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Hong Kong Tackling Tough Pollution Problems - 2002-04-24

Residents in Hong Kong have grumbled about air pollution for decades, but actually curbing toxic emissions in the city is tough, because as one of China's most industrialized areas lies directly north of the city. Now officials in Hong Kong and in mainland China are finding ways to tackle the problem.

Hong Kong boasts a spectacular skyline. On clear days, mirrored towers that reflect the blue harbor are framed by emerald green forest-covered hills. But as any Hong Kong resident knows, such clear days are rare, and the view is often obscured by air pollution.

Hong Kong generates much of its own pollution, but part of the problem lies across the border in China's most industrialized province, Guangdong.

This week Guangdong and Hong Kong authorities are working on a blueprint to cut cross-border pollution, the first major anti-pollution initiative since Hong Kong's reunification with China in 1997. Their report is due out later this week.

It is likely the plan will include encouraging the use of greener vehicle fuels and cleaning up power plants in Guangdong.

But as the Man Chi-Sum, the head of the Hong Kong environmental group Green Power explains, air pollution won't disappear quickly. "In mainland China, everyone knows that within Guangdong province, nine out of 10 power plants do not have emission reduction facility. The cost is very expensive. But who can pay this cost?" he says. "If the Hong Kong government pays it, I think the Hong Kong electric council cannot allow public expenditure to be used to solve the Hong Kong area problem."

Others say private companies could help clean up the region's air.

Eric Walker, a researcher with Friends of the Earth, says Hong Kong companies in southern China could invest in low-pollution energy systems, such as wind power. "Guangdong has the coast, the land area to develop technologies like wind power, while Hong Kong is limited," says Mr. Walker. "But we are connected by a high-voltage grid we already import electricity from that province. So what's needed is a political will to cooperate on a potential solution."

He adds that some European companies are already looking into investing in low-pollution plants in southern China. Hong Kong, he suggested, is missing out on good business opportunities.