Motion on “Solution to Air Pollution and Public Health Problems”(2009.01.07)

I believe many Members sitting here, likeme, have all been living in Hong Kong for decades. I am sure many Honourable colleagues would have an impression that when they were young, the days of white clouds and a blue sky were plenty and they would seldom hear peoplecomplain of asthma or nasal allergy.

Several decades down the line, Hong Kong people have got richer and become more educated, but there is no improvement in the quality of their living environment. We have to bear with contaminated fish, vegetables and eggs, and even the air we breathe is full of pollutants.

There is a close relationship between the density of air pollutants and the mortality rate. The problem of air pollution does not only affect the health of the people, in particular children and the elderly, but it also affects our position as an international financial centre. Many employees of multinational companies do not want to work in Hong Kong because of the problem of air pollution.They even want to move with their family out of here. The problem of air pollution will definitely erode our competitiveness.

The findings of a survey conducted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong show that most of the interviewees are disappointed with the air quality in Hong Kong. Fifty-one per cent of the interviewees even stated that they had difficulty recruiting professionals to work here mainly because of the poor air quality here. Many of the professionals living in Hong Kong are considering leaving the territory.

The main culprit of air pollution in Hong Kong is sulphur dioxide. The greatest source of pollution is the power plants. The Government has enacted legislation to specify the emission cap for power plants and the requirement will come into force in 2010. The next pollutant to be dealt with is nitrogen oxides and the main source of pollution is the transport sector. This is the focus of my discussion today.

Papers of this Council show that vehicles are the second greatest source of air pollution in Hong Kong and the respirable suspended particulates and nitrogen oxides emitted by vehicles account for 25% and 27% of the total emissions in Hong Kong respectively. Among all kinds of vehicles, the commercial diesel vehicles cause the most serious air pollution. They are the major source of roadside air pollution. The emissions of suspended particulates and nitrogen oxides account for 90% and 80% of the total vehicular emissions in Hong Kong.

This is a very high proportion indeed. It is clear that a complete solution to the problem of air pollution in Hong Kong must come from a solution of the problems produced by commercial vehicles. There is no other way than that.

The Chief Executive pointed out in his policy address in 2006 that a sum of $3.2 billion is to be used to subsidize the replacement of all commercial diesel vehicles in Hong Kong with moreenvironmentally-friendly Euro IV vehicles.

The proposal is very meaningful, but the greatest problem is how it should be put into practice so that the desired effect can be achieved.Ever since the scheme was introduced in April 2007, response from the transportation sector has been lukewarm. As at end August last year, only some 7 900 applications were received, involving an amount of subsidy totalling some $300 million, or merely 10% of the funding.

Despite the ineffectiveness of the scheme, what the authorities have done is only to extend the scheme to March 2010 and to propose the imposition of a higher licence fee for commercial diesel vehicles aged 15 years or above in order to achieve a deterrent effect.

Actually, we should pause and think. Why do the owners of the 27 600 pre-Euro vehicles and 16 900 Euro I vehicles still running on our streets refuse to replace their vehicles or join this scheme even though government subsidy is available?

Under this scheme, owners of pre-Euro vehicles may get a 12% concession in the duty payable if they replace their vehicles. Those who replace Euro I vehicles may get a tax concession of 18%. That is to say, the amount of subsidy ranges from $10,000 to $170,000.

However, the transport sector points out that if a driver wants to replace a brand-new Euro IV environmentally-friendly heavy-duty goods vehicle, the subsidy he gets is at most some $100,000, but such a vehicle produced in Japan would cost some $400,000, and a European Model would even cost some $700,000. Suppose we are owners and when the vehicles can still work and be used to make a living, when coupled with the uncertain outlook in the midst of the financial tsunami, why should we replace the vehicles all of a sudden and incur a debt onto ourselves?

Also, people from the sector have told me that there are very few suppliers of Euro IV minibuses at present. Even if the problem of repairs and maintenance is left aside, the fuel consumption of these green vehicles is quite high. This accounts for the great hesitation of owners.Before the Government launches any policy, it should ask itself, suppose it is the target of such a policy, whether it would find the policy acceptable or not. If not, then it should ask how the policy can be revised to enable more people to accept it.

I believe this is also the same problem. The Government should first

So I think the first thing the Government should consider is to revise the amount of subsidy from 12% to 18% at present to a higher level. At the same time, the Government should adopt more innovative promotional techniques. An example is the offer of a higher subsidy to owners who replace their vehicles earlier. This will attract owners to replace their vehicles earlier. For example, those who replace their vehicles in 2009 will get a 120% subsidy. Those who replace their vehicles next year will only get 110%, and so on. So the amount of subsidy will decrease from year to year, until it expires in a particular year.

The Government should consider requiring all old vehicles to be replaced and all substandard vehicles should be phased out or else their licence will not be renewed. I am sure some people in the sector will raise their objection, hence more detailed consultation is required. However, if we set the period at 20 years, I do not think there will be any cause for the sector to object to it. If award and punishment are employed at the same time, the problem of vehicular emissions can be solved.

In addition, some people from the transport sector hope that subsidy can be obtained without having to replace vehicles. But the purpose of the Government is to assist owners who plan to continue running their business and not to hand money out to owners who want to wind up their business. From another perspective, the aim of the policy is to reduce the number of diesel vehicles. If a reasonable price is offered to purchase these vehicles in order to write them off at a later date, this will certainly be better than having these vehicles changed hands in the second-hand market continuously and go on polluting the air of Hong Kong.

If the policy only backs up the idea of replacing the vehicles, then given the uncertain outlook these days, the effect will definitely not be great. The proposal to collect these diesel vehicles and scrap them could be the most effective way to cut the number of diesel vehicles. I hope the Government will consider it. As for other technical problems, I hope the Government will discuss them with the sector with a view to finding a solution.

President, both the original motion and the amendments have made many suggestions on solving the problem of air pollution in Hong Kong. Their objective is the same and, that is, to remove pollution at source and restore the white clouds and a blue sky in Hong Kong. I support the original motion and all the amendments.

I so submit. Thank you, President.

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