Former Observatory chief Lee Boon-ying has criticised the government for “lacking common sense” when countering a claim by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying that Hong Kong contributes to smog in the Guangdong province.

Last month, Leung said that Hong Kong has seen improvements in air quality over the last two years owing to joint efforts by the city and Guangdong to tackle the issue.

Air pollution in Hong Kong. File Photo: Wikicommons.

He gave the example of smog: “When the wind blew from the south, nearby cities in Guangdong said the smog was caused by air pollutants from Hong Kong. When the wind blew from the north, we blamed it on Guangdong.”

“But now the two governments’ position is that we have accomplished something together.”

In a blog post on Sunday, Lee said that it was incorrect to suggest that Hong Kong and Guangdong contribute equally to the prevalence of smog in each other’s territories.

He gave two supporting arguments. First, that Hong Kong produces fewer air pollutants than mainland China. Second, that it is less likely for smog to form in the summer – when the wind mostly blows from the south. During these months, the atmosphere is unstable and air pollutants tend to be blown away.

“It is unlikely that Hong Kong brings smog to Guangdong, because its climatic conditions such as wind direction and atmospheric stability do not support the premise,” Lee said.

Lee Boon-ying. File Photo: GovHK.

“The government does not value science and lacks common sense. The University of Hong Kong is also scrapping its joint mathematics and physics major. They are very short-sighted,” he added. “Meanwhile, developed countries are strengthening their STEM education – aren’t we lagging behind?”

‘Weather is borderless’

Incumbent Observatory director Shun Chi-ming gave an ambiguous response to his predecessor’s remarks. He shared a link to Lee’s article on social media Monday without any comment, and then hid the post after local media reported on it.

Hours later, the post re-emerged on his social media account with a newly added comment: “We should understand that sometimes southerly wind may also bring air pollutants along the south China coast to the mainland.”

“Weather and climate are borderless. [Smog] is a regional issue caused by various factors,” Shun said. “Therefore, we should strengthen cooperation to tackle air pollution, climate change and environmental issues.”

He added: “Finally, I urge everyone to hold a scientific and rational attitude in discussing and analysing problems.”

Undersecretary for the Environment Christine Loh said on a Commercial Radio programme Tuesday that it was “unfair” to call Leung’s comment unscientific.

“He was just being polite to the head [of Guangdong],” she said. “We need to be fair: CY Leung is very supportive of our work in environmental protection.”

Leung Chun-ying was also asked Tuesday to respond to Lee’s criticism that his claim lacks scientific sense. The chief executive replied: “It was the view of Guangdong.”

Ellie Ng

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.