Global Observer

Planned air improvements to give Hong Kong people an extra month to live

Planned air improvements to give Hong Kong people an extra month to live

Posting in Cities

HONG KONG -- It's small consolation in the face of a smoggy skyline. Hong Kong is finally adopting a few of WHO's guidelines for air-pollution goals.

HONG KONG — Hong Kong has changed it air-quality goals to better match international standards. When they are implemented in 2014, it will have been 25 years since they've last been updated.

But residents aren’t holding their collective breath for a big improvement.

It is good news that Hong Kong has finally gotten around to modernizing its targets for air quality, setting goals that match the World Health Organization’s most stringent standards for lead, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide.

Three other harmful particulates will follow WHO’s more lenient set of interim guidelines intended for highly polluted cities.

Green groups are understandably peeved that it took a quarter of a century for new targets to be set, in a city that direly needs to improve its air. But better late than never, right? Not really. They criticize the government for choosing the most lenient of three WHO targets for concentration of the smallest category of particulate, which is also the most harmful kind to human health.

Incredibly, officials said the targets are relatively low because Hong Kong’s air is just too bad right now, and the goals need to be “achievable.”

It’s not uncommon for visitors to Hong Kong to look at the iconic skyline shrouded in a gray haze and ask whether that is fog or something else. Their fears are confirmed: it’s smog.

In a survey of over 200 businesses last year, three out of four companies admitted that Hong Kong’s air quality was affecting their ability to hire executives from overseas.

Twenty-two measures have also been unveiled to help improve the situation, which include encouraging the use of hybrid and electric vehicles, and increasing the prevalence of natural gas as a fuel. These measures are estimated to extend the average life expectancy of locals by a month. Yippee.

And Hong Kong always has one consolation to fall back on: Beijing’s air is worse. But even that might be changing; Beijing recently announced its air targets too, which turned out to be more ambitious than Hong Kong’s easier-to-achieve ones.

Photo: Flickr/keepwaddling1

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Vanessa Ko

Correspondent (Hong Kong)

Vanessa Ko has written for TIME, South China Morning Post and Phnom Penh Post. She holds degrees from Northwestern University and the University of Hong Kong. She is based in Hong Kong, China. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure