Reply To: Hong Kong suffers Chronic Air Pollution


Time Asia just reporting that Seoul is cleaning its air; but at the same time, Hong Kong’s air pollution is getting worse.

By Bryan Walsh | Hong Kong
VANISHING: Hong Kong is often shrouded in heavy smog

…Hong Kong has lost its sky. The city is frequently cloaked in a noxious smog, and many days the only place you can see a clear shot of the famously picturesque skyline is in ads for luxury apartments. Urban esthetics aside, the damage to Hong Kong residents’ lungs may be worse. “The only safe conclusion is that [air pollution] is having a very serious adverse effect on the health of people of all ages,” says Dr. Anthony Hedley, chairman of the Department of Community Medicine at the University of Hong Kong. Here’s the only good news: air pollution has become so severe and so unremitting that Hong Kongers are fed up—and may finally be ready to force their leaders to act.

… The answers are out there: the government’s Council for Sustainable Development last week released a number of smart anti-pollution proposals, such as restricting vehicle use on high-pollution days, imposing an energy tax during periods of peak power use, and asking electricity producers to use only clean coal or low-polluting natural gas by 2010. While those ideas could have a major impact, many experts doubt whether Hong Kong’s entrenched bureaucracy has the imagination or the will to implement them—and to confront a challenge that crosses borders and barriers.

“We’ve done the easy things, like getting diesel vehicles on low-sulfur fuels,” says Bill Barron, a visiting professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. “But the more fundamental changes still need to be made”—such as extending the city’s underdeveloped rail network.

At least the Hong Kong government has the authority to make those changes, if it chooses. There’s far less it can do about the estimated 80% of its air pollution that floats across the border from the mainland factories, power plants and highways of Guangdong province, where environmental regulations and enforcement are more lax.

A consensus is growing that Hong Kong businessmen who have grown rich polluting the Pearl River Delta should help clean up the mess. “In the past, they thought that the dirty fields, the dirty air and the dirty water resulting from the factories would not be their problems,” said Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang last month. “These things come back to haunt us. You breathe in that air in Hong Kong and you drink that water in Hong Kong.”

The business community is also increasingly worried that pollution will make Hong Kong fall behind in the arms race for top foreign workers. Last month human-resources consultancy ECA International dropped Hong Kong 12 spots to No. 32 on its annual list of the most livable cities for Asian expatriates, chiefly on the basis of air pollution. (Singapore was No. 1.) Headhunters are already grappling with this competitive threat. Aaron Stewart, director of the Hong Kong division of recruitment firm Pelham International, tells of a client who accepted an $800,000-a-year offer to move from the U.S. to Hong Kong, only to drop out at the last minute because his wife feared the effect the city’s air pollution would have on their two asthmatic children. “The majority of people spend a lot of time thinking about it,” he says. “There’s no denying the pollution.”

Let There Be Light
While Seoul cleans up, air pollution in Hong Kong only worsens. Will the government act