Hong Kong

With 7.4 million people and an area of 428 square miles (1108 sq km), makes for a density of 17,308 people per square mile.  It is slightly less dense than San Francisco, another, another coastal city.  San Francisco’s density is 18,300 per square mile.  (Of course Hong Kong has more land than the San Francisco’s 46 square mile area).

Regardless both cities have their environmental challenges.

I had planned to meet with Jason Lai from Environmental Protection Department when we were in Hong Kong; however due to the protests and disruptions we met through email.

Air Quality

Hong Kong has been tracking their data and posting their results (click here).  They have observed decreases in PM2.5, CO, CO2, NOx, and SOx but slight increases in O3 since 1996 when they started tracking the data.

Part of their success has been government action:

To tackle emissions from motor vehicles, we have implemented a HK$11.4 billion scheme to progressively phase out pre-Euro IV diesel commercial vehicles by end of 2019.  We have tightened vehicle emission standards to Euro VI; strengthened the monitoring of on-road emissions from liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and petrol vehicles by remote-sensing equipment; retrofitted Euro II and III franchised buses with selective catalytic reduction devices and set up low emissions zones at busy districts. To encourage the transport sector to try out green innovative transport technologies, a Pilot Green Transport Fund has been set up since March 2011.

To reduce emissions from power plants, we have set emission caps of power plants and have been progressively tightening the caps by requiring power companies to increase the use of natural gas for electricity generation in lieu of coal and to promote renewable energy. To reduce marine emissions, we imposed a statutory cap of 0.05% on the sulphur content of locally supplied marine light diesel in April 2014.  Moreover, ocean-going vessels are required to switch to low sulphur fuel (i.e. fuel with sulphur content not exceeding 0.5%) while at berth in Hong Kong since July 2015, which is the first port in Asia to mandate the fuel switch requirement.  Starting from January 2019, vessels are required to use low sulphur fuel within the waters of Hong Kong, irrespective of whether they are sailing or berthing.

Over the years, Hong Kong has been collaborating with the Guangdong Provincial Government to jointly set emission reduction targets for four key air pollutants, namely sulphur dioxide (SO2), respirable suspended particulates (PM10), nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds, in Hong Kong and the PRD region for 2010, 2015 and 2020.  To attain the emission reduction targets and improve the regional air quality, Guangdong and Hong Kong have been implementing a series of control measures.  A number of joint studies have also been conducted to study the cause and formation of regional smog in order to help formulating the control strategies.

The above measures have borne fruits. From 2014 to 2018, the ambient and roadside concentrations of major air pollutants including SO2, PM10, fine suspended particulates (PM2.5) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) have dropped by 20% to 45%.  If you wish to know more about the air quality improvement measures and their achievements, you may take a look at our Clean Air Plan for Hong Kong (2013 – 2017 Progress Report):”  From a virtual interview with Jason Lai Environmental Protection Department

Marine Water Strategy

According to a study released in 2015 (Click Here ),  there as been gradual decreases in the amount of refuse collected at Gazetted Beaches and in Hong Kong waters with slight increases in the Nearshore refuse collected and no change in the amount of refuse collected in Marine Parks and reserves.

The majority of that refuse is floating plastic according the report (figures 5 and 6), with human recreational activities estimated to be 70% of the cause of that debris (figure 10). The report recognizes that currents and storm weather play a role in the amount of debris any given time of the year .  The report suggests adopting improvement measures consistent with the Honolulu strategy:

  • Conduct publicity campaigns to engage the community to contribute and participate
  • Promote educational messages to target groups, beach users, students and local community;
  • Provide support measures and facilities to reduce refuse from entering the marine
  • Enhance efforts to remove refuse from the marine environment; and
  • Engage public participation to report marine littering and refuse problem

And then concludes with these five points:

  1. Overall, marine refuse does not constitute a serious problem in Hong Kong.
  2. Improper handling and disposal is the major attribution to marine refuse.
  3. Marine refuse distribution is mainly affected by prevailing winds.
  4. Education, enforcement and waste prevention and removal are key improvement measures.
  5. Government and community partnership is crucial to tackle marine refuse problem.

So is this strategy working in Hong Kong?   They actively promote beach clean ups (Click here), and publicly acknowledge the hard work of volunteers (Click here).  Interested in working at cleaning up the shorelines in Hong Kong (Click Here) for a list of locations and events.

Overall Hong Kong showed a possible way forward through government action (Click Here for more information from Zoe Low).  With an AQI comparable to San Francisco despite having 10 times the population was an impressive accomplishment.  Even though there has been improvements it was unclear whether or not these will be enough. As protests dominate the news cycle for Hong Kong, it became clear that they have more pressing issues.

Heavy smog view from Victoria peak When we were there, still hazy but better.


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