Could air pollution block Hong Kong’s third runway?
A further complication is that the Hong Kong Government has agreed to set a timetable for tightening Hong Kong’s AQOs, which would reduce permissible levels of NOx by half, by the end of 2011. This would make it much more difficult for the AAHK to achieve the standard, especially as many of the measures required to clean up the air to the point that the AQOs are met are beyond the AAHK’s jurisdiction.
A preliminary report in on air quality impacts from the third runway by the AAHK’s consultant Ove Arup shows that failure to meet these new standards is a very real possibility. It states that emissions from aircraft can only meet the standard by reducing the capacity of the new runway by some 60 percent!
Also, these figures do not take into account the additional road traffic that a busier airport would generate. All cargo must be delivered in diesel-powered trucks, while large numbers of passengers come by bus or taxi, both of which have high NOx signatures.
So what does this mean? In effect the AQOs have assumed the role of a de-facto standard for sustainable development in Hong Kong, with anything that breaches them being considered unsustainable, and therefore unapproavable.
However obsolete they may now be, the AQOs are expected to protect public health against air pollution from development projects. While Hong Kong’s air quality remained within the AQOs there was no very great pressure on Government or the business community to keep a cap on pollution or to progressively tighten emissions control standards.
The consequence of two decades of ineffective control of roadside emissions, however, is that there is simply no room under the AQO cap to permit more large scale development projects and the emissions they would generate.
This presents AAHK, the Hong Kong Government, and any business with an interest in increasing air traffic or wishing to bid for the contracts to build the third runway with a major problem. Or to take a more positive view, this problem represents the best hope in years that serious action will be taken to reduce Hong Kong’s air pollution.
Cut back to grow
Until now the most prominent voices in the battle to reduce emissions have come from the environmental NGOs and public health researchers. But now, with jobs, contracts and future growth at stake the much more influential corporate world – ranging from airlines to reclamation contractors to hoteliers – and the Government have a compelling interest in cutting pollution across Hong Kong.
What can be done? It is helpful to separate the actions that AAHK can influence itself from those that would require Government support. Electrification of air-side vehicles and equipment lies directly within AAHK’s control. Making the airport island a progressively tightening low emissions zone, forbidding entry to diesel vehicles which do not meet Euro IV emissions standards (initially) is another approach.
This would drive all companies on the airport island (including the public transport operators) to start thinking hard about upgrading both their own fleets and imposing higher standards through tender conditions on their suppliers. It would also improve the general emissions profile of the Hong Kong vehicle fleet, delivering air quality benefits throughout the SAR. The Housing and Transport Bureau would also need to play a key role in this.