The solution to Hong Kong’s serious roadside air pollution problem is easy
| Hong Kong Free Press
| Jeffrey Hung, Head of Research, Development and Strategy of Friends of the Earth (HK)
Roadside air pollution in
Hong Kong is a serious environmental issue affecting human health. How serious?
You can tell how bad the air is when you walk alongside a busy road in Hong
Kong. The levels of air pollutants measured by roadside monitoring stations
have consistently exceeded the Air Quality Objectives (AQO) adopted by the
Environmental Protection Department (EPD).
In the EPD’s "Air Quality
in Hong Kong 2015 Statistical Summary,” the concentration of nitrogen dioxide
recorded at all three roadside monitoring stations – Central, Causeway Bay and
Mong Kok exceeds both the hourly (200µg/m3) and annual limit (40µg/m3).
Although EPD has just
reported that the air quality has improved significantly in 2016, with the
number of bad air days falling by 44 percent, the nitrogen dioxide level at all
roadside monitoring stations still failed to comply with the WHO standard. The
culprit behind this street-level pollution is none other than vehicular
7 million premature
Air pollution has become
the world’s top environmental health risk. The World Health Organization linked
air pollution to seven million premature deaths in 2012. Air pollution is
associated with various health problems – such as nose and throat irritation,
shortness of breath, asthma, heart disease, and lung cancer. People suffering
from asthma or chronic respiratory diseases are more susceptible to air
Aside from respiratory
diseases, a recent study revealed that air pollutants have been discovered in
human brain, which may contribute to Alzheimer’s disease. A study by the
Department of Health showed that hospital admissions and premature deaths are
positively correlated to high pollution incidents. According to the Hedley
Environmental Index, air pollution in Hong Kong led to 1,686 premature deaths,
2.6 million doctor visits and a total economic cost of HK$20.9 billion in 2016.
Over the past decade, the
Hong Kong government has implemented several measures to tackle roadside
emission – such as phasing out Pre-Euro IV diesel commercial vehicles,
strengthening emission control for petrol & LPG vehicles, tax incentives
for cleaner private vehicles and promoting better vehicle maintenance and
However these measures do
not address the root of the problem – the growth of vehicle numbers. The
government’s measures are offset by growing vehicle numbers. According to data
from the Transport Department, the total licensed vehicles increased by about
39 per cent from 524,000 in 2003 to 728,000 in 2015, with an annual growth rate
of about 3.4 per cent in recent years.
In 2014, the Transport
Advisory Committee identified private cars as the largest contributor to the
traffic mix, accounting for 70 per cent of the total number of vehicles in Hong
Kong. Yet, they are also the least efficient passenger carriers. Private cars
take up 40-70 per cent of the total traffic flow of the major roads, but only
carry 16 per cent of passengers.
Is clean air possible?
The answer is yes, Hong Kong has a well-established public transport network to
meet passenger demand. We can all contribute to reducing air pollution by not
driving our cars and choosing public transport. In addition, the government
should strengthen the public transportation network through transport-oriented
development to maximise access to public transports in Hong Kong.
Let’s adopt a cleaner
lifestyle and don’t drive. Let’s join hands to improve the worsening air quality.
Hung, Head of Research, Development and Strategy of Friends of the Earth (HK)
Hong Kong Free Press | 07012017
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