The sight of skyscrapers enshrouded in mist is a regular reminder that air pollution has become a key concern in Hong Kong.
"The one thing that is not in the Basic Law is the environment and that is on everyone’s lips and in everyone’s lungs," said Keith Kerr, managing director of Hong Kong-based conglomerate Swire Pacific.
A study carried out in 2006 found that regional sources are the primary influence on Hong Kong’s air 36% of the time and local sources 53% of the time. Another study based on 1997 data found that Pearl River Delta industries contributed 80% of Hong Kong’s nitrogen oxides, 87% of sulfur dioxide and 95% of respirable suspended particles. It is also said pollution costs Hong Kong US$257 million a year in healthcare expenses and lost productivity, and US$2.3 billion a year through premature loss of life.
In survey carried out last August by the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong of 140 top executives from among its member companies – which collectively employ some 250,000 people in Hong Kong – four in five respondents said they knew of professionals who are thinking of leaving or have already left the area due to pollution.
An alarming 95% of respondents were worried about Hong Kong’s air quality and its potential effects on their families’ health.
Unhappy with current government efforts on pollution, local think tank Civic Exchange has published its own plan. Provisions include a clampdown on high emission motor vehicles; restrictions on power plant emissions; the adoption of alternative fuels; strict rules on engine use in the harbor; and further cooperation with Guangdong province on pollution control.
Jack Maisano, president of AmCham Hong Kong, believes increased awareness will eventually drive through change.
"A strategic plan is being developed to deal with the environment and by 2015 this place could look like it did back in 1990. In 20 years, I don’t think the environment will be a key concern in Hong Kong, partly because all those factories over in the Pearl River Delta will probably have gone."