sulphur Dioxides, Particulate Matters, at an ambient and roadside level, was reduced by 30% during 2013-2017. However, roadside air pollution (Nitrogen Dioxide and Particulates Matters) continues to present major health threats in Hong Kong. There are signals that the HKSAR Government should pay attention to. At the roadside, the level of pollution reduction started to diminish.

viii) During 2017-19, the actual roadside pollution reduction trend was not on par with the HKSAR Government’s projected trajectory as illustrated in the “Clean Air Plan for Hong Kong 2013-2017 Progress Report”. The improvement of roadside Fine Suspended Particulates (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) has been stagnant for the last 3 years (2017 – 2019), and ground-level Ozone has continuously to hit record high.

ix) Huge public health cost is caused by air pollution. According to the Hedley Environmental Index, there were over 1,700 premature deaths and over HKD20 billion in economic losses caused by air pollution, in 2019 [6] alone.

x) In order to further improve air quality, further commitment from the HKSAR Government is needed. Any delay in new commitment from the HKSAR Government will result in a further decline of public confidence in the quality of life in Hong Kong. The health impact of air pollution is a key concern for all who inhabit and work in the city.

 

OUR RECOMMENDATIONS

In order to maximize public health gain, respond to climate urgency and to fulfil the United Nations development goals as pledged by the HKSAR Government, CAN sets out the below 7 key recommendations for the 2020 Policy Address.

  1. Formulate an ambitious “New Clean Air Plan for Hong Kong”
  2. Transform Franchised Bus Fleet to Zero Emission
  3. Strengthen Exposure Control to Minimize Health Risk
  4. Strengthen Control over Ship Emission
  5. Strengthen Control over Ozone
  6. Upgrade air monitoring infrastructure and reporting mechanism
  7. Decarbonize to respond to climate emergency



[1] YaleNews (2018). 2018 Environmental Performance Index: Air quality top public health threat. Retrieved from https://news.yale.edu/2018/01/23/2018-environmental-performance-index-air-quality-top-public-health-threat

[2] School of Public Health, the University of Hong Kong. Hedley Environmental Index. Retrieved from https://hedleyindex.hku.hk/html/en/

[3] An increase of 1 μg/m3 in PM2.5 is associated with an 8% increase in the COVID-19 death rate (95% confidence interval [CI]: 2%, 15%). Harvard University (April 2020). Exposure to air pollution and COVID-19 mortality in the United States: A nationwide cross-sectional study. Retrieved from https://projects.iq.harvard.edu/covid-pm

[4] American Chemical Society (31 October 2018). “The when, where and what of air pollutant exposure.” ScienceDaily. Retrieved from: www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/10/181031080551.htm

[5] School of Public Health, the University of Hong Kong. Hedley Environmental Index. Retrieved from https://hedleyindex.hku.hk/html/en/

[6] School of Public Health, the University of Hong Kong. Hedley Environmental Index. Retrieved from https://hedleyindex.hku.hk/html/en/

Story posted on
23rd Sep, 2020

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