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Air pollution: Hong Kong's solutions and concerns

Anika Samant

Credit: AFP via gettyimages - FAYEZ NURELDINE

Hong Kong. A bustling city famous for its towering skyscrapers, delicious food, attractive destinations…and infamous for its exorbitant levels of detrimental air pollution–so high that in 2004, for over 30% of the year, visibility was less than 8 kilometres!

The biggest contributors of air pollution to Hong Kong are car vehicles, ships, and power plants. This can further be divided into local street-level pollution and regional smog. Street level pollution is caused by diesel vehicles such as trucks and buses. Thick and foul-smelling smog is the result of the overuse of motor vehicles as well as industry power plants in Hong Kong and along the Pearl River Delta. According to the Hong Kong Medical Association, air pollution is incredibly damaging to health, aggravating asthma symptoms, damaging the lungs, and increasing the risk of cardio-respiratory death. The people of Hong Kong are especially at risk as millions live and work near busy roads. Fortunately for Hong kong residents, the government has taken measures to combat air pollution in Hong Kong.

Firstly, the government has implemented two Clean Air Plans. The first, in March 2013, aimed to fight air pollution from power plants, ships, land transport, non-road mobile machinery (bulldozers and generators) and to reinforce a previous collaboration with Guangdong to treat the issue of air pollution. Furthermore, in June 2021, it announced the "Clean Air Plan for Hong Kong 2035" which built on the first "Clean Air Plan" by presenting goals and strategies to enhance air quality and become a city with fresh, unpolluted air. This used six strategies to attempt to improve the air quality in Hong Kong: making public transport more environmentally friendly, closely monitoring the air quality index in Hong Kong, using scientific technology to monitor air quality in Hong Kong, comprehensively reducing the emission of environmentally harmful gasses into the air, implementing clean energy strategies, and collaborating with Guangdong by creating emission targets.

Secondly, the government has executed a vehicle emission control programme, which focuses on adopting cleaner, greener alternatives to diesel vehicles, and controlling emissions of toxic gasses from these vehicles with tools that trap pollutants. This has brought about significant improvement in reducing toxic gas emissions. As of 2020, levels of nitrogen dioxide have reduced by 40%, levels of respirate and fine suspended particles (small pieces of airborne solid material) have reduced by 48% and 47% respectively, while levels of sulfur dioxide have reduced by 50%. Thirdly, the government has closely monitored the quality of Hong Kong's air by using an air quality index and through the creation of the Regional Air Quality Management Plan. Every hour, the Environmental Protection Department measures the quality of the air in Hong Kong using an index, called the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) to inform the public of the risk of air pollution. This helps citizens take measures to protect themselves, such as wearing masks when walking near traffic jams or avoiding exercise outdoors when air pollution levels are high. The Regional Air Quality Management Plan is helping to coordinate initiatives to reduce air pollution through cooperation with Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macao, creating benefits for all three places.

But what can you do to help? There are a number of ways any person can help improve the air quality in Hong Kong. You could take public transport, instead of private cars, in an effort to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gasses that cars contribute to the atmosphere. Furthermore, you could reduce your usage of domestic appliances ( e.g. air conditioners) and electricity–don't forget to turn the light switch off when you leave a room! After all, it is only us who will benefit from clean, fresh, Hong Kong air.



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