Hong Kong emulating Beijing’s unbreathable air?

When I lived in Hong Kong in 2000-1, air pollution was a sensitive topic. It was getting so bad there was talk of replacing the beautiful photos of the pristing blue skies and gorgeous HK harbour skyline used by the tourist bureau with more realistic renditions to avoid charges of false advertising. Apparently the situation has been going continuously downhill.

“Hong Kong’s lucrative tourism business, its international image and its citizens’ health are at risk from the pollution in this city,” said Edwin Lau, Friends of the Earth Hong Kong coordinator.

“Matters have got to a terrible state in a very quick time,” Lau added, citing an study that found Hong Kong Airport recorded one day of smog-related poor visibility in every 3.5 days last year, up from one in eight in 2002.

Last week smog levels rose to such dangerously high levels that the government was forced to warn people with breathing or heart problems to stay indoors. Visibility also plummeted, blocking out the city’s famous high-rise views and reducing visibility in the busy harbour to less than a kilometer.

The government has said most of the pollution rolls in from mainland China’s heavily industrialised Pearl River delta region, which has seen huge economic growth in the past decade. However, Friends of the Earth Hong Kong and local campaigners Clear the Air say local power producers are also major culprits.

“The pollution is not ‘coming down from China’,” said Annelise Connell, chairperson of Clear The Air, in a statement. “The sulphur dioxide levels are really bad … which shows that our own power plants are involved in regional pollution,” she added.

I remember walking through Causeway Bay on the weekends as scores of idling buses sat there endlessly, emitting bluish-black fumes, and wondering how long it would take for Hong Kong to become another Bangkok or Beijing in terms of air quality. Soundsl ike they’re almost there. (I’ll be in HK myself in about two weeks and will come back with a first-hand report.)

The Discussion: 5 Comments

Richard, take it from me, the air in Hong Kong is in a terrible state, and it’s not all the fault of the locals.

The low level ozone and the trafic fumes are bad most of the time, but things are at their worst when the wind comes from the Mainland.

Guandong is filled with factories and coal burining powerplants that can simply pump out anything under the sun from their smokestacks, happy in the knowledge that they can ignore half of China’s poltry environmental protections regulations and bribe their way out of complying with the others.

The local authorities are either under Beijing’s thumb or in their pocket, and they refuse to take on Beijing in any meaningful way, or even to make that much of a fuss about it.

If I were in charge, I’d make good and sure that Beijing lost face over this disgrace.

Put up a poster of Mao in a white suite on the border when the wind is blowing the right way, by the afternoon, he’s be wearing blacktie.

March 20, 2006 @ 2:29 am | Comment

I was there last September and air quality was realy bad. I am surprised to hear that a lot of the polution comes from HK itself. How come? Did they build so many power plants without filters in the last years? So many new cars? My guess would have been that most of it comes from GD.

March 20, 2006 @ 2:31 am | Comment

The trafic fumes are local, and so is the filth in Victoria Harbor, but the rest of it is from factories across the border.

Politicians are just to afraid of Beijing to say so.

March 20, 2006 @ 4:53 am | Comment

Air quality of major Chinese cities — March 20
325 words
20 March 2006
Xinhua News Agency
(c) Copyright 2006 Xinhua News Agency

BEIJING, March 20 (Xinhua) — Report on the quality of air in 47 major Chinese cities (12:00 March 19 to 12:00 March 20 Beijing Time), released by the China Environmental Monitoring Center:

City Major Pollutant Air Quality Level
Beijing particulate matter IV1
Tianjin particulate matter III1
Shijiazhuang particulate matter III1
Qinhuangdao particulate matter II
Taiyuan particulate matter III1
Hohhot particulate matter II
Shenyang particulate matter II
Dalian particulate matter II
Changchun particulate matter II
Harbin particulate matter II
Shanghai particulate matter II
Nanjing particulate matter II
Suzhou particulate matter II
Nantong particulate matter II
Lianyungang particulate matter II
Hangzhou particulate matter II
Ningbo particulate matter II
Wenzhou particulate matter II
Hefei particulate matter II
Fuzhou particulate matter II
Xiamen particulate matter II
Nanchang particulate matter II
Jinan particulate matter II
Qingdao particulate matter II
Yantai sulfur dioxide II
Zhengzhou particulate matter III1
Wuhan particulate matter III1
Changsha particulate matter II
Guangzhou particulate matter II
Shenzhen particulate matter II
Zhuhai particulate matter II
Shantou particulate matter III1
Zhanjiang particulate matter II
Nanning particulate matter II
Guilin sulfur dioxide II
Beihai particulate matter II
Haikou —————— I
Chongqing particulate matter III1
Chengdu particulate matter II
Guiyang particulate matter II
Kunming particulate matter II
Lhasa —————— I
Xi’an particulate matter III1
Lanzhou particulate matter V
Xining particulate matter IV2
Yinchuan particulate matter III1
Urumqi sulfur dioxide II

The center classifies air quality in China’s urban areas into five levels: level I or excellent (pollution reading: not exceeding 50), level II or fairly good (pollution reading: 51 to 100), level III or slightly polluted (pollution reading: 101 to 200), level IV or poor (pollution reading: 201 to 300), and level V or hazardous (pollution reading: over 301).

The 47 cities monitored by the center include the four municipalities of Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai and Chongqing, provincial (or autonomous regional) capitals, and major cities in economically developed coastal areas, and tourist attractions.

March 20, 2006 @ 4:26 pm | Comment

ACB – There has also been a significant increase in the amount of locally produced air pollution from the local power plants. They’ve switched in the last few years from natural gas to coal and have the political connections to avoid using coal scrubbers on their stacks, as it might hurt their profits.

March 20, 2006 @ 8:51 pm | Comment

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