Hong Kong has taken another positive step in fighting air pollution. Since July 1, ocean-going vessels have been required to switch to low-sulphur fuel within local waters under a new law to improve air quality. Emissions of sulphur and respirable suspended particles of 10 microns or less are expected to fall by 12 per cent and 6 per cent as a result. The health risks for those living near container ports and coastal areas will also be lowered.
Credit goes to the government and environmentalists for making this happen. Emissions at sea are known to be a major cause of air pollution. Yet weak marine shipping laws mean the problem has not previously been dealt with seriously. It was not until recent years that vessels were required to switch to less-polluting fuels while berthing in the city under a pilot scheme. This became mandatory under the new law, which allows for a maximum jail term of six months and a HK$200,000 fine for non-compliance.
But air pollution knows no boundaries. Just like the need for collective efforts to keep the neighbourhood clean, it does not help when other cities in the Pearl River Delta are not doing their part. It’s time we convinced our neighbours to do the same and adopt a region-wide fuel standard for vessels. That would mean establishing an emissions control area, within which vessels have to use low-sulphur fuel.
The importance of getting Guangdong and others on board to improve air quality has long been recognised. The joint emission reduction targets set out in the Hong Kong-Guangdong Cooperation Conference, a forum on cross-border issues, are an example. Indeed, the issue of reducing emissions by vessels in the delta region was raised at the conference a few years ago, with both sides pledging to further explore the feasibility of adopting joint fuel standards. Now that we have made efforts to clear up our skies, the next step is to urge our neighbours to follow suit. This is not just for Hongkongers, but also for the tens of millions of people living in the delta region.