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500 Firms Sign Clean Air Charter
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In Hong Kong as many as 500 companies and the government signed a Clean Air Charter pledging to work for environmental protection at a Business Clear Air Conference yesterday. 

Officiating at the charter's signing ceremony, Chief Executive Donald Tsang, signed on behalf of the government which is Hong Kong's largest employer.

If properly followed the charter would bring significant improvement to Hong Kong's air quality, he said, adding the Council for Sustainable Development would soon conduct a study on measures to tackle the pollution problem.

Around 500 organizations and companies signed the charter listing six areas in which they could take measures to improve air quality.

The Clean Air Charter requires signatories to identify relevant standards of emission, review their own performance in relation to those standards and make solid plans to meet them on a voluntary basis.

It also demands continuous monitoring for large and medium polluters and regular disclosure of their total emissions, energy and fuel use.

While stressing the need to tackle air pollution it was necessary to strike a balance, Tsang said. .

"We are serious about doing the best we can," Tsang said. "In addition we will continue to institute policies, review air quality objectives and introduce legislation on pollution control."

Special measures like cutting air-conditioning by half at home and work, encouraging car pooling, the use of public transport, flexible working hours to smooth out peak traffic and reducing the number of vehicles on streets would be taken to tackle the problem.

"The Council for Sustainable Development will soon conduct an exercise to engage the public and forge some consensus on whether such measures should be adopted in Hong Kong on days when the air pollution index is expected to be high," said Tsang. 

Denying that the investment environment was affected because of poor air quality the chief executive said the number of overseas companies with regional operations in Hong Kong had grown by 50 per cent since 1997.

"The Action Blue Sky campaign that I launched this summer has an important mission," he said. "It's to draw the attention of people from all walks of life to the air pollution problem and to make them aware that the solution requires action and participation from themselves." 

Some have urged that the government immediately adopt the World Health Organization's (WHO) latest air quality guidelines published last month. Tsang commented, "The WHO recognizes and I quote, 'that when formulating policy targets, governments should consider their own circumstances carefully before adopting the guidelines directly as legally based standards'.  

"It is in this spirit that we recently announced our plan to commission a comprehensive 18-month study on Hong Kong's air quality objectives in early 2007 in the light of what the WHO has recommended," he said.

The study will be overseen by a representative and authoritative steering committee. The public would be engaged to devise a practicable long-term, air quality management strategy.

Admitting that the response was not satisfactory, Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce chairman David Eldon said, "When you consider that the business sector as a whole has been one of the more vocal commentators about Hong Kong's poor air quality, when you consider these and other factors, you realize rather quickly that if we hope to make a real difference, then this `pretty good' response rate to the Clean Air Charter is, in fact, pretty bad."

He said some businesses thought there was little they could do. But in reality business must play a major role and that Hong Kong's reputation could be affected during the Olympic events in 2008.

"The reality is, however, that if we start needing floodlights to cut through the haze in the middle of the day then Hong Kong is going to be back on the world stage again but for the wrong reason," he added.

Eldon also suggested that a certificate system be adopted, giving recognition to companies that implemented environmental-friendly initiatives.

(China Daily HK Edition November 28, 2006)


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