Create smart environment to achieve carbon neutrality - EJ Insight


Create smart environment to achieve carbon neutrality

According to the latest research by Harvard University, 8 million people die from air pollution every year. A report published by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2016 also confirms that 92% of the world's population lives in places where air quality levels exceed WHO limits. Among them, the situation in China, Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific Region is most worrying.

In fact, the nitrogen dioxide produced by the burning of fossil fuels in cars, power plants and factories will increase the risk of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer and asthma. An overseas environmental protection organization issued a report last year, pointing out that the economic loss from air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels is estimated at US$2.9 trillion, accounting for about 3.3% of the global GDP.

According to the report, 40,000 children around the world cannot live beyond the age of five due to long-term exposure to polluted air exceeding PM2.5. In addition, about 16 million children worldwide suffer from asthma due to air pollution, and there are nearly 4 million new cases of children suffering from asthma every year, which poses a huge medical burden to society.

In order to address the pressing issue of air pollution, apart from people's joint effort, I believe that innovation and technology can achieve twice the effect with half the work.

In recent years, the application of the internet of things (IoT) has become increasingly mature and is now an indispensable technology for reducing environmental pollution. It can build a comprehensive ecological environment monitoring network with early warning capabilities. It also helps to achieve long-term goals such as energy conservation, emissions reduction, and ecological conservation.

In 2005, China promulgated the Measures for the Administration of Automatic Monitoring of Pollution Sources, promoting the application of the IoT in environmental protection. The Wuxi environment monitoring IoT application is one of projects showcasing how the technology can contribute to environmental protection. It was officially launched in 2015. The city's key pollution source enterprises with an automatic monitoring system network have increased from 124 in 2019 to 507 in 2020. The system will automatically transmit the real-time data to the Ministry of Ecology and Environment in Wuxi, so as to carry out comprehensive data analysis, real-time notification, and remote counter-control. Wuxi has implemented the "Internet of Things + Environmental Protection" strategy leading to significant improvement to the ecological environment. As a result, the city's air quality reaches a good level over 80% of the year. Wuxi has become one of the cities in Jiangsu Province with Level II Air Quality Standards assessed in accordance with China's Ambient Air Quality Standards.

Since 2017, Taiwan has been building a nationwide air quality sensing IoT, using big data analysis to conduct environmental audits to provide citizens with real-time on-site air monitoring information. Today, Taiwan has set up 8,300 air pollution sensors in different areas. The sensors collect data on pollutants, including fine suspended particles, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide. The sensor data analysis platform provides various automatic data analysis, which helps increase the chance of successful prosecution, resulting in fines of more than NT$70 million (approximately HK$20 million), and helps collect fines up to NT$400 million (approximately HK$110 million) for air pollution violations. Under comprehensive air quality monitoring, the suspended particulates in Taiwan have dropped significantly from 22 micrograms per cubic meter in 2015 to 15 micrograms in 2020.

In Hong Kong, the air pollution problem has always been a concern. In last year's Policy Address, the Chief Executive stated that she would strive to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 in response to global climate change. Recently, the government announced the Clean Air Plan for Hong Kong 2035, establishing an aggressive goal to lead Hong Kong to become a more liveable city with air quality on par with major international cities by 2035. Among them, we welcome the proposed use of new technologies to monitor air quality, to distribute detailed air quality information to the public, to formulate joint regional air pollutant emission reduction targets and to strengthen air pollution research and monitoring in the Greater Bay Area.

I hope that under the Clean Air Plan for Hong Kong 2035, the authority will have a more proactive plan to use smart technologies to create a smart environment for Hong Kong and to strengthen collection of real-time environmental data for formulating effective environmental policies, thereby realizing the vision of carbon neutrality.




Dr. Winnie Tang
Adjunct Professor, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering; Department of Geography, Faculty of Social Sciences; and Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong