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Public Forum To Look At Air-Quality Review

Cheung Chi-fai – Updated on Mar 12, 2009 – SCMP

The government is inviting the public to attend a forum next week on the review of its air-quality objectives after consultants unveil initial results that will map out a strategy.

The forum will be held on March 20, a day after lawmakers are to be briefed by the consultant. An expert group that has steered the review since 2007 will also meet tomorrow to discuss the results.

Clean-air advocates have said environment officials will probably stick largely to their previous proposal of adopting what critics have described as standards for beginners. Hong Kong has been applying the same air-quality objectives for 21 years without review, lagging far behind the latest World Health Organisation guidelines, issued in 2005.

“We do not expect the consultant to come up with recommended standards very different from what has been mentioned before,” a source close to the expert group said.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen said in his last policy address that the city would adopt a set of minimum interim targets as a first step towards the ultimate targets. He also said the proportion of electricity generated by natural gas would be increased to at least one-half.

The source expected officials to make minor adjustments to these interim targets, such as tightening the limits on respirable suspended particles in the air. The consultant will release findings on the cost and projected health benefits.

One of the review’s key stakeholders, CLP Power, reported yesterday that its emissions of key pollutants dropped between 16 and 30 per cent last year, as it expanded natural-gas intake from its Hainan reserve, raising its share in the fuel mix from 23 to 28 per cent. Its carbon emission also fell 8 per cent.

Meanwhile, in a “green boat” project in collaboration with the University of Hong Kong’s department of mechanical engineering, a leisure junk owned by insurer Aviva has become the city’s first vessel to run on diesel, mixed with 5 per cent of bio-diesel refined from waste cooking oil.

It was also retrofitted with solar panels and a micro-wind turbine to power electrical devices on board.

Researchers said bio-diesel could help cut smoke emissions by 10 per cent. They hoped to eventually test an engine that runs 100 per cent on bio-diesel and a new smoke-reduction device for the boat.

Simon Phipps, managing director of Aviva, said the retrofit cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars was minimal compared with the health costs of doing nothing to tackle air pollution.

Greener Paths

SCMP – Updated on Feb 19, 2009

It is fashionable, the world over, to talk about government budget-stimulus measures and job-creation packages. There is also a trend promoting the transformation to a “green” and “low carbon” economy, as well as creating “green” jobs. What might work in Hong Kong? A green economic approach needs to be defined for policymaking purposes. Now is the right time to shape a new kind of prosperity, based on quality of life rather than materialism. If the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak in 2003 and the current financial crisis have taught us anything, it is to treasure how we live rather than to define ourselves by what we buy. Good health and well-being have become much more important to Hong Kong people, and they will only become more important. The green agenda reminds us that our good health depends on ecological health. Therefore, protecting the environment and reversing climate change are vital. A degraded environment will definitely compromise our health.

Thus, a green economy is one based on creating prosperity and jobs while stabilising the climate, protecting the environment, reversing its degradation and promoting people’s health. This new economic vision works within ecological boundaries of resource renewal and waste absorption, while people’s health is also a key focus. This means we must pay more attention to what the planet is telling us about ecological tipping points.

Mainland China has several strategies, which are already national policies, that Hong Kong can adopt while making the transition to a green economy.

First, Hong Kong must strive to be more resource efficient, which means conserving all raw materials, including water. When we use raw materials, we must do so as efficiently as modern technology and good management allow us. For example, we must become much more energy efficient in everything, from power generation to transport, manufacturing, property development and consumer choices.

Second, we should aim to achieve the greatest number of benefits across the board. For example, as policymakers seek ways to improve energy efficiency, they could also address the impact of air pollution and climate change. Third, we must reduce waste massively, by redesigning products, improving their durability, and promoting reuse and recycling. National policymakers call this the “circular economy”.

Such concepts aim to achieve the greatest climate, ecological and health benefits through saving resources, which can also result in financial gains. In other words, use less, spend less, pollute less. To get there, the government has numerous tools at its disposal. A good start is better standards. Tightening the city’s air-quality standards, for example, would promote technical innovation and new management approaches, while improving air quality and public health. By reforming energy and building codes, Hong Kong will get a new generation of much better buildings in return.

Another powerful tool is for the government to use its procurement and public works as levers for a green revolution. Public-sector spending, coupled with wide consumer-product labelling and public-information campaigns, can play a very important role in ramping up economies of scale and therefore achieving cost competitiveness.

Public works offer a large range of green projects and jobs. There are many opportunities for green “intelligent” government buildings and public housing, to propel the economy out of its current inefficient, “business-as-usual”, mode.

More green jobs could be created on the design side of development. Thoughtfully designed buildings and districts require more services like architecture, urban planning, landscaping, electrical and mechanical services, and indoor air-and water-quality control. Many buildings will need to be retrofitted to make them more energy efficient, for

Christine Loh Kung-wai is chief executive of the think-tank Civic Exchange.

Economic Crisis Gives Us A Chance To Become Environmentally Friendly

SCMP – Updated on Feb 01, 2009

Air pollution is a major concern in Hong Kong. I think the present financial crisis is the best time to begin changing our energy policies in an effort to lower our air pollution levels. We must do this, because as air quality deteriorates, our health will suffer. With [continuing dependence on oil] and fluctuating oil prices, we will face more economic instability. We have to recognise that as pollution gets worse, some professionals from abroad are reluctant to come and live in Hong Kong. Being a commercial city, there is huge demand for electricity. As a major entrepot in South China, our trucks, ships and aircraft consume a lot of fossil fuel.

I believe our power stations should come up with a strategy to develop renewable energy resources. We are using non-renewable energy, in the form of coal, natural gas and nuclear power. More should be done in Hong Kong to develop wind, solar and biomass energy. We should also consider co-operating with the authorities in Guangdong with a view to a joint venture through which we could develop green energy. Hong Kong could provide the necessary financing for such a joint venture and Guangdong could offer cheap labour and the spare land needed to establish the green projects. By lowering the cost of labour, land and energy, we can persuade foreign investors to set up companies in Hong Kong.

The government should also encourage Hong Kong citizens to save energy. For example, it could offer tax exemptions for environmentally friendly private cars. Tax penalties could be imposed on cars that pollute because of the fuel they use. I think the tax on plastic bags is a good start. We need to develop a new culture of responsibility regarding the environment. Instead of creating construction jobs as a way to stimulate the economy, we should consider ways of creating green job opportunities, especially for the unskilled who are out of work. For example, people will be needed to categorise our refuse and promote a recycling programme for Hong Kong’s households.

As I said, I think the economic downturn offers us a golden opportunity to diversify and develop green industries.

Stefan Lam Kit-yung, Tuen Mun

Building Code To Resolve Green Issues

Architects banking on building code to resolve green issues

Building Design and Construction – 25th Jan 2009

Office workers and visitors taking the lifts and escalators to work each day at the ICC are part of a towering commitment to ensure buildings become more environmentally friendly.

Buildings account for a massive chunk of heating, cooling costs and harmful carbon emissions, but architects are continually striving to enhance energy-saving features and reduce their carbon footprint.

Mega-skyscrapers such as the ICC can propel these aims further while improving the quality of the surrounding environment – particularly in densely populated Hong Kong. Cass Gilbert, one of the architects who pioneered the New York skyscraper boom in the 1920s, described such towers as machines for making the land pay. Today, leading local architects such as Rocco Yim point out that tall buildings take the corporate world up where it belongs to allow more ground space to be used for recreation or leisure. Or that is the theory. What Hong Kong has seen in certain areas is the “wall effect” whereby tower blocks have been built in a row, often upon a four- to five-storey podium housing car parks or shops. This has been blamed by environmentalists for causing overheating on the ground below.

Architects and planners hope these issues will be resolved when Hong Kong’s first Green Building Council is established. The council will implement a new building code designed to give a more accurate labelling to a development’s environmental features, which will take into account density and the heating effect a building has on the surrounding area.

By its completion next year, the ICC’s environmental standards will have been benchmarked against the best US and European buildings. It has an estimated 100 advanced green features, even as construction continues on the upper floors.

Sun Hung Kai’s project management department set a target of achieving the platinum standard set by the Hong Kong Building Environmental Assessment Method Society. Studies were made using computational fluid dynamic models into the effects that a new microclimate would have on the neighbourhood. Hazards ranged from downdrafts and the reflection of sunlight to noise pollution, heat build-up and the discharge from cooling towers.

Exhaustive tests were carried out to decide where to locate wind deflectors to combat the effects of downdraft. The likely flow and impact of cooling tower emissions were also analysed to minimise the effect of any pollutants and to avoid creating a heat island, particularly in the “dragon’s tail” area of the site leading towards the Elements shopping mall. Each aspect of design, construction, operations, maintenance and property management had been studied, including the illumination of the building façade to mitigate the intensity of light facing residential buildings.

Inside, condensed water from the ICC’s air-conditioning system is reused twice: first recycled through the main cooling towers and then used to flush toilets.

Double-glazed curtain walls with low-emittance coating ensure good thermal insulation while major mechanical and electrical systems are equipped with power analysers. This would enable energy audits to detect which parts of the building consumed the most power and identify where energy saving could be made.

Grand Award Environmental Performance

Strict environmental policies put paper group ahead of the pack

John Cremer – Updated on Jan 22, 2009 – SCMP

Ingenuity and investment have been a successful combination that paved the way for Leo Paper Group (Hong Kong) to win the grand award for environmental performance.

Since 2000, the company has followed a self-imposed code of conduct, implementing stringent programmes to reduce waste, pollution and the use of water and energy, while also adhering to the highest international standards in terms of recycling and best environmental practices.

Production department director C.M. Yeung explained that many initiatives had involved examining and enhancing processes at the company’s three main production plants and print works near Jiangmen in southern China. These employ about 20,000 staff and manufacture a wide range of books, games, calendars, bags, packaging and gift items.

However, the company has also made a point of adopting green practices in every area of its business. Engineers and managers are expected to monitor research information and ideas from around the world and, wherever possible, find local applications that give large or small improvements.

“We are very focused on eliminating any waste and realise the control of energy is very important,” Mr Yeung said. “We also try to share our knowledge and experience.” He noted that several changes made in the past few years had led to a significant reduction in power consumption. For example, energy-efficient T5 lighting was installed in all the factories, cutting electricity usage by about 22 per cent.

The air-conditioning system, which runs virtually year-round, was redesigned so that the heat produced could be used to warm water for the bathrooms in nearby dormitory blocks. And the mechanical engineering team has effectively invented a centralised vacuum system, necessary for transferring paper into each printing press by suction, and for operating the binding and folding machines used in making books. Mr Yeung explained that the original system had been designed to operate only at maximum speed, something that was clearly not needed. By upgrading the mechanism to operate “on demand”, adapting the tubing to each press, and reducing indoor noise and heat, the company is able to save nearly 70 per cent of the energy used by the original design.

“We first developed it for a small area in one of the buildings, analysed the records and then installed the big system,” he said. “Some investment is required, but the payback comes quite soon.”

Similar efforts have been made for the treatment of waste water. Processed in three phases, it is reused for production, cleaning the factories and flushing toilets. Storage is in rooftop tanks to help reduce indoor temperatures. Mr Yeung said the company took its commitment to the principles of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and all forms of recycling seriously.

“We try to inspire and persuade our clients to FSC paper,” he said. “The price may be a little higher, but we try to share that.” He added the aim was to become a “zero rubbish” manufacturer. To that end, the firm is working with specialist partners to recycle paper, plastics, metals and chemicals.

California Moves on Global Warming, Warned on Cost

Reuters in San Francisco, SCMP – Updated on Dec 12, 2008

California, the leading US state on climate change, set detailed goals on Thursday (Friday, HK time) to cut greenhouse gases and address global warming but faced criticism the plan’s economic assumptions were hopelessly optimistic.

Home to the world’s eighth largest economy, California confirmed its US environmental trendsetter status with an ambitious 2006 law that seeks to cut carbon emissions linked to global warming to 1990 levels by 2020.

The law spearheaded by Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was the first in the country to set carbon targets. The federal government still has no firm plan.

“[The plan] provides a road map for the rest of the nation to follow,” Mr Schwarzenegger said. US Democratic President-elect Barack Obama has promised to make climate change a priority when he takes office on January 20.

The California Air Resources Board voted on Thursday to adopt a plan to fill in details of how to cut carbon emissions, from forest conservation to energy efficiency and carbon emissions from industry and cars and trucks.

The goal of cutting carbon emissions about 30 per cent below projected business-as-usual levels by 2020 has been widely accepted as a desirable target, and debate has moved to a cost-benefit analysis of means to make the cuts in the midst of an economic meltdown.

“We have laid out a plan which if followed can transform our economy and put us on the road to a healthier state,” board chairman Mary Nichols said as all eight board members approved the plan.

Measures include requiring that 33 percent of electricity be from renewable sources, regional transportation emissions targets and a cap-and-trade system for cutting industrial pollution by letting utilities and other companies trade emissions permits.

Much more remains to be done over the next few years. The plan has been compared to a menu for a meal, with recipes for dishes yet to be worked out.

Critics have urged the board to reconsider, including some economists who argue the analysis is full of rosy assumptions and ignores potential problems.

“All economists are sceptical when approached with a free lunch,” said University of California, Los Angeles economist Matthew Kahn. “I wonder if there would be less likelihood of a backlash if there were more discussion now.”

Companies throughout California fear rising electricity and other costs will put them out of business.

“This plan is an economic train wreck waiting to happen. Up until now, that train wreck has only existed on paper,” said California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce legislative affairs chairman James Duran.

The board, responsible for carrying out the 2006 law, said it saw the growth of green business more than making up for the costs. Its analysis shows per-capita income rising about US$200 a year as a result of the changes to the economy and a US$7 billion per year rise in the gross state product of California as a relatively small effect on the nation’s most populous state.

James Fine, an economist for the Environmental Defence Fund, argued that the impact more than a decade from now of major changes to the state economy today was impossible to tell with the precision demanded by critics. The bottom line, he said, was that the economic impact was negligible.

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense to argue about whether the economic effects are going to be a little bit positive or a little bit negative,” he said.

Mr Fine and others expect California’s plan to spur action from the US Congress, which has fail

CitySeen: Still Trying To Clear The Air, 11 Years On

Andrew Sun, SCMP – Nov 13, 2008

Under a clear night sky, the Clear the Air group celebrated its 11th anniversary at the Fringe rooftop on Tuesday, at the same time kicking off a campaign to convince more companies to sign up for the corporate clean-air effort and commit to reducing their carbon footprint.scm_news_clear_the_air

“There are different categories,” Lisa Christensen, the fund-raising and events chairwoman (pictured with ambassadors Jocelyn Luko and Anthony Sandstrom) explained. “Through their involvement, we’ve created a plan for companies that sign up to take action. We’ll offer them a free consultation to start to improve their air quality. That’s the first step. It’s scaled for all levels of corporations, from [small and medium-sized enterprises] to large factories. At one major sportswear manufacturer, we did a four-week consultation and [helped it improve] energy savings by 20 per cent.”

Given how the industry has tanked in the past two months, you would think any sort of socially conscious campaign would get doors slammed in its face as businesses hope to ride out the economic storm. “Surprisingly, not,” Christensen said.

“I’ve been through bird flu and Sars, and traditionally green promotion was the first thing to go, but the reception to our cause has been very good. But we have had no luck with banks.”

Contact Clear the Air at 2886 2655.

Additional reporting by Clara Mak and Vivian Chen. Send tips, tickets and invitations to

HK People Reluctant To Change Ways For Cleaner Planet, Survey Finds

Cheung Chi-fai, SCMP – Nov 04, 2008

Hongkongers are among the least willing to change their behaviour for a better environment, according to a poll covering 17 countries and regions.

The poll also found Hong Kong people tended to favour such habits as controlling their energy use rather than green purchasing or more sophisticated behaviour that required more time and skills. In the poll conducted by TNS in June, more than 13,000 people in 17 countries and regions in Asia, Europe, South America and Australasia were interviewed online. About 400 were from Hong Kong.

It found that while more than 70 per cent of Hongkongers said they were willing to pay more for a better environment, only 33 per cent said they had changed their behaviour “a great deal” or “a good amount” for the environment.

The score was lower than the global average of 40 per cent and was the fourth-lowest among the 17 regions, after South Korea, Germany and Russia. The most willing to change their habits were Mexicans – 74 per cent.

From a list of 34 green habits in the survey, the five most frequently practised by Hongkongers all related to energy use. Up to 76 per cent said they always or often shut down computers and unplugged electrical appliances not in use, compared with the global average of 69 per cent.

Other habits favoured by Hong Kong people include air-drying laundry, washing clothes in cold water, using efficient light bulbs, tuning air conditioning at appropriate temperatures and cutting back on travel.

“The Hong Kong public score well above the international average in terms of these particular habits and actions. Yet their performance is disappointing in other ways,” said Wade Garland, managing director of TNS Hong Kong and Singapore.

When asked how often they bought used clothes or furniture, 60 per cent of Hongkongers said never or rarely, compared with the global average of 51 per cent, while 41 per cent never or rarely purchased eco-friendly clothing and shoes, compared with the global average of 27 per cent.

Hong Kong people also scored lower on making their own cleaning supplies, composting, having cars tuned annually and having a meatless meal at least once a week.

A question on the proposed plastic-bag levy found 42 per cent of respondents describing it as “not very effective” or “not at all effective”. Only 25 per cent said it was highly effective.

While up to 97 per cent of people were aware of the No Plastic Bag Day campaign, only 82 per cent brought their own bag on that day, and 7 per cent opted to pay 50 HK cents for each plastic bag. The other 11 per cent avoided making purchases.

Mr Garland said Hong Kong consumers seemed willing to foot the bill and enjoy the convenience. He said publicity should be stepped up to remind people about the beneficial impacts that green habits can have.

Emissions At Least On Par With US: Beijing Admits It May Be World’s Top Polluter

Shi Jiangtao in Beijing – SCMP | Updated on Oct 30, 2008

A top climate official has admitted the mainland’s greenhouse gas emissions are at least on a par with those of the United States, but said the unfolding financial crisis was presenting new economic and technological opportunities to restructure the international campaign against global warming.

Xie Zhenhua , deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission, also said yesterday rich countries must take the lead in cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and contributing money and technology to developing countries.

It was the first time the central government had publicly acknowledged that China may have passed the US to become the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter.

“Based on information we have at hand, our total emissions are roughly the same as the US,” Mr Xie said at the launch of the country’s first white paper on tackling climate change.

International research institutes and experts have said for two years that China’s output of carbon dioxide, the key greenhouse gas, had surpassed that of the US, given that the latest data on China’s greenhouse gas emissions was from 1994.

But Mr Xie said: “Whether or not we have surpassed the US is not in itself important.” He repeated China’s stance that it was only fair to consider historical and accumulated emissions in determining whether developed or developing countries should play a bigger role in the global fight against climate change.

The white paper says: “Developed countries should be responsible for their accumulative emissions and current high per capita emissions, and take the lead in reducing emissions, in addition to providing financial support and transferring technologies to developing countries.”

Mr Xie said China’s per-capita emissions for its 1.3 billion people remain much lower than those of rich countries, and was about a fifth of the US average. “As China is in the process of industrialisation and urbanisation, it is fairly natural that the country’s greenhouse gas emissions grow very fast,” he said.

He also said it was not fair for China to take responsibility for emissions generated on behalf of countries that consumed Chinese exports, which accounted for 24 per cent of the country’s total emissions.

Both the white paper and Mr Xie played down the growing criticism over China’s refusal to accept a mandatory target in cutting emissions.

“There is no doubt that under the Kyoto Protocol, developed countries must take the lead in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions,” Mr Xie said.

Under the UN-sponsored treaty, developing countries are not obliged to accept mandatory caps, but the US has refused to ratify it, citing the framework’s failure to hold China and India more responsible.

“But regardless of the results of international negotiations and how much developed countries honour their commitments, China from its own perspective must realise sustainable development,” Mr Xie said. “We must save energy, raise energy efficiency, develop renewable energies and adopt measures aimed at reducing greenhouse gases.”

He said the financial turmoil should be viewed as an opportunity for China as well as the whole world to carry out economic restructuring, promoting environmentally friendly technology and cutting pollution.

“Tackling climate change and the financial crisis is not contradictory,” he said. “We will seize the opportunity to increase domestic demand and funding on energy efficiency. We will have to solve climate change and environmental problems through development.”

Mr Xie said developed countries should contribute at least 0.7 per cent of their gross domestic products to help developing countries fight global warming.

Analysts said the release of the policy paper as well as recent remarks by mainland officials were part of Beijing’s strategy amid intense negotiations on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

An international climate change seminar on technology transfer organised by the UN and China will be held in Beijing next week, and delegates from more than 190 countries will participate in another key UN conference on climate change in Poznan, Poland, in December.

Yang Ailun , from Greenpeace China, said the white paper was basically a review of the government’s achievements in tackling climate change in the past few years.

“While it may not have much new information, it is clearly aimed at highlighting China’s progress in cutting emissions ahead of international negotiations,” she said.

Black Cloud Has Silver Lining

SCMP | Updated on Oct 28, 2008

The global slowdown has resulted in the closure of a number of factories. As many of these factories were polluters, this has meant cleaner air.

Also, as the credit crunch affects individuals, many have stopped driving to save money and are using public transport. This has led to a reduction in emissions.

The economic tsunami has brought tough times to us all but, in terms of the environment, we should see something good coming from this.

I hope that if the air does become cleaner, that when the economy improves, we will try and keep it that way.

We have been through crises before but, just like the meltdown in 1997, we will emerge from this.

As I said, I hope we can learn from our mistakes regarding the environment, so that climate change does not get worse.

Harina Fong, Wong Tai Sin