Christine Loh said Civic Exchange believed the issue needed to be urgently researched
A joint study by Hong Kong-based think tank Civic Exchange and Hong Kong University has called for policymakers to introduce a regional Emissions Control Area (ECA) for Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta (PRD) area, saying it would reduce the annual 519 premature deaths caused by marine sources of sulfur dioxide (SO2) by 91%.
The proposed ECA would cover the waters of the PRD and out to 100 nautical miles from Hong Kong, and was suggested along with three other measures that the seven year study said would reduce public health impacts by 41-62%, and would not require the development of new technologies or innovative control measures.
Switching to 0.5% sulfur fuel at berth inside Hong Kong waters would reduce the 519 annual premature deaths by about 45% to 288. The study noted that emissions are most harmful when closest to the population that must breathe them, and relatively modest emissions from vessels at berth have a disproportionately high impact.
Source: Civic Exchange
75-80% of the vessel emissions both within and beyond Hong Kong waters were said to have come from container vessels.
Cruise liners said to be another significant emitter.
The PRD is home to some 36 million people in Hong Kong, Macau, and nine prefectures in Guangdong.
The area is home to 3 of the 10 busiest container ports in the world.
Annually, it handles some 50 million TEU of containers, representing some ten percent of global container traffic.
A switch to 0.1% sulfur fuel in Hong Kong waters for ocean-going vessels would reduce the numbers by some 62% to 195, and would also see particulate emissions drop by 73.1% in Hong Kong waters and 7.1% across the PRD.
A 12 knot vessel speed limit in Hong Kong waters for ocean-going vessels, which the study emphasised would have "zero cost", would reduce fuel consumption and therefore emissions, and would see the 519 premature deaths drop 41% to 306.
"Policymakers are encouraged to introduce these measures as stepping-stones on the way to establishment of an ECA for the PRD," the paper said.
Civic Exchange's co-founder and Chief Executive Officer during the study, Christine Loh, who has since been appointed Hong Kong's Under-Secretary for the Environment, said they first took an interest in shipping and port-related emissions in 2005 when research in the U.S. showed the substantial negative public health impact.
"In light of the higher population density in Hong Kong and other Asian port cities, we believed the issue needed to be urgently researched," she said.