Light Pollution in Hong Kong – what is the government doing?


(Image retrieved 29 October, 2013 from


Link to the RTHK Documentary about light pollution-



Light pollution is caused by excessive use of lighting system by human. Apart from leading to excessive energy usage and high electricity cost, it also destroys the ecosystem and causes sky glow, light trespass in our living, so as causing health problems like glare (Lighting Research Center, 2013) and greater risk of cancer. (Bullough; Rea; Figueiro, 2006). Since the situation is deteriorating in Hong Kong, the Task Force on External Lighting began its first attempt to involve public in drafting possible regulations by publishing the Document for Engaging Stakeholders and the Public in August 2013.


Light Pollution in Hong Kong – what is the government doing2

(Image retrieved 29 October, 2013 from

According to the International Astronomical Union, the natural NSB level is 21.6 mag/arcsec2 (Smith, 1979). However, the survey conducted by Department of Physics, HKU shown that the NSB level in Hong Kong is brighter than normal level for 100-1200 times. In densely populated residential or commercial areas like Mong Kok and Tsim Sha Shui, their brightness is around 100-500 times brighter than rural areas in New Territories or outlying islands. (Jason and Chu, 2011)



In 2008, the HKSAR government promised to start studying the regulation over external lighting. A special group named the Task Force on External Lighting was set up in 2011 and till August 2013, they published the Document for Engaging Stakeholders and the Public and organized a public forum that aimed to collect public opinions on its proposal over:

1)    Requiring lighting installations with decorative, promotional or advertising uses to be switched off after a particular time to alleviate the problem of light nuisance and energy wastage;

2)    Score of requirement of the above regulation;

3)    Exemptions; and

4)    Method of implementation (Information Services Department, 2013)



However, there have been general concern and criticism over government’s attempt in solving the problem. For instance, for over two years, no consensus on significant issue was achieved in the Task Force. Thus limiting the scope of consultation, which mainly focus on whether the preset time is set at 11pm or 12pm, and the regulation should launch as a voluntary or legal-binding one. Besides, ¼ members of the Force resigned from the job during this period and leaving only three members from environmental-related expertise. It has also been criticized for not inviting all members to attend meetings or forum, censored information from members, so as informing district councils of consultation. (Hong Kong Connection, 2013)





Hong Kong, as an international city with many skyscrapers, it is understandable that trader wish to advertise through neon lights. However, when competition is getting serious and started to interrupts the general public, the government must act as a neutral regulatory body. The scope of the regulation should be broad and in multi-perspective.  Among the force members, 16/19 are not familiar with environment issues and mainly from business sector, such imbalance would easily favour those in business, and limit the implementation of a sustainable plan, balancing economical, environmental and social lives.


Hong Kong is relatively slow in addressing this problem and should learn more from other countries. Like in Frankfurt, the law set up a range for permissible luminance and luminance and look into violations case-by-case with all-rounded considerations. Though workload is high, this helps regulating light pollution while maintaining feasibility and considerations for different stakeholders.  And in New York and L.A., limits of energy consumption of new external lighting installations are clearly defined with strict punishments (Energy Conservation Construction Code and California Energy Code). The government should include more foreign examples and encourage public to access the feasibility of such practices in Hong Kong.


Hong Kong has long been crowned with the name ‘Pearl of the East’, yet such ‘Pearl’ will be deemed if the city just focuses on commercial development in sake of environmental protection and citizens’ well-being. It is time for the government to make significant moves, extend the scope of research, investigate the true causes and solutions, and make sustainable plans.



Bullough, JD; Rea, MS; Figueiro, MG. (2006) Of mice and women: light as a circadian stimulus in breast cancer research. Lighting Research Center.


California Building Standards Commission. (1978). California Energy Code. California Building Standards Commission.


Department of State, Office of Planning & Development. (2010). Energy Conservation Construction Code of New York State. Department of State, Office of Planning & Development.


Hong Kong Connection. Accessed on 29 October, 2013. Waiting for the sky to shine. Retrieved from


Information Services Department. (19 August 2013). Task Force on External Lighting organises stakeholder and public engagement exercise. Information Services Department.


Jason P., WingSo C. (June 2011). Night-sky brightness monitoring in Hong Kong.


Kloog, I; Haim, A; Stevens, RG; Portnov, BA. (2009) Global co-distribution of light at night (LAN) and cancers of prostate, colon, and lung in men. Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Management.


Lighting Research Center. Accessed on 29 October, 2013. National Lighting Product Information Program (Light Pollution Q&A). Retrieved from


Smith, F. (1979). Report and Recommendations of IAU commission 50. Reports on Astronomy.Transactions of the International Astronomical Union

6 thoughts on “Light Pollution in Hong Kong – what is the government doing?

  1. Jin Kim (2010531887)

    Thanks Rachel, on your comments about the current light pollution in Hong Kong.

    Like you mentioned, Hong Kong, the ‘Pearl of the East,’ focuses much on commercial development, and is widely known for its limitless skyscrapers and beautiful night view. Some questions to think over are: would Hong Kong still maintain the image of Hong Kong for what it is currently known as if drastic actions were implemented in order to reduce the light pollution it is causing at the moment? Also, is there sufficient technology to enact such a program while sustaining the luminous night view of Hong Kong?

    Indeed health issues are one of the biggest issues arising from light pollution. The trend nowadays is to promote a sustainable economy. If light pollution gets worse, generations after generations will be affected in at least the smallest negative way. Yes, this risk can definitely be reduced by enforcing stricter laws by the Hong Kong Government; however, will the advertising industry be attracted to Hong Kong like always? Hong Kong is known as the center of trade in Asia—will it maintain its title if such restrictions are implemented? Research and solutions are what the Hong Kong Government currently needs.

  2. Ho Wing Ha Alice 3035065592

    Thank you for bringing up this environmental issue. I enjoy reading your blogpost because you mentioned the work which is being done the government and gave some viable suggestions in an organised and clear way.

    I think the government is not taking enough actions to deal with this problem. Currently, only guidelines are provided and there’s no strict law regulating the use of lights at night.

    Apart from introducing more regulations and learning from other countries, I think the government can hand in glove with certain non-profit environmental protection group such as WWF. For example, they can educate the general public about the negative impacts of light pollution on people and our planet. WWF and the mass public can also place some pressure on those who are unwilling to turn off the lights of billboards during midnight. As people are becoming more and more eco-conscious, the majority of Hong Kong citizens are supposed to be willing to take actions to reduce the seriousness of light pollution. It is possible for them to join the events organised by the related NGOs to urge some large-scale corporations to make an effort to protect the environment.

    I do hope that the problem of light pollution can be dealt with as soon as possible because it does not only pose a danger to our environment, but also our own health.

  3. Elizabeth Ong (2012503004)

    Thank you Rachel for raising this interesting blog on light pollution.

    I do agree that the Hong Kong Government is not acting enough regarding this issue. Both the guidelines and regulations are still vague, especially on the issue of cut off time for the light advertisement. For the companies advertising through neon lights, I think that should be set between 6-9PM, as that would be the time when a lot of people are walking on the street and will catch their attention. After that time, it will just cause problems for the residents.

    Hong Kong, being one the international financial centers, should also consider thoroughly in implementing similar regulations as that were imposed by New York, given that these countries had proved the effectiveness in controlling light pollution.

    However, being said that, HK has always been famously known by its spectacular skylines. A lot of tourists come every year just to have a look at the view of all the tall buildings and lightings. Will the regulations imposed affect this aspect? Therefore, this will be a difficult issue as there is a dilemma between the worst light pollution in the world and one of the most spectacular skyscrapers!

  4. Leung Shue Kwan (3035063843)

    Thank you Rachel for raising this issue. I agree that our government has not paid enough effort to tackle the problem.

    Everyone knows excessive light is bad for health, it also deprives us of rights to admire the glorious starry sky. However, people are not aware of how serious it can be. When we are still doing shopping in busy areas like Mongkok in the night, watching bright advertising light board, or when we are appreciating the beautiful night view of at the Peak, which comprise of various artificial light, we easily forget how serious it can be to others. Therefore, there is not a strong public consensus saying that we need to regulate the light pollution level, as many of us still think that they are a great part of Hong Kong’s night view and thrive.

    Furthermore, it is a problem of striking a balance between the business sector and the public. More and more companies use advertising light boards to promote because of their attractiveness to passerby at night, so as the effectiveness to promote their businesses. There is difficulty for them to consider the light pollution problem instead of the business promotion.

    There is still much the government can do.

  5. Emmy Chiu (3035062863)

    Thanks Rachel for bringing this controversial issue to us to discuss. I do agree that we should deal with the light pollution square and fair. Caring public health by regulating light pollution is what a considerate and sound government should do. However, is it really that simple?

    Hong Kong is praised as ‘Pearl of the Orient’ with skyscrapers decorated with lighting across the beautiful Victoria Harbour, attracting tourists to come and do sightseeing. Moreover, according to CleanBiz. Asia, it is worth mentioning that ‘Hong Kong is believed to be the world’s worst city for light pollution, with levels in the popular tourist shopping area of Tsim Sha Tsui, 1,200 times brighter than a normal dark sky,’ which indicates that though light pollution is severe in Hong Kong, it is actually closely related to the business environment. As a ‘shopping paradise’, applying light box to boost sales is a common and popular practice.

    It is quite a challenging issue for the government to strike a balance between promoting public health and the business environment, as well as tourism of Hong Kong.

  6. Guo Yinbao 3035030262

    Thanks for posting this meaningful topic. Yes, I agree with that government can and should do something to solve the light pollution in Hong Kong. However,the HK government seems made promise but with no or less contribution. So I want to suggest some useful means to help government solve this problem. The most economical and effective way is by replacing street lamps with full cutoff lighting as part of maintenance cycle.

    So what is the full cutoff lighting system? The nadir is represented by the lamp median perpendicular to the ground. IES classification of lights as ‘full cut off’,‘semi cut off’ and ‘non cut off’ is based on the light dispersion 80 and 90 degrees above the nadir. According to reserach, the full cut off lighting will light to almost o% of its total lights in the sky, which can be use effectively and autonomically without light pollution to the sky. So I suggest government change the original street lamps to the full cut off lighting system.

    Besides, the government can providing financial assistance on luminaries updates to the business organization. And enforcing“part-night lighting” by turning off non-essential street lights after midnight is also an useful way.


    (195 words)

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