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HK And Guangdong Air Quality Shows Slight Decline On Last Year

Joyce Ng – SCMP | Updated on Oct 30, 2008

Air quality in Guangdong and Hong Kong in the first half of the year was marginally worse than a year earlier, data from a regional network of monitoring stations shows.

Only three stations showed improvements over the same period last year, and pollution levels at all 16 exceeded the national air quality standard set for general residential areas part of the time.

Air quality was unsatisfactory 28.07 per cent of the time on average, compared with 27.68 per cent in the corresponding period last year. A Hong Kong government source said it would not be scientific to compare two years’ data and conclude air pollution had not improved.

The three stations which showed improvement were in Guangzhou and Foshan. The other 13, including the three stations in Hong Kong – in Tsuen Wan, at Tung Chung near the airport on Lantau and at Tap Mun, or Grass Island, in Mirs Bay off the north coast of Sai Kung – all had worse readings than a year earlier.

The government source ascribed the improvement in air quality in Foshan to the relocation of highly polluting ceramics factories. The worst air quality was recorded in March because winds were too light to dispel pollution, the source said. Coastal areas had better air quality because summer ocean winds dispersed pollutants. Regional air quality is graded from 1 (the best) to 5 (the worst).

Respirable suspended particulates were a bigger problem than the three other pollutants measured – ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide.

In parts of Guangzhou, Foshan and Huizhou, the level of respirable suspended particles of a diameter of 10 microns or more (known as PM10) exceeded safe levels between 20 and 29 per cent of the time, or for 25 to 47 days in six months.

The monitoring network was set up by Guangdong’s Environmental Protection Bureau and the Environment, Transport and Works Bureau in Hong Kong three years ago.

Despite a lack of significant improvement in air quality since then, the source said the government was confident of achieving some of the 2010 targets jointly set for emissions reductions. As well as factories relocating, vehicles in some Guangdong cities had switched to cleaner fuels, the source said.

Alexis Lau Kai-hon, an atmospheric scientist at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said his research showed there had been hardly any improvement in air quality in the region since 2004, although there was no clear sign either that it was getting worse.

He agreed that joint monitoring was beneficial, but urged the mainland authorities to release data on a daily basis instead of once every six months to allow for better research.

Hahn Chu Hon-keung, environmental affairs manager for campaign group Friends of the Earth, said the closure of some factories on the mainland and the relocation of others might have helped improve air quality in some places, but it was time governments stepped up efforts to reduce roadside pollution.

“One major source for PM10 is vehicular emissions. There is plenty of room for mainland authorities to reduce roadside pollution,” he said.

“For Hong Kong, power plants’ emissions reductions have had an effect, but there’s a need to replace old heavy diesel vehicles more quickly.”

Go Green To Beat Recession Blues

Timothy Chui – The Standard | Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Businesses that manage to survive the global economic crisis will face even bigger challenges from climate change unless they retool their operations now, according to the world’s foremost climate- change economist.

“The risk consequences of ignoring climate change will be very much bigger than ignoring risks in the financial system,” former British Treasury economist Lord Nicholas Stern said.

Describing the current financial crisis as the worst since World War II, Stern is forecasting recession for 80 percent of the developed world.

He said governments, while spending to bolster the financial system, should also take the opportunity to reshape the economy to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

“Markets will change. If you get locked into high carbon technology and the price of carbon goes up, which it will, then you’ve got a real profit risk. Those who innovate first will get the biggest returns,” he said.

Stern told an assembly of leading businesses at the Climate Group’s 2008 Conference at the JW Marriott yesterday that Hong Kong, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, is among the top 10 most vulnerable cities to climate change from sea level rise and air pollution.

Fresh from last week’s Asia-Europe Meeting in Beijing, where mainland authorities signaled their commitment to the global climate change effort to be outlined in Copenhagen next year, Stern said the likely target of 50 percent carbon dioxide reductions by 2050 would require developed nations to cut their emissions by 80 percent.

The former economist also called for more public money to be poured into carbon neutral research and development, including carbon neutral road transport and power generation.

The author of 2006 Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change said regulations such as banning combustion cars from cities by 2020 may revolutionize automobiles the way regulations that abolished leaded fuel did.

Head of HSBC Corporate Sustainability Teresa Au Pui-yi pegged the impact of rising sea levels at trillions of dollars.

Chief executive officer of Climate Group Steve Howard said delaying some key technology such as carbon capture and storage by one year would mean the concentration of CO2 mid-century going up one part per million.

“We probably only have leeway of a few tenths of parts per million,” Howard said.

Clearing The Air Will Take Time And Money, Says Environment Chief

Cheung Chi-fai – SCMP | Updated on Oct 21, 2008

The environment minister yesterday tried to play down expectations about the pace and scope of efforts to reduce air pollution, saying every measure had its price and a public consensus was needed on the way forward.

Edward Yau Tang-wah said boosting natural gas use in electricity generation was one of the ways to help meet the World Health Organisation’s air quality targets – which are much stricter than Hong Kong’s. But those targets would not be met without there being a price to pay, he said. Gas costs up to 50 per cent more than coal, though fuel prices were likely to remain volatile.

“Furthermore, some existing coal-fired generation units will have to be replaced by gas-fired units. It will involve more capital investment and we have to be cautious about that,” Mr Yau said on an RTHK programme.

He said the replacement of coal-fired turbines could be delayed if more effort was put into saving energy.

“Even if fuel prices are getting ever higher, if we are using the energy wisely we will still have a hedge against the rise,” he said.

He would not speculate about the impact on fuel bills of the government asking power suppliers to use cleaner fuel.

Mr Yau said that because he wore two hats as environment secretary and energy chief, he had to balance both carefully with due regard to public sentiment, although he fully supported cleaning up the air.

“We will not restore the blue skies at any cost. The administration will have to be cautious about the direction in which he head, the steps we take and how quickly we take them.

“That’s what we are doing and what the public is asking us to do,” he said.

Mr Yau admitted that meeting the WHO targets would be difficult and required a multi-pronged approach, with measures to cut emissions from power plants and vehicles.

“We need a basket of measures, though they might have varying impacts. But we have to achieve the WHO standards, so we should be ready for the price we have to pay.”

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, in his policy address last week, outlined plans to adopt a set of WHO pollution standards to replace the city’s outdated air quality objectives.

Hong Kong Choking On Its Own Pollution

Dirty old town

Hong Kong is slowly choking on its own pollution. Technology may be a major cause, but it could also be a cure

David Wilson – Updated on Sep 28, 2008 – SCMP

Hong Kong survived the bird-flu pandemic and Asian financial crisis in 1997 and the Sars outbreak in 2003. Now many fear that it will be a chronic crisis – air pollution – that will do most harm to the city’s future.

In a place where earnings and acquisition have long been people’s priorities, a dramatic shift in behaviour appears necessary to prevent Hong Kong from becoming a victim of its “toxic sewers”.

Calls have been made, urging consumers to adopt “clean” technologies, and the city’s government and commercial sectors to pursue more green initiatives.

Clean technology, as described by United States-based research firm Clean Edge, is “a diverse range of products, services and processes that harness renewable materials and energy sources, dramatically reduce the use of natural resources, and cut or eliminate emissions and wastes”. It notes that clean technologies “are competitive with, if not superior to, their conventional counterparts”.

Green initiatives include campaigns against “light pollution” – the excessive use of neon lights and overlit advertising. Government-led efforts include implementing strict guidelines for auditing the carbon emissions of commercial and residential buildings and more stringent air-quality, fuel and vehicle emission standards.

According to research conducted at the University of Hong Kong, the city’s air contains almost three times more soot and other pollutants than New York’s and more than twice that of London. Hong Kong is bedeviled by high particulate matter levels, which are linked to increased mortality risk. It also has high levels of sulphur dioxide, which has been linked to childhood respiratory disease.

The main culprits are coal-fired power plants, wasteful household consumption and traffic. It was reported that Hong Kong’s roads are the world’s most crowded, with almost 280 vehicles for every kilometre. Early this month, Greenpeace China unveiled its Real Air Pollution Index for Hong Kong, to spur the government to fall in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines. On the green group’s website, there is the Air Pollution Clock – a free download that counts the number of hours since July 1 this year that Hong Kong’s air has failed to reach WHO standards.

As well as discouraging tourists, the pollution is threatening Hong Kong’s status as Asia’s financial hub. US investment bank Merrill Lynch has warned that the air quality is so lousy it poses a real danger to the city’s long-term competitiveness. Already, multinational corporate executives have given up on Hong Kong’s smog-filled skyline and moved to greener Asian cities, such as Singapore. We have asked a group of local experts to share their views on how members of the community can do their bit to help clean up the city and the planet.

Christine Loh Kung-wai is a former Hong Kong legislator and chief executive of Civic Exchange, an independent, non-profit public policy think-tank.

“Anything that is more energy-efficient can qualify [as clean technology], including bicycles and other pedal-powered devices. Look at the Segway two-wheeled electric transporter. Consider low-energy light bulbs and lightweight hybrid cars such as the Hypercar from the Rocky Mountain Institute []. The vehicle offers ultra-light construction, low-drag design and hybrid-electric drive. Cars made with strong lightweight materials go further on less fuel.

“Then there is clean water technology – aided by devices such as filters and low-flow shower heads. More and more Escos [energy service companies], architects and engineers, even power companies are providing energy-efficient products.

“But changing our behaviour is more important than buying new technology. We must consume less.”

Christian Masset, chairman of Clear the Air (, a volunteer organisation targeting Hong Kong’s air-pollution issues, suggests that households take the initiative and provide a good example in their local communities.

“To save on energy, install a room temperature controller such as the ION Tx PIR. It’s basically a smart thermostat that controls the overall temperature using a network of occupancy sensors in various rooms in a home. It can be paired with the air conditioner or, even better, with less energy-consuming ceiling fans.

“Whatever electronics you have in your house, it’s best not to leave them on standby. Switch them off when not in use. This simple energy-cutting solution can save up to 20 per cent on your electricity bill.

“If you live in a windy location, install Motorwind [] turbines to produce part of your electricity without drawing it all from the [electricity] grid. The nylon turbines can be installed on balconies of flats or rooftops of buildings and generate electricity at wind speeds as low as 2 metres per second.

“For cleaner transport, I think people should support the Hong Kong-made electric car designed by EuAuto Technology []. All you need to do is plug the car into a standard household socket for six to eight hours to recharge its batteries. Once the vehicle has been fully charged, you’re ready to go – and at speeds of up to 40mph.”

James Ockenden, publisher of environmental technology, engineering and finance magazine Blue Skies China [], believes that prudent investment decisions could make a big difference.

“Buy a clean-tech mutual fund but watch where the money is invested. Some high-street `climate change’ funds invest in Toyota, claiming hybrid development is worthy of green money. That is debatable. Make sure the fund manager’s definition of `green’ aligns with yours. If you have US$50,000 to invest, consider a specialist Chinese venture capital fund. The money will go pretty much directly into a clean technology start-up.

“Watch your carbon offsets [a carbon offset is a financial instrument representing a reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions]. Choose a well-audited scheme such as [the non-profit US organisation buys and retires certified carbon offsets for its donors]. You can be sure your money will actually go towards making industry pay more for the right to produce carbon dioxide [CO2] emissions. A tonne of CO2 reduction costs from €20 [HK$230] to €30 in the European market, while some retail schemes charge 10 times that for questionable, even worthless, carbon certificates.

“Don’t pick up the IPO prospectus; try to read it online when possible. The Hong Kong stock exchange is experimenting with electronic market information. If successful, it could be applied to the Chinese stock markets, saving billions of pages of ink and paper each year.

“Ditch the car, get a trolley [to carry bulky goods]. The classic Hong Kong trolley, which costs HK$300 and up, is a remarkable piece of clean-tech engineering – it’s green like a bicycle, carries a decent payload and fits into a taxi for long trips.

“Until there’s a decent environmental building code in Hong Kong, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any energy efficiency benchmark to compare flats to. Still, it doesn’t hurt to ask property developers tough questions. Demand some kind of energy efficiency/social responsibility report when looking at new buildings. Ask if the property has single-glazed windows. Check if the building uses low-VOC [volatile organic compound] paint. Organic vapour from paint is a major cause of brown haze.”

Martin Williams (, a Hong Kong-based conservationist, photographer and writer, sees the internet helping more people live an eco-friendly life.

“Technology tends to go against green living. But using the internet, consumers can get better information than many so-called `green’ television documentaries provide. The Web also allows individuals to take some action. You can join discussions, participate in online campaigns and play a role in making grander changes than simply switching to long-life light bulbs in your home.

“Also important: switch off, reduce, reuse and recycle. Have hi-tech gizmos repaired as soon as possible, don’t just buy new ones for the sake of fashion. Modern condoms may not be thought of as clean technology, but with the planet’s resources already overstrained by the human population, green living also means not having loads of children; future generations must be given a chance of a better life.”

For more information about Hong Kong’s air, visit Take a look at the Air Pollution Clock – if you dare.

Keeping Up With China’s Olympic Shine – Part II

Keeping Up With China’s Olympic Shine – Part II
Shoppers, intent on bargains, bear some responsibility for Asia’s pollution

Alexandra Harney – YaleGlobal – 24 September 2008

China has become known as factory to the world – as manufacturers invested in factories to take advantage of a labor force that accepts low wages and a government with minimal environmental standards and even less enforcement. Shoppers like low prices while the companies enjoy immense profits. China, indeed the entire world, pays a heavy price for manufacturing firms gathering in a place with such lax enforcement: Annual costs of pollution exceed $100 billion, refugees must leave damaged villages and farms, and toxic air and water spill far beyond China’s borders, explain author Alexandra Harney in the second article of this series that addresses China’s post-Olympics goals. Some multinational firms maintain high standards, but many others are secretive about suppliers and press for ever-lower prices and protections. Harney concludes that companies and consumers around the globe, along with China, must take responsibility for protecting the environment and take some serious and immediate steps to stop regarding “ever-cheaper products as a fundamental human right.” – YaleGlobal

HONG KONG: Beijing may have delivered its best air quality in a decade for the Olympic Games last month, but many Chinese in other parts of the country continued to live under a canopy of haze, breathing air that prompted American athletes to arrive wearing face masks.

Before critics in the West point fingers at China for soiling itself, they should consider their own role in contributing to the problem. Western consumers and companies enjoy the benefits of China’s polluting factories every day, and must bear more of the responsibility for helping these plants clean up.

The products the West buys from China are cheap in part because they do not include the full costs of environmentally-safe production. To keep costs down and enhance its competitive advantage, China has chosen to selectively enforce its environmental laws.

While Western companies generally follow the law at their wholly-owned facilities, many take advantage of China’s lax enforcement by pressing suppliers there to continually lower their prices. Companies provide few, if any, incentives to plant managers to behave responsibly. The West’s appetite for the $30 DVD player and the $3 T-shirt helps keep Chinese factories spewing toxic emissions into the air, pouring industrial waste into the waterways and damaging the health of employees.

China is paying a high price for its success as the world’s manufacturer. The costs of China’s outdoor air and water pollution now amount to $100 billion a year, according to the World Bank. Air pollution contributes to perhaps 750,000 deaths every year. Some 150 million Chinese farmers may eventually have to leave their land because of pollution and become “environmental refugees,” according to the country’s top environmental official. In 2005, there were almost 1,000 protests about environmental pollution every week in China.

Multinational companies play a direct role in exacerbating these problems, though the scale of their contribution is difficult to determine because most keep the identities of their thousands of suppliers a secret. The handful that do publicly disclose their suppliers, including Nike and Timberland, identify the factories by their English names, complicating the process of tracking them down in China.

But occasionally, this veil of secrecy is drawn back, and the connection between our shopping habits and China’s pollution becomes clear. In 2006, Chinese authorities fined a Hong Kong-owned textile manufacturer that counted Target, JCPenney and Land’s End among its customers, for dumping 22,000 tons of contaminated water into the Mao Zhou River.

Factory managers, who must work and live in a cloud of smog and next to black rivers, know that their neglect of environmental laws comes at a price. In the case of Fountain Set, the Hong Kong-owned textile maker, officials said the factory had created fake records to conceal its illicit effluent. But few managers think much beyond the next order. They ignore the larger, longer-term consequences of their behavior.

That’s because most Chinese factories face little pressure from government officials to clean up their act. They answer to their customers, including multinationals, who expect low prices and high quality and rarely bother to check whether their suppliers are known polluters. One sourcing executive at a large American computer brand complained to me that on her visits to factories in China, the air was almost unbearable. It never occurred to her that her suppliers might have something to do with the choking air. As a senior official at China’s health ministry told me, foreign companies “brought dangerous work and pollution and left with the profits.”

We are just starting to get a whiff of the deleterious effects of the West’s pursuit of ever-cheaper goods. Scientists at NASA and other organizations have tracked the movement of pollution from China to the West Coast of the United States. Both Japan and South Korea suffer from acid rain as a result of China’s coal-fired power plants.

Most of the time, though, shoppers in the West select their bargains in happy ignorance of the consequences. More than a decade after activists targeted Nike for buying from sweatshops, most companies tell us nothing about the environmental impact of their international sourcing. And why should they bother? None of us seem to care.

If we’re concerned about the health of our planet and our children, we need to start caring. As consumers, we should insist that retailers tell us whether or not their foreign suppliers even attempt to follow the environmental laws in the countries where they operate and what they are doing to encourage factories to reduce emissions.

This wouldn’t be hard for multinationals to do. Most large retailers already inspect their foreign suppliers for violations of labor laws; a progressive few already evaluate suppliers’ environmental compliance. We might even ask companies to declare, through labels, at the checkout counter or online, the environmental impact of the goods they sell. With transparency comes greater responsibility.

As they step up inspections, multinationals can draw on a growing body of information about Chinese factories’ environmental records. China’s state-controlled media report with increasing frequency on pollution. The Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, a Chinese non-governmental organization, has created an online database of polluting companies in China, which contains more than 27,000 incidents of companies violating environmental rules.

Consumers and companies in the West should be prepared to spend more on goods from China as factories clean up their act, though better environmental policies do not always cost more money. Suppliers that lower their energy consumption, for example, will be more competitive. As commodity and fuel prices soar, the incentive to use material more efficiently will be greater than ever.

To be sure, multinationals are only part of the picture. China causes plenty of environmental damage without the West’s help. Many of China’s dirty factories supply the local market. The world’s most polluted city, Linfen in Shanxi province, is in the heart of China’s coal-producing region, not its coastal export factory zones. China’s heavy dependence on coal-fired power stations, its explosion in car ownership, and its rapid development of heavy industry have all contributed to continuing environmental disaster.

The Chinese government bears primary responsibility for turning this around. Until China starts to take the environment much more seriously – by preventing known polluters from reopening without cleaner processes, by raising price of electricity and water to encourage conservation, and by significantly increasing the penalties for violating environmental laws – the factories that make our goods are unlikely to feel much pressure to change.

Still, the environmentally aware must not ignore the irony of stuffing their Toyota Priuses full of products that help generate pollution strong enough to kill.

Globalization has allowed us to enjoy the benefits of people’s hard work across the world – by one conservative estimate, “made in China” goods save the average American family $500 a year. But by moving manufacturing to developing countries like China and counting ever-cheaper products as a fundamental human right, we lose sight of the environmental consequences of our addiction to cheap goods.

Alexandra Harney is the author of “The China Price: The True Cost of Chinese Competitive Advantage” (Penguin Press, 2008). Click here to read an excerpt.

Rights: © 2008 Yale Center for the Study of Globalization

Hong Kong Air Pollution

Urban Jungle

Celebrity vet Eric Lai shares his views on society through the eyes of animals. Give him your feedback at

Dr Eric – Updated on Sep 19, 2008 – SCMP

This week: Air pollution

Making my way to work today reminded me why I moved to Sai Kung recently. When approaching Causeway Bay along the Island Eastern Corridor, I am usually greeted by the impressive panorama of the skyline from Causeway Bay stretching out to distant Sheung Wan, the break of water of Victoria Harbour, then the new skyline of Tsim Sha Tsui stretching back to Whampoa. The view can be breathtaking when you can see it, but today I couldn’t see any of it through the heavy haze of air pollution. It was absolutely atrocious; the air was thick with a brown-yellow particulate matter and my airway allergy was acting up and I was coughing as I choked on the air. I couldn’t believe that I was voluntarily going into the heart of the haze to breathe in that air – I wanted to turn around and run away. It was sort of scary really.

It is undoubtedly true that the horrible air today as reported by the Hong Kong Observatory was partly due to light winds in the Pearl River Delta and Hong Kong and the low-pressure system over Taiwan trapped the pollution in Hong Kong. And because of the sunny weather and heat, there are photochemical reactions between pollutants that form ozone, which is a strongly oxidising agent that will readily react with other chemicals such as nitrogen oxide from vehicle admissions to form the smog.

The report from the Hong Kong Observatory highlights several issues. The prevalent calm weather has caused this smog to stay in Hong Kong, which implies this amount of air pollution exists every single day of the year but today nature hasn’t had the grace to blow it elsewhere. I find the situation totally unacceptable. It is shocking to see and breathe what we Hongkongers have created and it is equally shocking to know that we accept this amount of pollution normally because it gets blown elsewhere, where it is someone else’s problem. There is a saying that goes, “You reap what you sow”, and it will be future generations that will suffer as a result of the air pollution we are creating.

The government on numerous occasions in the past has laid the blame for much of Hong Kong’s air pollution squarely on the shoulders of our Shenzhen and Pearl River Delta neighbours, but there is much evidence to show that most of the air pollution over Hong Kong is created right here. It has been shown that 50 per cent of the nitrogen oxides and particulate matter in the air is caused by electricity generation in Hong Kong. The Castle Peak power plant operated by CLP Power has been cited as the world’s third most polluting power plant, an accusation that the power plant denies. Hong Kong roads rate as among the world’s most polluting. Much of the blame lies with the thriving goods transport sector between the busy harbour terminal and neighbouring Shenzhen and the Pearl River Delta.

I was shocked at the recent government tax cuts for the slightly less polluting Euro V diesel fuel during the recent oil price rises, when only 23 per cent of the vehicle fleet is made up of diesel trucks and they create more than 80 per cent of the pollution. This tells us that the groups that represent these diesel users have unusual amounts of influence over the government or the government made a knee-jerk reaction based on inadequate or poorly evaluated data.

The Environmental Protection Department, which was set up to help monitor and solve air pollution problems, set its own air quality objectives for seven air pollutants in 1987. These objectives haven’t been reviewed once since their establishment and even though the street-level pollution index exceeds their own air quality objectives consistently, nothing has been done.

As a resident of this otherwise great city I urge the public to take a more active interest in improving air quality. The effects of air pollution are not just irritation to the airways when the pollution is particularly bad. There are horrible long-term side effects, such as chronic respiratory disease, lung cancer, heart disease and even damage to the brain, nerves, liver and kidneys.

We need to encourage the government to support green industries that are actively looking for a way to decrease pollution. We should also support the scientific community in its search for alternative energy sources and ways to clean up air pollutants. The government should be more active in policing the dialogue between its own departments and that of the mainland in decreasing air pollution. This dialogue exists but its agenda has been delayed time and time again. We citizens need to stop being hypocrites and accept the loss in productivity and income that is sometimes needed to decrease the amount of destruction we are causing to the environment.

Emissions Legislation Does Not Go Far Enough

Air pollution bill passes, but lawmakers are still unhappy

Emissions legislation does not go far enough, say critics

Cheung Chi-fai – Updated on Jul 11, 2008 – SCMP

Lawmakers yesterday endorsed cross-border emissions trading and gave legal backing to caps on power firms’ emissions of pollutants.

They demanded unanimously that officials set out a framework for handling the city’s “carbon footprint”, which was excluded from the measure passed yesterday because officials say they need more time.

The measure also spells out the way caps on emissions of three major air pollutants will be determined beyond 2010.

Cross-border emissions trading will give power firms leeway to meet emissions caps by means other than reducing the pollution their chimneys spew into the air.

A majority of lawmakers voted in favour of the Air Pollution Control (Amendment) Bill 2008.

However, the legislators were unhappy that it has not put Hong Kong’s efforts on a par with other countries in the fight against climate change.

“When is the government going to really take global warming seriously? Please stop telling us that the issues are being studied and instead give us a clear timetable and strategy,” said Audrey Eu Yuet-mee, the Civic Party leader.

Democrat Sin Chung-kai urged the government to table concrete initiatives in the next legislative term to keep Hong Kong ahead of other Chinese cities in curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

DAB legislator Choy So-yuk criticised the measures as inadequate and biased in favour of power producers. “It is just a little better than nothing,” she said.

She proposed an amendment to limit the validity of emissions-trading contracts to five years. While arguing her case, she appeared close to tears as she claimed an official, who she did not name, had made misleading comments about her proposal.

“There have been media reports quoting official sources saying the real motive of my proposal was for election purposes. This is complete nonsense and misleads the public,” she said.

Without a time limit, Ms Choy said, emissions trading would merely create a window for local power producers to emit excess pollutants indefinitely as long as they could buy sufficient quota from mainland counterparts to cover the extra pollution.

Fellow lawmakers rejected her proposal. They preferred a government proposal to limit power firms to buying quotas equal to a maximum of 15 per cent of their annual pollution caps. Environment minister Edward Yau Tang-wah said Ms Choy’s proposal would reduce power producers’ flexibility to trade quotas.

As for the city’s carbon footprint – the measure of the carbon emissions all economic and human activity generates – Mr Yau said the administration was serious about taking action, but reducing it would require a significant adjustment to power producers’ fuel mix.

The Legco meeting was interrupted when two Greenpeace protesters in the public gallery held up a banner labelling the environment minister an “accomplice to global warming”.

Pollution Danger Higher Than Earlier Estimated

Estimating Premature DeathsJane Kay, Chronicle Environment Writer – Friday, May 23, 2008

Pollution from cars on the Bay Area’s congested highways …

Microscopic air pollutants from trucks, cars, power plants and wood burning may pose greater health problems than previously believed, according to state researchers.

The new estimates were released Thursday in response to a request from the California Air Resources Board, which was seeking up-to-date research on premature deaths associated with inhaling particles one-thirtieth the width of a strand of hair.

Based on 60 studies worldwide and advice from a team of experts, including the World Health Organization, the researchers concluded that the new risk factor for fine-particle pollution is 70 percent higher than previously estimated.

The report, also reviewed by scientists at UC Berkeley, could serve as the basis for strengthening state – and perhaps federal – air-quality regulations.

“Particle pollution is a silent killer,” state Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols said after receiving the report Thursday at a board meeting in Fresno.

Most of the premature deaths linked to California’s bad air occur in regions surrounding San Francisco Bay, Los Angeles and the San Joaquin Valley. The drop in fine particulates statewide in the last decade, particularly in cities, has been 30 percent.

One region that saw even greater improvement, the San Joaquin Valley, decreased 45 percent over the same time period due to new regulations, according to state air officials. The board added even more regulations Thursday by restricting wood burning to up to 35 days in the winter as well as requiring employers to start carpools.
Direct link

The state’s study found a direct correlation between increased pollution from specks of dust, soot, metals and soil and a greater number of hospitalizations, emergency visits and missed school days.

Health problems were generally related to respiratory illnesses and heart disease. Some studies reported bouts of asthma and bronchitis. Even small increases can affect children, the elderly and people with chronic diseases, researchers say.

The cost of hospitalizations, physician visits and lost work days connected to airborne specks of dust and tiny droplets could reach $70 billion a year, health officials said.

Numbers of premature deaths are difficult to estimate because the scientific knowledge isn’t far enough along to determine a safe level of the tiny particles. California’s average small-particle concentration is about 14 micrograms of PM2.5, or particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, per cubic meter of air. The San Francisco Bay’s average over the past three years is 10.69 micrograms.

Assuming that a safe level is 7 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic meter of air – half as clean as the state’s air – means that there would still be about 14,000 to 24,000 premature deaths every year in the state associated with these small particles, the study said. That is two to three times the number of deaths previously predicted.

Currently, the cleanest cities in the country generally measure 7 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic meters of air in the atmosphere.

At that level, there would still be 1,800 to 3,200 deaths a year in the Bay Area; 8,100 to 14,000 in the Los Angeles region, and 2,000 to 3,500 in the San Joaquin Valley.

“The risk in a highly polluted area is similar to living with a smoker,” said Bart Croes, the board’s chief of research.

The forest fires burning in the Santa Cruz Mountains can cause serious health problems for people breathing in the smoke, he said. The assessments on premature deaths in the study include the effects of California fires in the last few years.

Fine particles – whether from fires or industrial emissions or traffic – penetrate deeply into the lung and inflame the lung tissue. There is evidence that they can cross the tissue into the blood stream, and accumulate in the organs.

Scientists today believe that it’s the size that causes the problem. However, research continues to see if materials in the particles such as metals or other toxic compounds may be the ones most responsible for the damage to the body.
Cancer study

Most of the studies used in the re-evaluation were epidemiological studies. Included in the report was an American Cancer Society study of 300,000 people in cities nationwide. Over 18 years, the cancer society looked at people who lived in cities that had low levels of small particulate matter and compared them to people who lived in cities with higher levels.

Researchers looked at diet, smoking habits and other factors in trying to isolate the pollution effects, which Croes noted was a difficult task.

As part of the assessment, they looked at changes in death rates during a coal-burning ban in Dublin, Ireland, sulfur dioxide reduction under new regulations in Hong Kong and a steel mill strike in Utah Valley.

Representatives of the Western States Petroleum Association said they hadn’t yet evaluated the draft of the study. The California Truckers Association, which is expected to comment, didn’t respond to queries from The Chronicle.

The air board will accept comments until July 11. The study could be accepted by the board as early as August.
See the study

Read the draft study on premature deaths associated with fine particulates.

E-mail Jane Kay at

This article appeared on page B – 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Carbon Caps For Power Plants Mean High Bills

Cheung Chi-fai – SCMP – Updated on Apr 11, 2008

Electricity tariffs might go up by as much as a third if power suppliers are to cut their carbon emissions significantly, a government source has hinted.

The rough estimate was revealed to the South China Morning Post yesterday as lawmakers and green groups were pressing the government to make carbon dioxide a statutory air pollutant, and set carbon caps for power plants.

Officials have made it clear that any such a move is not imminent but could not be ruled out in the future.

The source said power-station carbon emissions could be lowered if natural gas was made the dominant fuel, but whether it should be achieved “at all costs” was subject to further debate.

The fuel mix could change, he said, and “the remaining two options are either retrofitting [existing plants with technology that cuts carbon emissions] or emissions trading”.

The source did not say exactly what emissions reduction a 30 per cent rise in power fees would achieve.

At the first scrutiny of a proposed amendment to the Air Pollution Control Ordinance yesterday, legislators from major parties asked why officials had failed to take the opportunity to regulate carbon emissions in the bill. The amendment is aimed at including in the bill statutory backing for emissions caps on power plants in relation to three air pollutants that have a direct impact on the health of the population.

It also spells out the general rules of emissions trading in case power firms fail to meet caps.

Lawmaker Alan Leong Kah-kit, of the Civic Party, said it would do no harm if a carbon cap were imposed on power plants even if it were frozen until the government felt comfortable about tightening it.

“At least we can cap the carbon emissions at existing levels and ensure that the power plants will not do worse than that,” he said.

Benny Wong Yiu-kam, the assistant director of environmental protection, said at the meeting that electricity costs could see sharp increases if the power companies were asked to scrap their coal-fired power stations and replace them with gas-fired plants.

He said gas prices had increased greatly in recent years.

Greenpeace activist Frances Yeung Hoi-shan said the cost for cutting power-plant carbon output might not be as high as officials claimed.

She said power plants could use a mix of strategies simultaneously – energy conservation, emissions trading, use of renewable energy and more use of natural gas.

Business Leaders Have Formed An Alliance To Prepare For A Warmer World

Feeling the heat – Business Leaders Have Formed An Alliance To Prepare For A Warmer World

Sarah Monks – Updated on Mar 17, 2008 – SCMP

Hong Kong’s corporate titans seldom meet to talk about the weather. But that, like the climate, is changing with the launch today of a new business forum. Established by the Business Environment Council, the Climate Change Business Forum aims to be “a research and communication platform” for climate change issues specific to Hong Kong.

“Climate change is a result of excessive emission of greenhouse gases and some of these also cause the air pollution that we face every day in Hong Kong,” said Executive Council convenor Leung Chun-ying, the forum’s patron chairman.

Firms in the forum include those in sectors near the eye of the global warming storm – power, transport, property and manufacturing.

Last week, the Observatory projected that the city’s annual mean temperature would rise by 4.8 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, higher than earlier forecasts. CLP Power’s emissions of carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, rose 8.5 per cent last year to a 15-year high, which it attributed to depletion of natural gas reserves and greater reliance on coal.

“We only need to have an increase of one or two degrees before the end of the century to make life very different in Hong Kong, and that carries social and economic costs,” said Mr Leung, who is Asia-Pacific chairman of DTZ Debenham Tie Leung, a real estate consultancy and founding member of the forum.

He said under the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, the mainland and Hong Kong did not have a target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. “I would definitely like to see Hong Kong, led by the Hong Kong government, setting itself a target in reducing the amount of emissions,” said Mr Leung.

“We should consider the choice of fuel at the generation end and consumption at the consumer end, namely how we can save energy in terms of the design and the maintenance of our buildings and the plant machinery that we use – air conditioners, for example.

“The side benefit of doing this is not just slowing down the pace of climate change or mitigating the damage it can cause, but also helping to improve the quality of our air,” said Mr Leung. He said energy efficiency in buildings was “low-hanging fruit” for climate change action in Hong Kong and that achievable targets should be set.

Mr Leung also said Hong Kong should look longer term at mitigation measures, “particularly outside Hong Kong, where we have our economic footprint”. Some scientists have warned of flooding in the Pearl River Delta, with problems for drainage and sewage. “We have a huge manufacturing base in the delta area and that would mean disruption to our production, and business losses.”

The new forum aims to involve business, government and the public “working together to either pre-empt or solve some of these problems”, and also promote best practices. “Climate change is a long-term issue and we need a long-term attitude and solutions,” Mr Leung said.

According to Environmental Protection Department deputy director Carlson Chan Ka-sun, Hong Kong’s per capita emission of carbon dioxide, at about 6.5 tonnes, is among the lowest for well-developed economies.

“It’s partly because we are a service economy and a pretty compact city and we have a very good public transport system. The car ownership rate is among the lowest,” said Mr Chan, who chairs the government’s interdepartmental working group on climate change.

Even without reduction targets, he said the government was implementing strategies to control greenhouse gas emissions. “In Hong Kong, we believe the most effective way for us to tackle climate change is to enhance our energy efficiency.”

The government, he said, had been doing “quite a lot” to deal with the power and transport sectors. It was also promoting energy efficiency and lower energy consumption. Legislation on mandatory energy efficiency labelling and a proposal to make building energy codes mandatory were among recent initiatives. Hong Kong had also adopted a target set by the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation grouping to reduce energy intensity, said Mr Chan.

Energy is Hong Kong’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions (62.5 per cent) followed by transport (16.1 per cent) and waste (12.1 per cent) from methane-generating landfills and other sources. Up to 55 per cent of Hong Kong’s electricity is generated from burning coal – about the same percentage as the US and nearly twice that of Japan. Hong Kong’s other energy sources are natural gas, at 20-23 per cent, and nuclear power.

The only major way we can cut down our greenhouse gas emissions, although they’re already very low, is to do something about our fuel mix for generating electricity, to reduce coal burning in favour of either nuclear, natural gas or some other renewable energy source,” said Mr Chan.

“If we’re going to change our fuel mix, the next question is to what sort of fuel mix and what will the implications be in terms of our security of energy supply, implications for tariffs? We need a proper discussion, proper debate in society about how much we are willing to pay for our electricity.”

Whether Hong Kong should change its way of producing energy was part of a major consultancy study of the city’s air quality objectives currently being carried out, he said.

The founder and chief executive of the Global Institute for Tomorrow, Chandran Nair, said that reducing emissions was a global responsibility and Hong Kong should do its bit.

“That doesn’t seem to have sunk in to Hong Kong. If you’re still unable to fix the most basic problem of air quality – which is yesterday’s problem in that it’s been with us 15 or 20 years – how can you deal with the more complex problem of climate, which is the problem of the next 20 years? How do you take action when it’s not a single catastrophic incident but is creeping up? You really need visionaries.”

Mr Nair, who formerly headed an environmental consultancy, said emissions reduction in wealthy societies required a dramatic lifestyle change, but there was reluctance to face the need for draconian measures. It would take a combination of political will and leadership from the business community to start the shift.

“There’s been poor business leadership in this town on these issues. We need business leaders to speak up because they are the ones who can be the role models, influence policy and bring everyone along,” said Mr Nair. The business forum could play a positive role but it should also accept and support mandatory measures, he said. “We need an equivalent of [property billionaire] Lee Shau-kee, `the god of stocks’, for the climate change debate. And we still need someone like that for the air quality problem.”

Mr Nair said it was vital for Hong Kong to understand and discuss the mitigation of climate change impacts. “How much will it cost? How will we pay for it? In many ways Hong Kong can be a leader and a laboratory for learning how to protect high-value coastal cities from sea-level rise,” he said.

Hong Kong is the newest member of the C40 Large Cities Climate Leadership Group, which promotes collaboration to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from urban areas. The group’s senior policy adviser is Christine Loh Kung-wai, chief executive of think-tank Civic Exchange, which researches climate-change impacts and policy.

“Cities have offered to bring expertise together to share with C40 and other cities. From what I can gather, the officials who go get many ideas on how others are solving specific problems,” she said. “Leaders like London already have climate-change plans. Hong Kong has given out a consultancy to look at Hong Kong’s climate impacts and to consider mitigation and adaptation measures.” She said it would be useful for Hong Kong to attend upcoming best-practice workshops organised by the C40 group, and consider hosting a C40 event.