Hong Kong Tatler - - Features -

While lo­cal sources are re­spon­si­ble for Hong Kong’s bad air most of the time, re­gional sources play a sig­nif­i­cant part about a third of the time, ac­cord­ing to HKUST’S In­sti­tute for the En­vi­ron­ment, ADM Cap­i­tal Foun­da­tion and think-tank Civic Ex­change. In­tense ur­ban­i­sa­tion and in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion in the Pearl River Delta have taken a huge toll on the air qual­ity of the re­gion over the past two decades. Smog from the man­u­fac­tur­ing hub’s fac­to­ries, ve­hi­cles, shipping and power plants of­ten blows into Hong Kong on the northerly winds of the win­ter months.

It’s es­sen­tial for the city to col­lab­o­rate with neigh­bour­ing au­thor­i­ties if we want truly sig­nif­i­cant, long-term change, says Loh. “Let’s try to un­der­stand our neigh­bour­hood. Yes, we need to clean up the pol­lu­tion that is pro­duced by our­selves lo­cally, but we do have a re­gional con­text, and this is one of the most pro­duc­tive man­u­fac­tur­ing re­gions in the world.”

The good news is that the Pearl River Delta’s con­cen­tra­tions of the most harm­ful pol­lu­tants, in­clud­ing sul­phur diox­ide, ni­tro­gen ox­ides and par­tic­u­lates, have de­creased sharply since 2006, thanks to the phas­ing out of highly pol­lut­ing in­dus­try, the fit­ting of scrub­bers to power plants, and the in­tro­duc­tion of cleaner ve­hi­cle fleets. The na­tional gov­ern­ment has set a dra­matic 2017 pol­lu­tion-re­duc­tion tar­get for Guang­dong and is in­creas­ingly in­volv­ing Hong Kong in the process. In Jan­uary this year China held its bian­nual air-qual­ity



con­fer­ence in Hong Kong for the first time, a sign that col­lab­o­ra­tion is grow­ing deeper. “Be­tween now and 2020 there is a good chance this re­gion will see much big­ger re­duc­tions [in pol­lu­tion],” says Loh. “The na­tional gov­ern­ment and the Guang­dong gov­ern­ment are push­ing very hard.” It’s cru­cial for both pub­lic health and the econ­omy that Hong Kong dra­mat­i­cally and rapidly re­duces the toxicity of its air. The Na­ture Con­ser­vancy’s Moses Tsang be­lieves en­vi­ron­men­tal sen­si­tiv­ity and sus­tain­abil­ity are cru­cial for Hong Kong to main­tain its claim as Asia’s World City. “We need to raise our game and take the op­por­tu­nity to be an en­vi­ron­men­tal leader in the re­gion,” he says.

With the tra­di­tion­ally slow pace of progress at the gov­ern­men­tal level, it’s easy to feel help­less. But phi­lan­thropy in the en­vi­ron­men­tal sec­tor is a way to make a dif­fer­ence—one that tends to be over­looked by Hong Kong’s gen­er­ous elite in their fund­ing of myr­iad so­cial causes, such as al­le­vi­at­ing poverty and pro­vid­ing ed­u­ca­tion. “What phi­lan­thropists have to re­alise,” says Shaw, “is that pol­lu­tion is a so­cial is­sue. Who suf­fers the most? It’s not the wealthy. They can go and buy clean wa­ter to drink and air pu­ri­fiers for their homes. It’s the poor that suf­fer the most. All over the world you can see that en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion has a huge so­cial cost. It’s all well and good to put up a build­ing with your name on it, but our univer­si­ties in Hong Kong are well served; China has be­come a wealthy na­tion and can af­ford its ed­u­ca­tion. Where the money is not go­ing is into en­vi­ron­men­tal causes.”

Loh agrees that pri­vate money can help to “speed things up.” She says, “The gov­ern­ment can never spend enough money ev­ery­where and that’s why phi­lan­thropy is im­por­tant. [Phi­lan­thropists] can spend money on stud­ies like the Des Voeux Road project to stim­u­late peo­ple, to see more in­no­va­tive schemes. They can fund tri­als and fund pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion.”

De­spite the scope of the chal­lenge, Tsang thinks there are bright days ahead. “Hongkongers have al­ways been good at iden­ti­fy­ing and lever­ag­ing a com­pet­i­tive edge; tack­ling air pol­lu­tion in this decade is and will be our com­pet­i­tive edge. And I have faith that the Hong Kong spirit will pre­vail.”

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