More than 1,000 students aged eight to 18 are to be trained as green leaders in one-day camps in response to record air-pollution levels.
A petition calling for measures to improve the city's air quality, signed by 30,000 secondary students, has been handed to Hong Kong's chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa.
Air quality has been so bad in the past few weeks that some schools have introduced a "pollution bell" to warn asthmatic children not to go outside for breaks and sports.
The environment has traditionally received little attention in Hong Kong's rigid education system. But the education department has joined forces with the government-sponsored Environmental Campaign Committee (ECC) to promote awareness by training students as "environmental ambassadors". The scheme is already working in mainland China's schools.
These students attend camps in areas of environmental interest run by staff from the government's Environmental Protection Department (EPD) and green groups. Mabel Mak, head of the ECC secretariat and of community relations at the EPD, said this was more effective than trying to teach them in a classroom.
"They are given the opportunity to appreciate nature and learn about the environment," she said. They are then taught how to set up green clubs and organise other environmental activities in their schools.
The top "ambassadors", along with outstanding environmental teachers, will be sponsored to join a study trip to China next summer. They will also help to train participants at future camps.
Schools receive annual subsidies of up to Pounds 2,000 to join the Student Environmental Protection Ambassador Scheme and the Schools Environmental Award Scheme. For the latter, they are expected to set up green clubs and organise other activities, such as recycling projects. But only 340 of Hong Kong's 1,300 schools have joined.
Plato Yip, assistant director of Friends of the Earth, said that Hong Kong could learn from the more active approach of schools and education authorities in China, where teachers are trained in environmental education, which is also included in the school curriculum.