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US envoy urges HK businesses to lead on pollution

Written by: Staff
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HONG KONG, June 6 (Reuters) The US envoy to Hong Kong pressed businesses today to take urgent action against a worsening air pollution ''crisis'' in the territory and not wait for governments to come up with a solution.

Consul General James Cunningham joined a growing chorus of calls in the former British colony for better air, which has deteriorated markedly in the past decade or so as China's Pearl River Delta next door has evolved into a major manufacturing hub.

On most days now, Hong Kong's picturesque and once reliably clear Victoria Harbour is shrouded in haze.

Air pollution here is starting to hurt companies' ability to attract overseas talent, one of the reasons the economy has been so successful, recent surveys show.

In a speech before the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce and the American Chamber of Commerce, Cunningham said everyone had a responsibility to act and businesses should take the lead.

''Hong Kong and neighbouring industrial centres can achieve progress if individuals, businesses and government resist finger-pointing and instead take responsibility for action,'' he said.

''The need for progress is urgent ... Don't wait for governments to solve the problem.'' Factories are one of the main sources of pollution across the border in China, and some 70,000 in the Pearl River Delta are owned or financed by Hong Kong businesses, he said.

Critics fault the Hong Kong government for not better regulating how companies based here act across the border.

''While there are many government-based initiatives under way on both sides of the border, business should -- and must -- take the lead,'' he said.

The best way to get businesses on board, he said, was to incentivise their transition to cleaner production. Cunningham outlined a US-proposed financing model that encourages investment in pollution-reducing improvements to manufacturing and energy production.

The scheme uses loan guarantees from the Asian Development Bank and International Finance Corp., and credits from the US Export-Import Bank, to facilitate loans by Hong Kong lenders to companies installing less polluting equipment.

REUTERS CH KN1335

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