In early December of 2012 I attended the Better Air Quality conference in Hong Kong along with my colleagues Barbara Finamore and Rich Kassel. I had never been to Hong Kong before and wound up cutting a wide swath through their dumpling supply, especially here. Their subway system, the MTR, also blew me away: clean, graffiti-free cars come every 2 minutes during rush hour and the fares are cheap by U.S. standards.
Port-related air pollution was the issue that drew me to the conference. Hong Kong has a serious air quality problem, well-documented by a local NGO called Civic Exchange. A recent study by Simon Ng of Civic Exchange showed that much of the ship-based air pollution in Hong Kong comes not from ships at berth, but from ships in transit to and from Hong Kong and other Pearl River Delta ports such as Shenzhen and Yantian. Those ports are taking international containerized shipping traffic away from the Port of Hong Kong , making the Hong Kong port very sensitive about losing competitive advantage by, for example, raising fees to pay for at-berth electrical power for ships (“cold-ironing”) such as the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach now require at some berths.
Barbara arranged for us a visit to the Port of Hong Kong (the same tour that Maggie Thatcher got!) and I came away with a better appreciation of the fact that we can’t tell other ports to just copy what has worked in the Los Angeles ports. Political, economic, legal and logistical facts on the ground are different everywhere. I’m hoping to go back to Hong Kong (they have some dumplings left) and work with Simon and Barbara to adapt what NRDC has learned about the shipping industry and air pollution and find a solution that works for Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta.