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Speech by SEN at the International Conference on Environment and Health 2007 (English only)

    Following is the speech by the Secretary for the Environment, Mr Edward Yau, at the opening ceremony of the International Conference on Environment and Health 2007: Air Quality and Health today (December 6):

Professor Lee, Mr Leung, Dr Lam, Mr Wu, Mr Zhuang, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

     Good morning. For those who travelled from abroad to attend this conference, may I extend our warmest welcome to you.

     It is an honour to be invited to speak at this conference on environment and health, a subject of which is so close to our hearts.

     Since the early days of the Industrial Revolution, we have proved our ingenuity and pulled off an immense capacity to innovate in the quest for economic growth.  Yet for many years, we have forgotten that it is not the engine we invent but the air surrounding us that sustains life.  We have easily forgotten that our air is not only vital to us; it is also vital to all that exists on this planet.

     Thanks to all the hard work by scientists and health experts, including many of you present today, we now know much more about our environment and, in particular, the link between air quality and public health.  We now understand that air pollution is much more than a public nuisance or just a comment on whether our sky is blue enough.  The truth is that a high concentration of air pollutants poses risks to our health and imposes costs on our medical expenses. And needless to say, air pollution also has adverse impacts on global warming and the environment as a whole.

     For our generation and those to come, we must recognise that environmental protection and our well-being has to go hand in hand. The air problems we encounter today are the results of our deeds yesterday. We must act today to clean the air without further delay.  

     The Hong Kong SAR Government is determined to face up to this challenge.  We have integrated environmental and health considerations in framing our strategy to address the problem, and we are sparing no efforts in reducing emissions from different sources in a serious and responsible way.

     As you know, our air pollution problem is caused by a combination of pollutants emitted locally as well as regionally.  Therefore, in pursuit of the goal of cleaning the air, we must work on all fronts.  

     Our clean air strategy encompasses a mix of control measures and economic incentives.  As the starting point, we have established clear goalposts for air improvement and such goalposts stretch beyond our boundary. We reached a consensus with the Guangdong provincial government in 2002 to reduce the emissions of four major air pollutants in the Pearl River Delta Region from their 1997 levels by up to as much as 55% by 2010. This in fact forms the basis of our bilateral collaboration and cooperation with the Guangdong provincial government. To support the achievement of this target, both governments are jointly implementing a regional air quality improvement management plan comprising measures to reduce emissions from power generation, industry, vehicles and other sources.  
     Locally within Hong Kong, to control emissions from power plants, which are the largest emitters in Hong Kong, we have imposed emission caps on all power stations and are gradually tightening them with a view to achieving the 2010 emission reduction targets. We are working on a proposal to reflect and enforce these emission caps through legislation. And this very piece of legislation allows us to provide a platform for emission trading between Hong Kong power plants and those in Guangdong.  This market-based tool will offer power companies a more cost-effective alternative to meet the emission caps.

     Furthermore, we will enable the market to play a bigger role in fighting air pollution by linking power companies' permitted rate of return to their achievement of the emission caps. It is a tough negotiation as we are expecting our power companies to reduce both their tariff and emissions.

     On the demand side, promoting energy conservation and energy efficiency will continue to form a major part of our overall strategy to tackle the air pollution problem in the region.  To this end, we will consult the public on a proposal to mandate compliance with the Building Energy Codes by newly constructed commercial buildings and roll out the Mandatory Energy Efficiency Labelling Scheme for domestic electrical appliances.

     Now, turning to the reduction of vehicle emissions, that is so crucial to our roadside air quality.  Our established policy is to set the tightest emission standards for vehicles and fuels in tandem with the European Union.  Over the years, we have been promoting the use of LPG vehicles, requiring older vehicles and buses to be retrofitted with emission reduction devices as well as launching different incentive schemes for phasing out older vehicles and promoting the use of cleaner fuels. We have last year set aside $3.2 billion for the replacement of diesel goods vehicles with cleaner ones.

     We have also recently secured the legislature's endorsement of a proposal to cut the duty for Euro V diesel by half to encourage the early import of this cleaner fuel, whose sulphur content is 80% lower than Ultra Low Sulphur Diesel, on the local market. This has taken effect since December 1, making Hong Kong one of the earliest cities in this part of the region to adopt Euro V as the diesel fuel for vehicles.

     To further step up our efforts in this area, we are now consulting the public on requiring motorists in Hong Kong to switch off idling engines.  We hope that through this consultation, the community will realise how small and simple changes to individuals' behaviour, switching off engines while waiting, can go a long way in protecting and improving the quality of our environment.  I hope this audience will support this proposal so that we can introduce this in good time.

     All the above are measures that we have taken today through various policies, legislation and programmes. But we also need to look ahead. In looking ahead, I think the following measures will be the subjects on which we need expert advice from the audience this morning.

     To benchmark with the best practices in the world and taking account of the latest set of Air Quality Guidelines announced by the World Health Organisation last year, we have commissioned a consultancy study to review the existing Air Quality Objectives and develop a long-term air quality strategy for Hong Kong.  The risk posed by air pollution on human health will form an important basis for updating the Air Quality Objectives.  We have through this study engaged professionals, including medical doctors, in the steering group. We will also consult the public, at a suitable juncture, on the recommendations of this study. We expect that the study will give some recommendations by early 2009.

     We are fully aware that Hong Kong cannot succeed in this challenge without working closely with our counterparts in the region, especially our neighbour in the Mainland of China.  Therefore, in addition to what we are doing in our own city, we are also assisting the Pearl River Delta Region to develop a more environmentally responsible partnership.  We will devote $93 million to launch a five-year partnership programme to assist Hong Kong-owned or Hong Kong-invested factories in the region to adopt cleaner production through enhanced energy efficiency, reduction in waste and emission treatment costs in the use of raw materials. We are hopeful that businesses and industries will realise that pursuing cleaner production measures could produce real savings and makes real business sense.

     Ladies and gentlemen, cleaning the air is not something that the government can do alone.  There are areas in which the Government has to take the lead, like those involving legislative control on emissions and policy areas, which require government injection of incentives. But there are also many areas which require partnering with the professional community, like the one here today. In most cases, government policy cannot secure success without support from wider public engagement. This conference provides an ideal opportunity for academics and professionals to explore ways to combat air pollution and control the associated risks to public health.  I have little doubt that your wisdom and advice will provide us with clear direction and insight in tackling one of the most prominent environmental challenges Hong Kong is facing.

     Let me conclude by expressing my appreciation to the organising bodies for organising this very important international conference.  I wish you every success.  

     Thank you.

Ends/Thursday, December 6, 2007
Issued at HKT 15:12


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