Government must strive for zero emissions on our roads

September 11, 2017 09:12
The poor roadside air quality in Hong Kong can be largely attributed to emissions from vehicles. Photo: Greenpeace

It's not news that Hong Kong has long been battling with air pollution. Unfortunately, our air quality is just getting worse.

Data recently published by the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) showed that our city saw a substantial deterioration in air quality last year.

Take Causeway Bay for example. Throughout 2016, the average concentration of nitrogen dioxide in the atmosphere per hour was above safe levels 134 times during the past year, surpassing the EPD’s upper limit seven times and far exceeding the World Health Organization (WHO) standard.

Our poor roadside air quality can be largely attributed to emissions from vehicles, especially from those highly polluting diesel-powered models.

In March this year, the city had a total of 8,273 registered vehicles powered by diesel, while there were only 2,066 back in 2009. In fact, the number of diesel vehicles in Hong Kong has been growing at a faster pace than that of gasoline-powered cars in recent years.

Our overall air quality could probably have been better if the government had promoted the use of electric cars more earnestly. Unfortunately, while governments around the world have been eagerly jumping on the electric car bandwagon in recent years, our government is swimming against the global tide.

On April 1 this year, the administration, much to the public’s surprise, drastically cut the tax relief on newly purchased electric cars, resulting in a plunge in the number of imported electric vehicles.

According to the latest figures provided by the Transport Department, since April only eight newly imported electric cars have been registered.

Zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) have proven to be a viable solution to urban air pollution worldwide.

As such, it is simply mind-boggling why our government just scrapped the tax relief on newly imported electric vehicles, driving people back to conventional cars that run on fossil fuels.

I strongly urge the government to restore the former exemption of newly imported electric car from the motor vehicle first registration tax so as to encourage the use of ZEVs in the city.

In the meantime, I also urge the administration to enhance the support facilities for electric car owners such as expanding and upgrading our existing charging station network, as well as installing more rapid charging points and roadside charging devices across the city.

The government must also formulate a long-term plan on the disposal and recycling of used electric car lithium-ion batteries in order to prevent these highly polluting materials from being massively and irresponsibly dumped in our landfills.

Since cars running on diesel have proven so polluting, many countries are now moving towards banning them.

For example, Beijing already completely banned diesel-powered private vehicles in 2013, while both France and the United Kingdom have already announced that they are going to ban the sale of new diesel and petrol cars by 2040.

Perhaps our government should also consider following their footsteps and outlawing both private and commercial diesel-powered vehicles in a step-by-step fashion, with a view to completely removing all diesel vehicles from our roads by 2030.

However, promoting the use of private ZEVs should only be one of the many components of the government’s broader plan to improve our air quality.

Apart from promoting the use of private ZEVs, the administration should also encourage the use of electric vehicles in the commercial sector, and address public concerns about the safety and reliability of electric cars through public education campaigns.

In the long run, the government should formulate a zero-emissions transport development plan.

And above all, it should promote the use of more green technology in the local transportation industry in order to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions on our roads.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept. 8

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Member of Legislative Council (Functional Constituency – Accountancy)