Author: Bryan Chan

Date: 8/8/10



Streetsweeper wearing a gas mask in Causeway Bay to protest the high levels of roadside air pollution (30/6/10) (Photo taken for Clean Air Network) c Alex Hofford (

The public’s concern about air quality crosses all sectors and segments of Hong Kong society, but the concerns of the vast majority are not reaching policy makers or the media, indicating that serious problems exist in trust and communication in the public sphere. While knowledge of and attention to environmentally-related issues such as air pollution has grown across the board, so has dissatisfaction with the groups having the most power to do something effective about it, namely government officials, businesses, and political parties. As a result, skills and tax dollars are leaving Hong Kong due to the fact that these concerns have not been addressed and the only means of protection from air pollution is to leave Hong Kong. [1]

Unwillingness to Live in Hong Kong

One in four Hong Kong workforce members has heard their coworkers say that they might leave Hong Kong due to air pollution. Of these cases, only 5% were born outside Hong Kong or China. This indicates that air pollution crosses racial boundaries. Moreover, of the one in four cases above, two-thirds are managers and professionals, who are at the heart of Hong Kong’s higher value-adding service industries. Furthermore, 10% of workers have heard of cases of potential hires refusing to work in Hong Kong due to the air pollution problem. [1]

25% of the people in Hong Kong have considered leaving Hong Kong due to air pollution (which equals some 560,000 people – more than the number of people who emigrated from Hong Kong). [1]Consistent with the global Gallup poll (18%) and Silent Epidemic (20%), 19% of students surveyed reported their families have discussed or planned to leave Hong Kong due to air pollution. [2] Research indicates that the propensity to consider leaving Hong Kong due to air pollution increases with income and education, and the more education a person has had the more likely they are to complain about air pollution.[1]

Different Concern from Different Social Sectors

General Priority of Concern

In Hong Kong, the top environmental concerns in 2001 (with over 50% of respondents being concerned) were drinking water pollution, and unsafe food while those in 2008 (with also over 50% of respondents being concerned) were unsafe food, drinking water pollution, air pollution, contaminated seafood, and global warming. [1]

Compared to 10 years ago, all sectors of the population agree that Hong Kong’s air is much worse. All sectors also agree that Hong Kong is doing better than Beijing and Guangzhou but is worse than New York, Toronto, London and Tokyo. [1]However, both adults and students surveyed limited their complaints about air pollution to family and friends – few complain to authority figures. Most students do not think complaining about air pollution will do any good, or do not know who they should complain to. [2]

Public Sector vs Private and Non-working Sectors

Other than unsafe food, on most other issues the private and non-working sectors showed significantly more concern than the public sector. Indeed, the public sector consistently tends to give Hong Kong better marks on air quality comparisons than other sectors, though the public, private and non-working sectors agreed more with each other when it comes to priority preferences for the Government. [1]

Gender and Age

Generally women show greater concern than men, and by age group, older groups typically show greater concern about air pollution. 90% of those aged 60 or above want air pollution reduction to be a top government priority, meaning that older groups show greater concern for the health impact of air pollution. Indeed, in a survey published in 2003, 30% of elderly citizens over the age of 70 complained about respiratory problems because of bad air, compared with 4.9% in 1991. [3]



Schoolgirl wearing a gas mask in Causeway Bay to protest the high levels of roadside air pollution (30/6/10) (Photo taken for Clean Air Network) c Alex Hofford (

In respect of environmental issues, students surveyed were most concerned about air pollution and global warming, similar to adult concerns. In respect of health concerns, only in respect of air pollution did a majority of students surveyed express the highest level of concern. Over two-thirds of students reported themselves or family members suffering from ailments associated with air pollution, whilst only 46% of adults reported the same. [2]

Students do not skew higher in concern on environmental issues than other groups, indicating that emphasizing environmentalism in formal education alone does little to affect environmental concern levels. [1] Housewives and retirees, who typically show considerably higher levels of concern over other occupation groups, have much lower levels of formal education than today’s youth, and certainly in their day formal education did not emphasize environmentalism. [1]

Smokers, on the other hand, are less concerned about the effects of air pollution on health and are less worried about the loss of green space in HK or about reclamation. Whether anti-smoking campaigns strengthen anti-air pollution efforts is an open question, but they appear plausibly related. If so, the steep rise of smoking being reported in the homes of students and the youngest cohorts should be a cause for concern. [1]

The Culprit of Air Pollution

Nearly half the public estimates Hong Kong and the mainland are about equal contributors to our air pollution problems. [1] 55% of adults and 63% of students surveyed thought that Hong Kong’s air pollution mostly comes from the mainland. [2]

Although power generation produces the largest quantity of emissions, and port-related emissions from ships are the most concentrated in terms of health effect, the public sector had the lowest percentage of responses rating power generation or shipping traffic and boats as the worst source of pollution. This means that not enough attention has been given to the greatest and worst sources of pollution.[1] Indeed, 23% of students surveyed believe the best ways to reduce air pollution are to reduce the number of trucks, cars and buses, and to plant more trees. [2]

Environmental Policy

With regards to environmental policies, the public has come to believe that environmental experts should be heeded more than public opinion (52% in 2001 to 67% combined in 2008). Indeed, Hong Kong people believe that independent environmental experts are the most important people Government should listen to when dealing with air pollution. [1]

Sources of Information

The public, private and non-working sectors have much in common in their sources of information on environmental issues and in their levels of trust on those sources. The top sources used to obtain information on environmental issues include TV or radio, newspaper, internet, green groups, and school or university. [1]

The heaviest viewers and listeners, with three hours a week or more, are clearly among the non-working sector. However, Hong Kongers have consistently proven themselves to be pragmatic and value their time too much to waste it. The very low level of communication with the groups named strongly suggests that to do so may be considered a waste of time. [1]


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 ‘Hong Kong’s Silent Epidemic – Public Opinion Survey 2008’, Michael E. DeGolyer, December 2008 - last accessed 4/8/10
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 ‘Pilot SAVE survey report’, Michael E. DeGolyer, November 2009 - last accessed 4/8/10
  3. ‘Boomtown to gloomtown – The implications of inaction’, CLSA – Christine Loh, James Paterson, September 2006 - last accessed 4/8/10