Could air pollution block Hong Kong’s third runway?
In the last three months Airport Authority Hong Kong (AAHK) has been consulting the public on its masterplan for the next 20 years. In essence this comes down to whether an additional runway should be added to airport or whether growth should be limited to the maximum capacity of the existing two runways.
The AAHK has talked up the economic benefits: HKD132 billion (USD16.9 billion) in contracts to build the runway, which is projected to generate some HKD900 billion (USD115.5 billion) in overall economic benefit to Hong Kong. Environmental groups believe that the consultation is not meaningful unless an assessment of social and environmental impacts of the two options are considered.
Led by WWF Hong Kong they have called for a Social Return on Investment (SROI) study to be carried out, as was done to during the failed attempt to add a third runway to London’s Heathrow Airport. AAHK has refused, saying that all these issues will be fully covered as and when an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is conducted.
Some of the issues raised by environmental and residents groups include increasing C02 emissions, destruction of the habitat of the critically endangered Chinese White Dolphin, increasing noise pollution, and perhaps most significantly, toxic air pollution.
A bridge too far
Air quality is a sensitive issue as the airport adjoins Tung Chung, a town on north Lantau that is already an existing pollution black-spot. Tung Chung is also the home of Madam Chu, who raised the successful judicial review halting the Hong Kong Zhuhai Macau Bridge over concerns about air pollution.
Uncertainty over the HKZM Bridge is on-going, following an appeal by the Hong Kong Government. What is clear, however, is that air quality in Tung Chung is already close to or in excess of Hong Kong’s air quality objectives (AQOs). This is important because under the EIA Ordinance, which aims to minimize the impacts of major development projects, the AQOs act as an absolute standard. Any project that breaches the standard cannot legally be approved.
Given the additional emissions from the HKZM Bridge, the fact that emissions of key pollutants – nitrogen oxides (NOx) and ozone – continue to rise across Hong Kong, and that proposed control measures to reduce these pollution have been largely unsuccessful, there is a strong likelihood that an EIA for the third runway would show that emissions, especially of NOx, will exceed the AQOs and would not therefore be approvable.