Billions set aside to clean up air

Updated: 2013-01-17 06:43

By Li Likui(HK Edition)

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Billions set aside to clean up air

HK$10b subsidy, the most expensive single program, to drive out 88,000 old polluters

Chief Executive (CE) Leung Chun-ying took another bold step in Wednesday's Policy Address, announcing a determined effort to tackle Hong Kong's air pollution. The CE, in his maiden Policy Address, set out his single biggest budgetary item to attack the major contributing factor to the city's dirty air. Leung announced a HK$10 billion fund to get some 88,000 dirty, old, diesel vehicles off the road.

The initiative, according to the government's estimate, will "significantly" reduce the emissions of particulates by 80 percent and nitrogen oxides by 30 percent.

The funding will be channeled into an incentive program, to separate diesel fueled vehicles into five categories based on service life. The sooner vehicle owners give up their old air pollution factories, the higher will be the government subsidy to replace them. If drivers choose to buy newer vehicles, the government will raise the offer to as high as 30 percent of the price of the new truck.

To accelerate the process of getting the old smoke bombs off the road, the government will phase out license renewals for pre-Euro and Euro I diesel vehicles in 2016. Euro II will be declined license renewal in 2017 and Euro III will be gone after 2019. By then, all 88,000 pre-euro IV diesel vehicles will be swept off the roads.

The particulate emissions of pre-Euro vehicle reportedly are 34 times higher than the emissions from a vehicle meeting the Euro V standard. Another factor leading to the adoption of the sweeping measures was the report of the World Health Organization last June, offering confirmation for the first time that emissions from diesel fueled vehicles can cause cancer.

A limit of 15 years will be set on the service life of newly registered diesel commercial vehicles.

Papers already have been submitted to the Legislative Council for consideration. After the legislation is approved, the government will seek funding from the council's finance committee. The government is expected to commence the scheme next year.

A public policy think tank, Civic Exchange, praised Leung's commitment to improve air quality and described the move as a "carrot and stick" approach to eliminate polluting diesel commercial vehicles.

Green groups also gave their thumbs up. Environmental affairs manager at Friends of the Earth, Chu Hon-keung, described the decision as a move to "prescribe the right remedy for an illness" and called it the "highlight" of the Policy Address.

"I can see that Leung has the big picture of how to reduce air pollution in the city and I believe that in the future, relevant policies in city planning and transport will work in accordance with the principle," said Chu.

Echoing that, Anthony Hedley, professor from the Department of Community Medicine of the University of Hong Kong, called Leung's plan to tackle the notorious air polluters "appropriate and on the right track".

The government is already offering owners of pre-Euro II vehicles subsidies of 18 percent toward the price of new trucks that fit the emission standards if they agree to replace their older vehicles with a new one. More than 10,000 applications have been received so far. The incentive program is to wrap up by the end of June.

In the meantime, the government will request the cruises berthed in the city to use low-sulfur diesel in the future.

The CE also plans to allocate HK$5 billion for the Environment and Conservation Fund to provide long-term and sustained support for green initiatives. Besides that, another HK$500 million sustainable development fund will be set up to assist fishermen to increase the vitality of that industry.

(HK Edition 01/17/2013 page1)