You may be surprised to hear that Hong Kong is a world-class city using third-class air quality standards. Though Hong Kong is one of the world's leading cities, its pollutant standards are even weaker than WHO interim targets, which are designed for highly polluted areas.
You may be surprised to hear that Hong Kong is a world-class city using third-class air quality standards.
The SAR government set up Air Quality Objectives (AQOs) to establish acceptable levels for seven pollutants – in 1987. Amazingly, these standards have not been updated since.
What's worse is that Hong Kong's AQOs are far weaker than targets recommended by World Health Organization (WHO) standards. This means that levels of pollutants considered acceptable by Hong Kong standards would be considered unhealthy using the WHO scale.
Though Hong Kong is one of the world’s leading cities, its pollutant standards are even weaker than WHO interim targets, which are designed for highly polluted areas.
For example, Hong Kong's AQO allows for 17.5 times more sulphur dioxide than the WHO guideline, and 2.8 times more than WHO interim target 1, the weakest of the WHO guidelines. Hong Kong also allows for 2.6 times more particulate matter and 1.5-2 times more nitrogen oxides than WHO targets.
Factories in Guangdong and the Pearl River Delta contribute significantly to Hong Kong's air pollution, especially in the winter. During the summer, the city is mainly affected by locally produced pollution, most of which is caused by power plants and transportation. According to the University of Science and Technology, Hong Kong is affected by local pollution over 50% of the time.
- Power plants are the biggest single local source of air pollutants in Hong Kong, responsible for most of the city's sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxide and suspended particulate matter emissions – as well as 70% of carbon dioxide emissions.
- Transportation is the second largest source of air pollution. Hong Kong has the highest road traffic density in the world. Cars, buses and trucks contribute 25% of the SAR’s particulate matter, 25% of its nitrogen oxides and 15% of its carbon dioxide emissions, according to Clear the Air.
Millions of people in Hong Kong live and work near busy roads day after day, putting them at great risk for air pollution. Each year, around 792 premature deaths and more than 5.9 million doctor visits were related to air pollution in 2010, according to Hong Kong University research.
Air pollution also has negative economic impacts. Air pollution costs a staggering HKD $2 billion in health care and lost productivity each year, according to the Hedley Environment Index, a project from Hong Kong University’s School of Public Health.
What We Do
Greenpeace is pushing for the SAR government to review and update its AQOs and release the findings of its 2009 review on air pollution. We have also released a widget that allows you to convert Hong Kong's real-time pollutant count to WHO standards, so that you can see what it means for your and your family’s health. For more information, see what we do.