HK's ambitious plans to cut PRD emissions

Updated: 2012-11-26 15:22

By Andrea Deng from Hong Kong (China Daily)

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Long term plan to free delta water from air pollution on discussion

The SAR government aims to have all ocean-going vessels switch to cleaner fuels when they berth in Hong Kong waters before 2015. The government has also made an appeal to the authorities in Guangdong province to enforce similar policies in the Pearl River Delta region.

The clean fuel target is one of a series of pollutant emission reduction benchmarks announced on Friday by Wong Kam-sing, secretary for the environment. The guidelines include a targeted reduction for sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, respirable suspended particulates and volatile organic compounds. The plan, including targeted actions by the Hong Kong and Guangdong governments, is the result of an agreement by both sides after a meeting in Guangzhou on Friday.

Andrew Lai Chi-wah, deputy director of environmental protection, noted that the SAR government has taken action already, with an incentive scheme inaugurated in September, to reduce 50 percent of the port fees, including port facilities and light dues, for ocean going vessels - if they switch to low sulfur diesel while they're berthing in Hong Kong waters.

Legislation to enact the policy is in the government's long term plan, Lai said.

In the meantime, Lai added, the SAR government has initiated discussions with Guangdong authorities and the Ministry of Transport to study the feasibility of a long term plan to make the waters of Pearl River Delta region free of air pollutant emissions. Both the central government and the head of environmental protection of Guangdong offered "positive responses", Lai said.

The SAR government has set an ambitious target to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by 25 percent by 2015, for a further reduction between 35 percent and 75 percent by 2020. One of the key variables accounting for the wide range, officials explained, are concerns about the economic impact on stakeholders.

In November, the government signed the third Technical Memorandum for Allocation of Emission Allowances with the power generators. In particular, the authority has reached an agreement with power companies to increase the proportion of natural gas in their fuel mix from about 28 percent at present to 50 percent in 2017.

In 2008, the emissions from the power generation sector accounted for 88 percent of the territory-wide emissions of sulfur dioxide.

During a Legislative Council session, however, representatives from the power companies told lawmakers achieving those goal would be difficult, principally because there are insufficient supplies of natural gas and their delivery is unstable. Lawmakers voiced their concerns as well about the effect on electricity rates that the change entails.

The authority pointed out that the West-East Natural Gas Pipeline from the Chinese mainland will make available additional supplies of natural gas to Hong Kong. The Administration also advised that achieving the proposed emission caps by 2017 does not involve new capital investment by power companies.

The authority pledged to consult the public in the coming few years regarding the issue.

The government also aims to phase out highly polluting commercial diesel vehicles. But even though an incentive scheme for bus companies has been in effect since 2007 at a cost of some HK$770 million ($99.4 million), and one-off financial support of HK$540 million in 2010 to upgrade the vehicles, the financial sweetener has received lukewarm reaction from the transportation industry.