LCQ 1: Government actively studies the most practicable measures to improve air quality

Following is a question by the Hon Emily Lau and an oral reply by the Secretary for the Environment, Transport and Works, Dr Sarah Liao, in the Legislative Council meeting today (October 20):


Question:

On the 14th of last month, the Environmental Protection Department's general ambient air quality monitoring station in Tung Chung recorded a record-high Air Pollution Index ("API") reading as high as 201, indicating a "severe" level of air pollution.  A number of green groups have pointed out that the serious air pollution problem has its main source from the pollutants emitted from Mainland plants and coal-fired power stations in both Hong Kong and the Mainland.  In this connection, will the Executive Authorities inform this Council whether:

(a) they have studied the reasons for the deteriorating air quality in Hong Kong; if so, of the results of the study and the improvement measures in place and the effects such measures are expected to bring about;

(b)  they have discussed with the relevant departments in the Mainland ways to solve the problem of emissions within the Pearl River Delta Region, and whether both sides have exchanged views on environment-friendly technologies; if so, of the details of their discussion and exchange as well as the achievements; if not, the reasons for that; and

(c)  they will discuss with the relevant departments in the Mainland to seek co-operation in utilizing renewable energy sources for power generation, so as to reduce environmental pollution and solve the energy shortage problem; if not, the reasons for that?


Reply:

Madam President,

(a) Environmental Protection Department (EPD) has all along been actively studying the causes of air pollution in Hong Kong and in the Region together with the most practicable mitigating measures.  In general, air pollution is closely related to the economic activities of human beings. With a higher level of economic activities, demand on energy from society and the volume of traffic will increase accordingly.  A large amount of air pollutants will inevitably be produced during the process.  Since 1999, the Government has implemented a number of enhanced control measures to reduce motor vehicle emissions, including introducing LPG taxis and ultra low sulphur diesels, tightening the motor vehicle emission standards to Euro III and retrofitting pre-Euro diesel vehicles with particulate removal devices.  Comparing with 1999, the particulate matters and nitrogen oxides (NOx) emitted by motor vehicles had dropped by 67% and 29% respectively in 2003.  The concentrations of suspended particulates and NOx at roadside had dropped by 13% and 23% respectively during the same period.  However, the concentrations of respirable suspended particulates (RSP) recorded by general air quality monitoring stations had increased from their 1999 levels by 4% whereas that of ozone had increased even by 18%.

The research and actions taken by the Government in this aspect in recent years include a study on regional air quality jointly conducted by the Hong Kong EPD and the Guangdong Environmental Protection Bureau during 1999 to 2002.  The results include an emissions inventory of the Pearl River Delta (PRD) with 1997 as the base year to determine the locations of pollution sources and their amount of emissions.  Computer simulation was further employed to figure out the distribution of pollution and to calculate quantifiable options for controlling pollution sources. The study found that volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were essential to the formation of ozone and smog. Therefore, the Government proposed in this September to require importers or manufacturers of paints, printing ink and certain consumer products to register with the EPD and provide labelling on the container or packaging of the products as part of the efforts to reduce the emissions of VOCs. The public consultation on the proposal is underway.

The study has re-confirmed that air pollution observes no territorial boundary. The double-digit economic growth in the PRD has already exerted enormous pressure on environment.  Apart from the pollution from energy and transportation, PRD is also facing industrial pollution. Although the Mainland is strengthening its control on pollution produced in industrial processes, the problem has not yet been completely resolved. To address this regional air pollution problem, we should not only control emissions from local motor vehicles, but also cooperate with Guangdong to reduce the total air pollutant emissions in the whole PRD.

Hong Kong's economic recovery in the past year has increased the demand for energy.  Together with the fuel problem, there is evident increase in the pollution from electricity generation process.  At present, the most important task is to implement energy saving measures. The Electrical and Mechanical Services Department has already been promoting Energy Efficiency Labelling Scheme for various products and Energy Efficiency Registration Scheme for Buildings.  The Bureau has also required all government offices to maintain room temperature at or above 25.5 degrees Celsius, which could save 10% of electricity used in air conditioning.  In addition, we are actively pursuing with the two power companies on emissions control and increasing the share of natural gas in electricity generation.  The discussion with power plants will proceed in accordance with the provisions in the existing Scheme of Control Agreement.

(b) On the basis of the study on regional air quality, the Hong Kong SAR Government and the Guangdong Provincial Government reached a consensus in April 2002 to reduce by 2010, on a best endeavour basis, the regional emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2), NOx, RSP and VOCs by 40%, 20%, 55% and 55% respectively, using 1997 as the base year.  Achieving the targets will not only enable Hong Kong to meet its current Air Quality Objectives, but also significantly improve the air quality of the PRD and the smog problem in the region.

In December 2003, the two governments jointly drew up the Pearl River Delta Regional Air Quality Management Plan with a view to meeting the above emission reduction targets.  A special panel has been set up to follow up on that plan.  To date, the panel had conducted nine working meetings and four site visits.

After two years of cooperation, the two governments are on the way to set up a regional air quality monitoring network this year.  After testing, the network will be in full operation in the middle of next year to provide comprehensive and accurate air quality data.  We will also complete a manual for compiling emissions inventory to enable both sides to follow a consistent approach in assessing emission levels and progress of emissions reduction tasks. Our Bureau will continue our efforts in studies and consultation on environmental policy with the Guangdong Province with a view to improving regional air quality through sustained cooperation.

(c) With respect to renewable energy (RE), our present focus is on the research of its potential for wider application and promotion to the public.  While there are abundant RE resources in the Mainland´╝î such as the scheme to import electricity from the western provinces, the Mainland authorities attach much importance to the reasonable exploration for and application of such resources to support local development in view of the rapid growth in the demand for electricity.  The potential to export RE to Hong Kong at this stage is very limited.  Hong Kong has all along been relying on the private sector for supplying its electricity.  We will however give assistance to the power companies as appropriate when they encounter problems in developing energy sources outside Hong Kong.

I haven't addressed the question on a record-high API in Tung Chung on September 14. Since the beginning of this year, there have been many incidents similar to that of Tung Chung in which the pollution was very serious. It was due to an increase of pollutants as well as the impact of changing meteorological conditions and climate (on our air quality).


Ends/Wednesday, October 20, 2004
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