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New watered-down EU air pollution targets

Compared to the Commission’s proposal, the relaxed targets finally agreed by member states and parliament will result in thousands of additional cases of premature death.

On 30 June, the last day of the Dutch EU Presidency, the Council and the European Parliament reached a provisional agreement on a new National Emission Ceilings (NEC) directive.

The new directive establishes national limits for the emissions of five pollutants: sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC), ammonia and fine particulate matter (PM2.5). The limits are set as binding National Emission Reduction Commitments (NERC), expressed as percentage reductions from the base year 2005.

The NERCs for 2020 to 2029 are identical to those to which the member states are already committed in the revised Gothenburg protocol under the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution. Since these limits in many cases allow emissions that are even higher that what is expected to result from countries implementing already adopted legislation, they have widely been criticised for their weakness.

More importantly, new stricter NERCs from 2030 have now been agreed. These are set to reduce the health impacts of air pollution by 49.6 per cent in 2030, compared to 2005. While the Commission and the Parliament aimed for an ambition level that would result in a 52 per cent reduction in premature deaths from air pollution, the Council (i.e. the member states) argued for a significantly less ambitious target of 48 per cent. The compromise now agreed has been estimated to result in some 10,000 additional annual premature deaths in 2030, on top of more than a quarter of a million annual premature deaths that are expected to remain if the Commission’s proposal was to be implemented.

Looking at the specific NERCs for each member state, and comparing these with the Commission’s proposal, it was agreed to lower 79 of the 140 targets for 2030, while agreeing to keep 40 at the level proposed by the Commission, and setting more ambitious targets in just 21 cases (see Table).

At the bottom of the league among member states we find Bulgaria, Greece and Romania, who have all chosen to weaken their NERCs for all five pollutants, while Austria, Denmark, Italy, Poland and the UK lowered targets for four of the pollutants.

In contrast, Finland accepted all its targets, closely followed by Belgium, France and Sweden, which stick to four out of the five targets. As icing on the cake, Finland has opted for a tougher target for ammonia, and Sweden has opted for tougher targets for both sulphur dioxide and PM2.5.

For the EU as a whole, ammonia and NMVOC are the pollutants for which the ambition level has been downgraded the most, by six percentage points. This outcome for ammonia is particularly remarkable as the emission cuts achieved so far for this pollutant have been very modest compared to those for the other pollutants, especially considering that the proposed reduction target for 2030 was much less ambitious than for the other pollutants.

Member states managed to remove the ozone precursor methane completely from the directive, despite objections from the Parliament and the Commission. Here, the industrial farming lobby was instrumental in pushing through both the drastically lowered ambition for ammonia and the removal of methane.

Moreover, member states succeeded in introducing a variety of additional flexibilities in order to make it easier for them to comply. While the Commission had already included three flexibilities in its proposal, five more have now been added to the final text. Environmental organisations have strongly criticised these flexibilities, claiming that they will result in higher emissions; delayed reductions; more avoidable deaths and environmental damage; more unnecessary administration; and an unenforceable directive.

Because of the lax 2020 targets, and to better ensure that countries really are on track to meet their 2030 NERCs, the Parliament had also pushed for binding targets for the intermediate year 2025. The Commission’s proposal included only indicative (i.e. non-binding) targets for that year. Here, member states succeeded in watering down even the already weak Commission proposal, so that now there are only vague guiding figures for 2025.

Commenting on the outcome, Louise Duprez, senior air quality policy officer at the EEB, said: “EU action to cut air pollution is welcome and will help Europeans breathe more easily. But all in all this is a missed opportunity that will still leave tens of thousands of citizens exposed to avoidable air pollution. The Parliament and the Commission were defeated by member states, including the UK, France, Italy, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, which preferred to allow industry and agriculture to carry on polluting rather than focusing attention on measures to save people’s lives.”

On 12 July, the Parliament ’s environment committee voted to support the provisional NEC deal, with 43 votes in favour and 14 against. Before it comes into force, the NEC proposal will go to the Parliament for a vote in plenary in November, and after that the Council will need to officially endorse the text.

Christer Ågren

Table: Country-by-country national emission reduction commitments (NERC) for 2030 in per cent as compared to the base year 2005. Left column shows the Commission’s proposal, as adjusted in early 2015; Right column shows the final outcome, as agreed on 30 June 2016.

Table: Country-by-country national emission reduction commitments (NERC) for 2030 in per cent as compared to the base year 2005. Left column shows the Commission’s proposal, as adjusted in early 2015; Right column shows the final outcome, as agreed on 30 June 2016.

OECD warns of rising costs of air pollution

Outdoor air pollution could cause up to nine million premature deaths a year by 2060 and cost US$ 3.3 trillion annually as a result of sick days, healthcare expenditure and reduced agricultural output, unless action is taken.

In 2010, outdoor air pollution caused more than three million premature deaths worldwide, with elderly people and children most vulnerable. New projections presented in an OECD report “The Economic Consequences of Outdoor Air Pollution” imply a doubling, or even tripling, of premature deaths from particulate matter (PM2.5) and ozone (O3) – or one premature death every four or five seconds – by 2060.

The projected increase in concentrations of PM2.5 and ozone will result in significant economic costs to society. The direct market impact of air pollution in terms of lower worker productivity due to illness, higher spending on health care, and lower crop yields, could exceed US$ 3,000 billion annually by 2060, equal to one per cent of GDP. For example, between now and 2060, the number of annual work days lost to air-pollution-related illness is expected to jump from 1.2 to 3.7 billion.

These estimates of economic market impacts do not however reflect the true costs of air pollution because shortening of people’s lives and pain and suffering from respiratory and cardiovascular diseases do not really have a market price. The OECD has therefore also estimated the non-market welfare costs by using economic studies on how people value their health and how much they would be prepared to pay to reduce the health risks, i.e. by introducing policies and measures that would cut air pollutant emissions.

Based on this data, the current (2015) annual global welfare costs of mortality and morbidity from outdoor air pollution are estimated at US$ 3,440 billion, and by 2060 they would amount to between US$ 20,000 and 27,000 billion a year (see table).

Table: Total global welfare costs of air pollution (billions US$)


It should be noted that air pollution damage to ecosystems, biodiversity and our cultural heritage has not been assigned any monetary value and is therefore not included in these economic estimates.

According to the projections, the biggest rises in air pollution mortality rates are expected in India, China, Korea and Central Asian countries, where rising populations and congested cities mean more people are exposed to high levels of pollution. The premature death rates are forecast to be up to three times higher in 2060 than in 2010 in China and up to four times higher in India. Mortality rates are however seen to be stabilising in the United States and falling in much of Western Europe thanks in part to efforts to move to cleaner energy and transport.

Projected GDP losses will be biggest in China, Russia, India, Korea and countries in Eastern Europe and the Caspian region, as health costs and lower labour productivity hit output.

“The number of lives cut short by air pollution is already terrible and the potential rise in the next few decades is terrifying,” said OECD Environment Director Simon Upton. “If this is not motivation enough to act, this report shows there will also be a heavy economic cost to not taking action. We must prevent these projections from becoming reality.”

“It is time for governments to stop fussing about the costs of efforts to limit air pollution and start worrying about the much larger costs of allowing it to continue unchecked. Their citizens’ lives are in their hands,” concluded Simon Upton.

Christer Ågren

Air pollution could be to blame for hundreds of traffic accidents, warn researchers

Air pollution could be responsible for hundreds of car accidents a year, according to the London School of Economics.

A study looking a five years of data showed that when levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) rise just one microgramme per cubic metre, the number of collisions rises by two per cent.

Although it might seem that effect could be explained by more traffic on the roads, and therefore more pollution and more accidents, the researchers found that the increase remained even when adjusting for the extra traffic

Instead, they believe that the toxic air impairs driver fitness, while watery eyes and an itchy nose could also be distracting for motorists.

A recent study found that air pollution inside a car can be more than double that on the outside because the NO2 builds up in a small space.

Lead researcher Lutz Sager of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the LSE said: “Although it has already been shown that air pollution adversely affects human health and the ability to carry out mental tasks, this is the first published study that assesses the impact on road safety.

“The analysis identifies a causal effect of air pollution on road accidents, but I can only speculate about the cause of the link.

“My main theory is that air pollution impairs drivers’ fitness. However, other explanations are possible such as air pollution causing physical distractions, perhaps an itching nose, or limiting visibility.”

Air pollution can result from many different toxins, including carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, small particulate matter and ozone. But it was NO2 which was found to have the biggest impact.

Mr Sager, a postdoctoral candidate, divided the UK into a grid of 32 areas each covering about 4784 square miles (7700 sq km) and mapped accidents to the level of air pollution between 2009 and 2014 provided by the Department for the Environment (Defra)

He found a rise in the concentration of nitrogen dioxide of just one microgramme per cubic metre above the daily average is sufficient to increase the average number of accidents each day by two per cent, with the biggest effect occurring in cities.

Mr Sager calculated that in the area containing west London, which suffers from some of the highest levels of air pollution, a cut of about 30 per cent in the concentration of NO2 could reduce the number of road accidents every day by almost 5 per cent.

Levels of NO2 in polluted areas of London can reach beyond 97 microgrammes per cubic metre on average.

There are around 150,000 collisions in which someone is injured in Britain every year so preventing just two per cent of crashes could avert thousands of accidents.

Mr Sager added: “Whatever the exact mechanisms responsible, the robust finding of a significant effect of air quality on road safety is important given the high cost of road traffic accidents through damage to vehicles and deaths and injuries to people every day.

“Although this analysis has used data for the United Kingdom, I think my findings are relevant to other parts of the world. These additional costs from traffic accidents strengthen the case for reducing air pollution, particularly in congested cities.

“My analysis suggests that the causal effect of air pollution on road traffic accidents measured in this study more likely stems from nitrogen dioxide or other pollutant gases rather than particulate matter.”

However other experts were more sceptical about the link between air pollution and accidents.

AA president Edmund King said: “If you think about areas which are high in air pollution they are a lot busier, with taxis and buses and lorries and where you have a greater mix of traffic you tend to have more accidents.

“It would be hard to tease apart whether a crash is caused by a driver wiping his eyes because of pollution or the type of traffic which is to blame.

“If you look at Mumbai and New Delhi where you have some of the worst air pollution, yes you have far more accidents, but it is also far more chaotic.

“So I think this research may be far-fetched as I think it would be very difficult to prove that a driver’s fitness is impaired by pollution.”

The results of the study are published today as a working paper, and will be submitted for peer review in the coming weeks.

Something in the air: Is Hong Kong’s pollution problem worsening?

The government is trumpeting recent figures that show air pollution is significantly decreasing but is the news as good as it sounds? And what other forms of pollution should Hongkongers worry about?

Christie Tse and Joyce Au find out

“See the people walking by right now? Leisurely walking past, enjoying life, breathing the fresh air?” asks Dr Bob Tsui, vicechairman of NGO Clear The Air, as he points out his office window overlooking the streets of Jordan. You are being ‘attacked through your eyes, your cornea, your nostrils, your mouth and your skin” all the time, he follows up. As you’re reading this, tiny deadly pollution particles called magnetites are slowly moving up your nostrils, penetrating your brain tissue, nervous system and lungs. In a crowded, polluted city like Hong Kong, your body is constantly under attack, every second of every day according to Dr Tsui.

According to government statistics, though, air pollution has been decreasing for several years now. The Environmental Protection Department reckons that between 2011 and 2015, average concentrations of PM10, PM2.5, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide at roadside monitoring stations fell by 26 percent, 21 percent, 19 percent and 33 percent, respectively. The figures sound impressive and the government has been running adverts on TV trumpeting its success at clearing the air.

However, all is not rosy. Recent studies conducted by scientists in Mexico City have discovered a correlation between 100 and 200 nanometer magnetites released through the exhaust pipes of taxis and buses and the development of Alzheimer’s disease. This new information has sparked concern in the local scientific community since roadside pollution remains one of the leading causes of air pollution in our jam-packed city. “In the past 20 years, Hong Kong has not once met its own Air Quality Index standard or that of the World Health Organisation’s,” exclaims Patrick Fung, CEO of NGO Clean Air Network. Paul Zimmerman, Southern District councillor, believes this is unforgiveable, as ‘it’s almost like violence is around you the whole time’, he tells us.

And that’s not the half of it. You may think you can avoid pollution by simply turning recluse and staying at home, but you’d be very wrong.

Studies conducted at the University of Hong Kong reveal that our own kitchens discharge carcinogenic particles into the air every time food is made with vegetable oil. Dr Tsui states that vegetable oil is ‘the most dangerous oil you can use’ since it contributes to air pollution. Clear The Air has published an article that details the process by which vegetable oil, when subjected to high temperatures, oxidises into cancer causing chemicals. “People wonder how they get sick because they eat well all their lives,” Dr Tsui remarks, “but they don’t realise they’re constantly surrounded by these cancerous particles.”

The worst part of all of this is that the toxic kitchen discharge is completely preventable. According to Dr Tsui, the government has the ability and resources to go into restaurants and check their deep friers for dangerous particles.

“It’s a simple test strip and they can do it very easily,” he tells us. “But I have made this announcement for years and the government has not taken any action!” By placing steam jet filters in the kitchen stove, the carcinogenic particles could be released into water. This wouldn’t contaminate the water, according to Dr Tsui, because by the time the dangerous particles pass through the filter and hit the water, many things happen chemically to make the particles no longer harmful.

And cooking oil and air pollution are not the only worries we need have in Hong Kong. After the waves of rubbish that washed up on our beaches over the summer, Hongkongers should be acutely aware of the problem of landfill. Around 30 percent of landfill is made of Styrofoam and in 500 years, that same Styrofoam will still not have decomposed. What’s worse, Styrofoam is mainly composed of styrene, an extremely dangerous chemical that has been linked to cancer, vision and hearing loss, impaired memory and concentration, damage to the nervous systems and depression. “Styrene is dangerous,” Dr Tsui declares. “Styrene is vicious. Styrene should not exist in the food chain and yet, every restaurant [in Hong Kong] today still uses Styrofoam takeout boxes.” Worryingly, when we eat hot food or drink hot liquid from Styrofoam plates, boxes or cups, it’s possible for us to consume the styrene that leaches out of the hazardous material.

Once we’ve ingested these dangerous chemicals, they can swim into our bloodstreams, penetrate our organs and cause irrevocable damage to our bodies. Even Styrofoam that’s out in the ocean can ultimately affect us since when marine life, such as fish, consume it, styrene enters the food chain and eventually, Dr Tsui believes, ‘we’ll eat the darn thing’.

Dr Tsui asks: “How can the government be so blind and be so idiotic to allow this to go on?” Just as toxic kitchen discharges are preventable, so too is the use of Styrofoam. Not just in the food industry but all industries. Instead of using Styrofoam boxes for takeaway meals, companies should start using biodegradable containers, Clear The Air advocates. This minor innovation is also very much within the grasp of companies’ capabilities. Fibre generated from corn can be made to make the boxes and then coated in honey wax. Best of all, these resources are biodegradable.

Another solution that the government and corporations can consider implementing, according to Clear The Air, is changing the original chemical composition used to make Styrofoam. The government could order corporations to put titanium dioxide polymers in the Styrofoam so that once the material is dumped on landfill or into the ocean and exposed to UV light, the Styrofoam will disintegrate into carbon dioxide and water, which equates to less harmful pollution.

There are many little things we can do to contribute to a more environmentally friendly society, such as switching off the lights when we leave a room, turning off the air conditioner when we leave the house, adding insulated panels to our windows and attaching solar panels to our roofs. The list is endless. But while every little helps, these changes are too-little-too-late because, ultimately, it is up to our local authority to enact the kind of legislative reform required to make a real difference. As Dr Tsui so clearly puts it: “No matter how rich or how poor you are, you are subjected to this kind of invisible attack. The government needs to stop with the [political games] and start working on practical solutions to eradicate pollution-induced cancer.”

Unfortunately, when it comes to asking the government for help, every issue seems like an urgent matter. Compared to global threats such as deadly diseases like the zika virus or even more mundane local issues like affordable housing, the largely invisible problem of pollution is all too often pushed to the bottom of the list of priorities.

The public, not just the government, underestimate the drastic consequences of air contamination since the effects are not as apparent as many other similarly pressing matters. But pollution is an urgent problem because it surrounds us all. It’s in the air we breathe, the places we walk and the supposedly safe confines of our own homes. We live and breathe pollution whether we like it or not, so it’s about time we paid attention.

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Beijing took a hard line on Hong Kong – that may have backfired–that-may-have-backfired-20160905-gr9f86

In 2014, tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents took to the streets in a defiant challenge to China. They called for full democracy, universal suffrage and the protection of their way of life.

But few spoke of independence — until now.

Two years after the “umbrella revolution” swept Hong Kong, with rising anger about Beijing’s influence in the city, what once was a fringe position has become a nascent political force.

On Sunday, in the first election since the 2014 protests, a record number of Hong Kong voters chose several candidates who either support the idea of independence from China, or have called for far greater autonomy.

According to early results, the new faces include Sixtus Leung, a 30-year-old who has said he supports independence and Nathan Law, a 23-year-old student leader who helped lead the 2014 protests and is calling for a referendum on “self-determination.”

The results will not immediately change Hong Kong’s governance. Only half of the seats of the city’s 70-member legislative council are directly elected through universal suffrage; half are “functional constituencies” that give corporations, associations and chambers of commerce actual votes.

Yet the strong showing by young, pro-independence and pro-democracy candidates means that those critical of Beijing’s influence will maintain the ability to veto policies proposed by the pro-China camp.

And it sends a clear message to Beijing: The battleground may have shifted, but the fight for Hong Kong is on.

Over the past four years, Hong Kong’s political landscape has been radically reshaped.

In 1997, the onetime British colony was returned to Chinese rule under an arrangement known as “one country, two systems.” Hong Kong would maintain certain rights and separate laws for 50 years but would be beholden, ultimately, to Beijing.

In the “two systems” framework, many in Hong Kong saw space for political change. And for the better part of 15 years, the city’s pro-democracy camp worked within the system for that goal.

When people in Hong Kong last voted in legislative elections, in 2012, independence was not on the agenda. But 2014 changed that.

In June of that year, Beijing issued a white paper that confirmed some of the democracy movement’s worst fears about the Chinese government’s plans for Hong Kong. “One country, two systems” does not mean autonomy, it said, but rather “the power to run local affairs as authorised by the central leadership.”

By September, anger about the paper, combined with outrage about the arrest of student leaders, culminated in the peaceful occupation of one of Asia’s financial centres — for 79 days.

But thousands of people sleeping on a major thoroughfare did not secure a single concession from Beijing. And by the time the crowds dispersed and the tent city was torn down, many thought the movement was over.

Perhaps it could have been. But in the years since, Beijing has done little to ease fears. Last winter, five men affiliated with a Hong Kong publishing house that specialises in gossipy books about Chinese leaders disappeared – abducted, it later emerged, by Chinese security forces.

One of the men, Lee Bo, is thought to have been spirited away from a Hong Kong warehouse and smuggled across the border to the Chinese mainland — an act widely considered a violation of “one country, two systems.”

While missing, he sent strange, seemingly scripted letters back to Hong Kong claiming that he was not missing but “assisting with an investigation.” As the farce unfolded, Hong Kong’s government was either unwilling or unable to help.

This and other incidents have fuelled a surge in anti-China sentiment and an interest in the idea of independence, especially among the young. Rather than address that anger, though, the government has tried to outlaw it.

In July, Hong Kong’s election commission said candidates in the legislative election had to sign a pledge accepting three clauses in the city’s mini-constitution, known as the Basic Law, that say Hong Kong is part of China. Six candidates were later barred from running because of their views.

In August, Hong Kong teachers were warned that they could lose their qualifications if they advocated independence in schools.

Hong Kong’s leader, Leung Chun-ying, said that the city’s teachers should stop students from talking about independence – just as they stop them from doing drugs. Another official, Fanny Law, said on the radio that the topic is simply “too complicated” for school.

The interest does not mean that independence is likely, but it suggests how hard it will be for China’s leaders to win hearts and minds as the gap between Beijing and Hong Kong seems to grow.

In a poll published in July by the Chinese University of Hong Kong, about 17 percent of 1,010 Hong Kongers surveyed said they support independence after 2047. The survey found that less than four per cent thought independence was possible.

In Beijing’s eyes, of course, it is absolutely not an option. In May, a top Communist Party official, Zhang Dejiang, dismissed independence out of hand, warning Hong Kong against moves to “resist the central government.”

Alzheimer’s could be caused by toxic air pollution particles found in brain tissue

Abundance of magnetite in brains of people from Mexico City and Manchester described as “dreadfully shocking”

Minute magnetic particles typically found in air pollution have been detected in “abundant” quantities in human brain tissue for the first time.

The tiny particles of iron oxide, known as magnetite, are toxic and it has been suggested they could play a role in causing or hastening the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

The study, in which brain tissue samples from 37 people were collected from those who had lived in Mexico City and in Manchester in the UK, is the first to prove magnetite particles found in air pollution have made their way into the brain.

Magnetite naturally occurs in angular formations in the brain. But for every one natural angular particle, researchers found as many as 100 smooth, spherical particles.

The smooth shape of the observed magnetite particles is characteristic of high temperature formation, such as from vehicle (particularly diesel) engines, power stations or open fires, researchers said.

The toxic magnetite particles disrupt normal cellular functions in the brain by causing oxidative stress, and by the creation of unstable free radicals – particles which damage essential structures in brain cells.

Though no definite link between magnetite and Alzheimer’s has been established, previous studies have found a correlation between high quantities of the compound and the disease in the brains of Alzheimer’s sufferers.

The study was led by scientists at Lancaster University and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The World Health Organisation warned as many as three million premature deaths every year were the result of air pollution.

In the UK it is thought as many as 50,000 people die each year due to air pollution. A further 520,000 are affected by Alzheimer’s, a common form of dementia.

Physicist Barbara Maher, co-director of the Centre for Environmental Magnetism and Paleomagnetism at Lancaster University said in a statement: “Our results indicate that magnetite nanoparticles in the atmosphere can enter the human brain, where they might pose a risk to human health, including conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.

“The particles we found are strikingly similar to the magnetite nanospheres that are abundant in the airborne pollution found in urban settings, especially next to busy roads, and which are formed by combustion or frictional heating from vehicle engines or brakes.”

Speaking to the BBC she added: “It’s dreadfully shocking. When you study the tissue you see the particles distributed between the cells and when you do a magnetic extraction there are millions of particles, millions in a single gram of brain tissue – that’s a million opportunities to do damage.”

Professor David Allsop, a specialist in Alzheimer’s at the University of Lancaster and co-author of the study, said: “This finding opens up a whole new avenue for research into a possible environmental risk factor for a range of different brain diseases.”

Geophysicist Joe Kirschvink at California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, who first detected naturally formed magnetite particles in the brain 25 years ago, told the journal Science, he believes the presence of the particle in the brain is “disturbing”.

He said: “Once you start getting larger volumes of [environmental] magnetite, the chemical reactivity goes way up.

“That nanoparticles of industrially generated magnetite are able to make their way into the brain tissues is disturbing.”

Dr David Reynolds, chief scientific officer at Alzheimer’s Research UK, told the Press Association: “Little is known about the role of magnetite nanoparticles in the brain and whether their magnetic properties influence brain function.

“It’s interesting to see further research investigating the presence of this mineral in the brain, but it’s too early to conclude that it may have a causal role in Alzheimer’s disease or any other brain disease.

“We know that air pollution can have a negative impact on certain aspects of human health, but we can’t conclude from this study that magnetite nanoparticles carried in air pollution are harmful to brain health.”

Policymakers should take note of the results, Professor Maher told Science.

“It’s an unfortunately plausible risk factor, and it’s worth taking precautions. Policymakers have tried to account for this in their environmental regulations, but maybe those need to be revised,” she said.

Red tides in Hong Kong flag failings of small-house policy and officials in denial

The report on the causes of recent red tides by the University of Hong Kong (“Seeing red over algal blooms”, July 30), highlights the woeful performance of the government in controlling marine pollution.

A major source of pollution is sewage from New Territories houses. Houses constructed under the small-house policy are exempted from building regulations and often have individual septic tanks.

Many village houses are part of large development plans, masterminded by developers and the Heung Yee Kuk, which are a blatant abuse of the small-house policy. Fake farming activities are often used to “condition” land before submitting building applications. Despite often being part of a coordinated development plan, house applications are treated individually. Planning authorities do not assess the cumulative impact of siting numerous septic tanks close to environmentally sensitive waters.

There are no plans to extend mains sewage to most New Territories villages and the government refuses to consider environmentally friendly sewage treatment plants for villages.

The Environmental Protection Department’s guidance material for constructing septic tanks is, by its own admission, incomplete.

The material is way behind international best practice, offering no protection to coastlines other than where there is a gazetted beach. Rules in the Water Pollution Control Ordinance, designed to protect Sites of Special Scientific Interest, mariculture sites and marinas, are ignored. The Lands Department, which processes individual house applications, uses its own document, which was agreed at a secret meeting between the Environmental Protection and Lands departments in 2009. It further waters down the regulations, for instance, removing the need to assess the suitability of soil conditions for septic tanks in many cases.

Monitoring water quality is haphazard and the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department is incapable of measuring the minute quantities of pesticides which can be extremely toxic to marine life.

The main function of water quality monitoring appears to be to enable the Environmental Protection and Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation departments to tell everyone that there is no problem. The government lives in a state of denial of serious marine pollution problems.

The unaccountable, incompetent, complacent and uncaring bureaucrats who are in charge of Hong Kong’s environment will not be happy until the land is covered in concrete and the seas filled with plastic, human excrement and chemicals. So much for Hong Kong’s commitment to the Convention on Biodiversity. Compliance is a cosmetic farce.

David Newbery, Sai Kung

Nanjing ends waste incineration project

The eastern city of Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, has put an end to a controversial waste incineration project following public uproar.

The government of Nanjing’s Liuhe District announced on Thursday that it will stop the incineration project after widespread public disapproval. A scheduled public consultation on Thursday was subsequently canceled.

The announcement received a lukewarm, or even hostile, reception online with many netizens saying that they are not against the incineration plant, but rather where it is built, and whether it will operate in accordance with rules to avoid pollution.

Zhang Guoru, deputy head of the district’s urban management bureau, said that there is currently only one incinerator in the district, which can dispose of about 150 tonnes of household garbage each day.

“As the district is developing fast, the amount of garbage has exceeded 380 tonnes every day, and is predicted to reach 500 tonnes per day in three years,” he said.

Incinerators are considered the most feasible and effective means of disposing of garbage, but pollution concerns have led to public protests.

In 2014, a planned waste incinerator in east China’s Zhejiang Province led to clashes with police.

Grand Hyatt Singapore’s effort in reducing waste production in Singapore

Grand Hyatt Singapore implements organic food waste management system, reducing waste production of the hotel and converts the waste into useable fertiliser.

The hotel received a grant of S$250,000 through the 3R (Reduce, Reuse & Recycle) Fund for the installation and implementation of the system. The grant is calculated based on key outcomes such as the actual quantity of waste reduced or recycled.

The 3R Fund, created by the National Environmental Agency, is a co-funding scheme to encourage organisations to undertake waste minimisation and recycling projects.

This new organic food waste management system touches on the first and the third of the three focus points in Hyatt’s 2020 sustainability plans.

The installation and implementation system uses two individual systems that operate in sequence:

• an integrated food waste disposal system which extracts water, grinds and compacts food waste from the restaurants and event kitchens
• a ‘Rapid Thermophilic Digestion System’ which then converts compacted food waste into pathogen-free organic fertiliser.

The ‘Rapid Thermophilic Digestion System’ subsequently recycles the compacted food waste into organic fertiliser and this will be used only for the hotel’s landscaping purposes.

This innovative system enables the hotel to keep 100% of its organic food waste out of the city’s landfills – drastically reducing the property’s overall waste production and will be good for environment of the city.

The hotel said that this will also boost productivity and hygiene levels, as food waste will be transferred into the integrated in-feed stations located at various dishwashing and food preparation areas, and transported via the vacuum system into the centralised grinder and dewatering unit.

As a result, manpower is no longer required to physically move food waste into the waste compacters. About 55,000 trash bags will be saved each year, and this further contributes to the green efforts of this project which has an estimated payback period of less than 3 years.

This new waste recycling infrastructure saves Grand Hyatt Singapore approximately S$100,000 a year in food waste haulage fees and operational expenses. By eliminating the need for food waste haulage, the hotel will further reduce its carbon footprint.

Spearheaded by Executive Chef Lucas Glanville, this milestone achievement would also not have been possible without the dedication of Grand Hyatt Singapore’s Business Analyst Darrell Tan, Director of Engineering Ivan Leong, Stewarding Manager Vijay Sivarajah and the secretarial support of Anita Lukman.

Food waste is created in Singapore every single day from our food cycle – production, distribution, retail to consumption – and the wastage is huge and still looming to become a problem for the country.

According to the National Environment Agency, Singapore wasted approximately 790,000 tonnes of food in 2014 and it’s still looming to become a problem to the country.

Typically, food waste would go to a landfill where it would decompose, or it would go to an incinerator.

“The issue with landfills obviously is the emissions of landfill gas, which is basically methane. This is a very bad greenhouse gas – it is 23 times worse than carbon dioxide,” said Mr Edwin Khew, chairman of the Association of Sustainable Energy (SEAS)

At the present, burning food waste is Singapore’s primary method of waste disposal which uses enormous amounts of energy to do.

Singapore has only one landfill left – Semakau Landfill – and it is expected to run out of space if habits do not change.

It has been reported that Singapore’s landfill will run out of space between 2035 and 2045, if the nation continues to dispose of more than three million tonnes of rubbish a year.

Dutch activists sue government over air pollution

Dutch environmentalists said Tuesday they are suing the government over poor air quality, saying people’s “fundamental” rights to good health were being infringed.

In a lawsuit filed on Monday, the Milieudefensie group alleged “the Netherlands exceeds the legal standards for air quality and is violating fundamental human rights by doing too little to combat air pollution.”

“This pollution causes thousands of deaths every year, and leaves tens of thousands of people seriously ill. That is unacceptable,” added the group’s campaign manager, Anne Knol, in a statement.

The suit launched in The Hague is the first step in a lengthy process which could lead to a trial. The first hearing is due to be held on August 17.

Environmental activists say under the constitution “the state has a duty to protect citizens from unhealthy air.”

The group alleges that, in tests carried out at 58 sites across the country last year, the levels of nitrogen dioxide exceeded European norms in 11 places.

The indictment has been signed by 57 Dutch citizens, and the lawsuit has been launched after a crowd-funding campaign raised some 30,000 euros ($33,593) to cover the costs.

This latest action comes after another Dutch environmental rights group, Urgenda, last year won a landmark ruling ordering the government to slash greenhouse gases by a quarter by 2020.

Climate experts hailed the June 2015 ruling as “a milestone” in a case brought by 900 Dutch citizens seeking to force a national reduction of the emissions blamed for global warming. The government is appealing.