Yesterday, I went to the forum on proposals for Hong Kong's new Air Quality Objectives; there was presentation by Ove Arup (consultant paid by govt, to come up with new Air Quality Objectives). Began with presentation re proposals - which had been criticised in Legislative Council yesterday; and after a break, there was chance for people to ask consultants questions, and to make various points.
What of the proposals and discussion?
Ooh dear; I barely know where to start. But overall, the proposals are not science based, and do not make health the overriding factor in determining new Air Quality Objectives.
Proposed Hong Kong Air Quality Objectives Not Focused on Public Health
We were told improving public health was main aim of new objectives. Yet, this appeared to be a load of baloney. The info we were given in handouts barely mentioned health - just said there would be acute and chronic health benefits; nothing re numbers of deaths today, reductions anticipated. Health benefits seemed to be just included in some economic benefits figures - as if people are nothing but financial items, to be included in profit and loss accounts.
One of researchesrs from HK Univ School of Community Medicine stood up, and said he and colleagues had made estimates of numbers of people falling sick and dying with air of standard of objectives: figures for deaths/illness I noticed were higher than for 2007!!
Blaming China; Ignorant re Localised Problems
Several times, we heard from consultants that much Hong Kong air pollution is from nearby China: dirty air at Tap Mun cited as evidence for this. Yet, seemed there was little or nothing re more localised pollution in Hong Kong; nothing re fact that in many parts of the city, HK pollution and regional pollution add together, to create really severe pollution issues.
But of course, acknowledging severity of our own locally made pollution might mean that should take real action to change things.
Proposed objectives more suited to Third World
The new AQOs were drawn up with some reference to World Health Organization's air quality guidelines. Yet rather than aiming for the guidelines themselves, opted to target Interim Targets. These Interim Targets weren't supposed to be for advanced, first world societies, inc places fancying themselves as "Asia's World CIty"; instead, intended for developing countries to aim for, and progress through. For sulphur dioxide, PM2.5 (small particulates) and ozone, proposals for Hong Kong are for Interim Target 3 levels - meeting lowest targets from WHO; hence Third World like.
"Pragmatic" = Timid
We heard several times that consultant was using "pragmatism". With wishy-washy proposals, this looked to be just a euphemism for timidity; an excuse for simply not doing the right thing.
Limp and woeful
There were 19 proposals for ways to improve air quality; but these were typically mundane - Item 7, say: "Electrification of aviation ground support equipment" (! ). Nor were ideas really thought out: cycling to be encouraged, inc for commuters it seemed, but never mind transpoirt department seems to have little interest in cycling as proper transport in Hong Kong. More natural gas to be used for power generation; but not much clue re where it would come from - and when questioned re "clean coal technology" , an Ove Arup guy replied HK already uses clean coal - displaying shocking ignorance of meaning of clean coal technology: maybe even ignorance of new techologies that can scrub everything but CO2 from coal emissions, albeit this is hard to do.
Lack of interesting options: nothing re more solar and wind pwer, inc micro turbines. Nothing re concrete that can help reduce pollution.
Fearmongering re Costs
Much was made of the costs Hong Kong people would have to pay for better air: higher bus fares, more expensive electicity.
But there was relatively little re benefits: seemed health benefits not really accounted for (not even in dollar terms; let alone numbers of people who might lead longer lives, say).
No mention of US studies, which found that although there were many complaints of potential problems inc costs before various measures taken to alleviate air pollution, these meaasures always proved beneficial: and economic downsides not found (I learned this during air pollution workshop held by Civic Exchange).
In around 1.5 hours of question time, not one questioner was positive re the consultants' review. We were told that we can make suggestions, before Air Quality Objectives finalised. But doesn't seem consultants/government have lisetned to people so far; seems review biased towards lacklustre government, and desires of fat cats in charge of polluting businesses.
Audience Not "Regular" (Joe) Public
It was good that the meeting was full, with a few hundred people; yet relatively high proportion of westerners: yes, I was among them, but ratio not reflecting nos of HK Chinese as proportion of HK population - hard to say why, whether less tradition of environmental activism here, or - as a Civic Exchange survey indicated - people do care, but most don't believe anything can be done to make major improvements to our dangerous air (Hong Kong's Silent Epidemic [pdf]). Plus, it was Friday afternoon - so many people had to be at work: cynics, like me, might suggest this indicates government not interested in maximising public discussion re air pollution.