Clear The Air News Blog Rotating Header Image

March, 2008:

Beijing Cool On Warming Deal

Updated on Mar 20, 2008 – SCMP

In his own way, Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States, was deeply concerned about the environment.

Granted, if he were around today his enthusiasm for big game hunting would certainly disqualify him as a conservationist. On safari in East Africa in 1909, Roosevelt and his party shot hundreds of animals from antelopes to rhinoceroses, hippopotami and elephants, shipping tonnes of trophies back to the US.

But on the other hand, while in office Roosevelt did more than any previous president to preserve America’s natural environment. During his two terms in the White House he created 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reservations, 18 national monuments, five national parks and four national game preserves. Altogether he protected some 230 million acres of wilderness territory. That is almost one million square km, or roughly 1,000 times the total land area of Hong Kong.

It is a legacy the president’s great-grandson is keen to advance. In addition to his day job as a managing director of the investment bank Lehman Brothers, Theodore Roosevelt IV is chairman of the Pew Centre for Global Climate Change, a trustee of the Alliance for Climate Protection, and a councillor of the China-US Center for Sustainable Development.

Yesterday, Mr Roosevelt was in Hong Kong with his Lehman colleague, the economist John Llewellyn, to talk about the wealth of business opportunities they believe will be created when China strikes a deal with other world governments, led by the US, to tackle climate change.

Theirs is an extremely optimistic view of the future.

They are correct to say that to be successful, any agreement on climate change must include China. As the first chart below shows, in recent years China’s emissions of greenhouse gases have soared, very likely overtaking US emissions last year. As a result, any agreement which does not limit Chinese emissions will be doomed to failure.

They are also right that an effective deal would generate enormous business opportunities. China’s dismal failure to tackle its domestic pollution problem demonstrates that a regulatory approach to limiting greenhouse gas emissions is unlikely to work. On the other hand, a market-based system that creates an economic incentive to reduce emissions by putting a price on carbon dioxide could well be successful.

And if such a deal were struck many of the opportunities would be in China. As the second chart shows, China is a very carbon-intensive economy, producing far more greenhouse gases per unit of output than developed countries. That means China offers the greatest scope for cost-effective reductions.

Unfortunately, there is little evidence either that China is prepared to sign up to such a deal, or that Beijing is willing to pursue the domestic regulatory culture of transparency and public accountability necessary to make it work.

Mr Roosevelt argues there is a greater than 75 per cent chance that a global agreement on climate change can be struck in the next few years. If he can help persuade China to sign up, it would be an achievement to match those of his illustrious ancestor. Alas, his chances of success look slight.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Carbon Intensity

Green Challenge To China’s Mega-Projects

China Business – Mar 20, 2008 – By Candy Zeng

SHENZHEN, China – Local governments in China, keen on attracting big investment projects to boost local economies, are starting to listen to a public increasingly concerned with potential environmental hazards.

Some projects, such as a chemical plant planned for Xiamen, in southwestern Fujian province, are being shelved, suspended or relocated due to public objections. A US$5 billion Sinopec-Kuwait oil joint-venture refinery proposed for Guangzhou, in Guangdong province, is at the center of one such dispute.

The public’s expanding chorus of environmental concerns is pushing the central government to rethink its investment policies.

During the just-closed annual sessions of the National People’s Congress (NPC), deputies Li Miaojuan, director of the Guangdong Provincial Development and Reform Commission, and Chen Min, vice chief of the Provincial Environmental Protection Bureau, told Xinhua News Agency that the planned oil refinery in Guangzhou won’t be launched before winning approval from the nation’s environmental protection authority.

The refinery, designed to process 15 million tonnes of crude oil annually and scheduled to be built in Guangzhou’s Nansha district, at the throat of the Pearl River Delta, involves China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation, the Guangdong government and Kuwait National Petroleum Co.

Just before the NPC annual sessions, 14 local legislators in Guangdong called for a rethink of the project, citing potential pollution of the Pearl Delta.

Liu Yiling, director of a provincial government-funded center of research on environment protection, said the project would worsen air quality in the delta and harm Nansha’s already fragile environment. “Nansha is in the heart of the delta. The project will have substantial impacts on not only Guangzhou and Shenzhen, but Zhongshan, Dongguan and Hong Kong as well,” said Liu, citing important urban centers and in the province.

Tian Rugeng, a retired urban planning expert in Shenzhen, has submitted an analysis to the provincial government, opposing the launch of the Nansha project, citing its proximity to heavily populated cities in the region.

“The project is located 68 kilometers from the center of Guangzhou, but only 40 kilometers from the center of Shenzhen, 37 kilometers from Yuen Long in Hong Kong, 40 kilometers from Macau, and 31 kilometers from Zhuhai,” said Tian.

Beyond pollution, Tian is concerned about the safety of the project. “The transportation of the whole delta would be paralyzed should there be any major accidents in Nansha.” He suggested sighting the refinery in a less developed area along the Guangdong coastline and away from the delta.

The project was approved by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) at the end of last year. About eight square kilometers of land has been reserved by the Nansha district government, with all residents there being removed.

As disputes continue on the project’s environmental side-effects, the prospects of Nansha refinery being built may become as blurred as those of the suspended paraxylene (PX) plant in Xiamen.

Xianglu Group planned with the permission of Xiamen municipal government to invest 10.8 billion yuan (US$1.5 billion) in PX production in the city’s Haicang district. Construction began in November 2006 with NDRC approval. Then the public, concerned at the proximity to residential areas, and some experts, began to air their protests through various channels. Alerted by mobile-phone short-messaging helped to bring thousands of people onto the streets.

During the NPC annual session last March, 105 members of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the country’s top political advisory body, signed a petition urging relocation of the chemical plant. Later, on the first two days of last June, more than 5,000 Xiamen residents “took a walk” together to the local government offices in a silent protest against the project.

By the end of last year, Fujian provincial and Xiamen municipal governments decided to halt construction of the chemical plant and planned to relocate it to the less-developed Gulei Island of Zhangzhou, also in Fujian. The relocation has yet to win central government official approval.

The mainland’s financial hub, Shanghai, is also having to contend with residents as it seeks to develop its infrastructure. During this year’s NPC sessions, mayor Han Zheng told reporters that a controversial extension of the high-speed Maglev train line has not been included in the list of the city’s major investment projects for 2008. The municipal government has to further consult the public and obtain a professional assessment on the feasibility of the project, according to Han.

Residents opposed on health concerns a plan to extend the existing Maglev train line starting from Shanghai’s Hongqiao Airport to Hangzhou, the capital of nearby Zhejiang province. The German-designed Maglev train, which is driven by magnet technology, is intended to operate 300 meters away from residential areas, but in this case the line was to be built only 22.5 meters from the nearest homes. In March 2006, thousands of people “took a walk” on the streets together to protest against the project.

A plan by US giant DuPont to build a $1 billion titanium dioxide plant in Dongying, Shandong, south of Beijing, has also been challenged. The plant’s disposal of chemical waste by underground injection, though declared by DuPont as exclusive and state-of-art, was regarded as a way of transferring instead of reducing pollutants. Opponents are also worried about the release of carcinogenic dioxin, and claim the project doesn’t fit into the country’s goal of seeking sustainable development.

A government work report by Premier Wen Jiaobao, that includes consideration of major government tasks this year, stressed the importance of environmental protection by listing 10 specific sub-tasks ranging from closing highly polluting plants with low productivity to increasing public awareness of environmental protection.

Following Wen’s high-profile report, many NPC delegates, from areas as diverse as rich provinces like coastal Jiangsu to backward areas such as the Xinjiang Autonomous Region in the far west, demonstrated their willingness to reject substandard investment projects in the name of environment protection rather than pursue economic growth at the cost of the environment and natural resources.

From the second half of 2007, the central government delivered a series of policy adjustments to discourage pollution and high-energy consumption. Last June, export tax rebates were scrapped for 1,115 products and export taxes introduced for more than 300 products.

Guidelines were also introduced from December 1, 2006, restraining entry of foreign-invested enterprises in high-pollution and high-resource-consumption projects. More recently, the State Environmental Protection Administration issued a directive requiring environmental protection audits on companies before initial public offerings or refinancing. Plans by Hong Kong-listed Zijin Mining to issue shares in the mainland market were rejected last month by China’s securities watchdog for not meeting the newly set green thresholds for floating shares.

Even so, public outcries and environmental protection pressures have not prevented local governments from remaining the largest advocates of massive chemical plants, infrastructure work and power plants, along with other projects that boost local economic growth and employment.

A leader in Nanshan district of Guangzhou once said in defense of a refinery project that the larger a chemical plant is, the less polluting it would be. Li Miaojuan, of the Guangdong Development and Reform Commission, commented that the Nansha refinery project is important to Guangdong, as the highly industrialized area imports 10 million tons of refined oil products.

The trade-off between environment and economic growth is more critical in the debate over hydropower development of the Nujiang (Salween) River. The upper Nujiang River in southeast Yunnan province is listed as world natural heritage. The local government wants to use the waters for hydropower development to improve the well-being of the poor people.

To visitors, “A power plant may ruin the picturesque Nujiang gorge. But is that all that conservation means, to have our people wearing animal skins for others to watch and enjoy?” said the provincial Communist Party Secretary Bai Enpei.

These disputed projects have one thing in common – they are all waiting for assessment reports made by the environmental protection authority. It could be a long wait. Pan Yue, deputy director of the State Environmental Protection Administration, which has been just upgraded as a cabinet ministry, commented during the NPC sessions that laws and regulations on environmental protection appraisals have yet to be detailed and improved.

Replacement Of More Polluting Vehicles Urged

SCMP – 19th March 2008

Lawmakers urged the government yesterday to dig deeper into its pockets to speed up the replacement of polluting vehicles in the city. The calls came after the budget had proposed introducing registration tax concessions for new vehicles meeting the Euro V emissions standard. The scheme will provide a 30 to 100 per cent tax cut – ranging from HK$8,500 to HK$78,000 – depending on the type of vehicle. It was estimated that such a programme would cost HK$26 million a year. At the legislature’s environmental panel meeting, lawmakers from all major parties questioned whether the new scheme would be sufficiently attractive and effective.

Why is Indoor Air Quality so Important for Schools?

George Woo RHP CIEC – Principal Consultant, Green Building & IAQ

MOST people know that when the skyline looks hazy with smog and the Hong Kong Air Pollution Index is over 100, breathing the air can be harmful. But did you know the air inside your home, office or school can make you sick?

In fact, the Environmental Protection Department in all major counties have already rated indoor air pollution among the top environmental health risks because we spend 90 percent of our time indoors. Really? Yes, just add up the time you spend at home, at work or school, on public or private transportations, meals and other entertainment. Over the past 40 years, exposure to indoor air pollutants has proven to cause major impacts in our health. Carcinogenic chemical emitted from building material, microbial cross infections such as influenza, Norovirus, SARS, Avian Flu, and other respiratory diseases such as asthma and bronchitis are affecting our family’s health daily. To make matters worse, those who are most susceptible to indoor air pollution are children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with chronic illnesses. Children breathe in 50 percent more air per pound of body weight than adults do. US Environmental Agency (EPA) studies have found that pollutant levels indoor can be two to five times higher than outdoors. After some activities, indoor air pollution levels can be 100 times higher than outdoors.

There is good news and bad news about indoor air: the bad news is that indoor air often contains higher concentrations of hazardous pollutants than outdoor air; however, the good news is that everyone can reduce indoor air pollution.

Often, it is difficult to determine which pollutant or pollutants are the sources of a person’s ill health, or even if indoor air pollution is the problem. Many indoor air pollutants cannot be detected by our senses (e.g., smell) and the symptoms they produce can be vague and sometimes similar, making it hard to attribute them to a specific cause. Some symptoms may not show up until years later, making it even harder to discover the cause. Common symptoms of exposure to indoor air pollutants include: headaches, tiredness, dizziness, nausea, itchy nose, and scratchy throat. More serious effects are asthma and other breathing disorders and cancer.

Children and elderly may be more vulnerable to environmental exposures than adults. According to Health Canada, an estimated of 8% of adults and 12% of children are asthmatic. Most of the asthma cases among elementary school-age children could be prevented by controlling exposure to indoor allergens: biological (mould, house dust mite, etc.) and chemical (formaldehyde, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, etc.) Another major concern is influenza which can easily be cross transferred inside a school or other indoor areas.

Our children spent most of their time in school and the lack of knowledge in Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) and Indoor Environment (IE) is a critical concern. Being one of the major voluntary bodies in Hong Kong devoted in air quality, Clear the Air is launching an IAQ for Schools Program in Hong Kong from April 2008. This program includes assessment, education and planning for schools to effectively improve their indoor air quality and most important, maintain it at an acceptable level.

All schools are welcome to participate in this program. Please contact George Woo at as well as his mobile : 9802 9478 if you require more information.

Guangdong To Ban Vehicles With Nonstandard Emission

By Zhan Lisheng (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-03-19 07:32

Guangdong province will stop licensing vehicles that fail to meet the nation’s stage III emission standard from July 1, according to a government statement released yesterday on its website.

The province also aims to introduce the more stringent stage IV emission standard for vehicle licensing in the highly developed and more polluted Pearl River Delta region, it said.
The province’s environmental protection watchdog will soon reveal the categories of vehicles meeting the emission standards and the provincial government is already encouraging public transportation firms to meet higher emission standards ahead of schedule, it said.

China’s current III standard, equivalent to the EU III standards, cuts vehicle pollutants by 30 percent compared to the previous standards, according to the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA). The standard was introduced at the end of 2005 first by big cities like Beijing, Shanghai and, in turn, smaller centers.

More than 7,000 types of vehicles meet the new standard, according to ministry figures.

Meanwhile, those vehicles not yet up to the stage III emission standard will be gradually fazed out.

“The move to stop licensing vehicles not up to the stage III emission standard is part of the province’s scheme to deal with vehicle emission pollution,” Chen Guangrong, deputy director of Guangdong environmental protection bureau, said yesterday.

According to Chen, vehicle emissions have become the largest air polluter in the province, with the emission of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and inhalable particulate matter accounting for more than 50 percent of air pollutants.

“The province has more than 13 million vehicles and the number has been increasing very rapidly,” Chen said. “If nothing were done, vehicle emission would threaten the province, especially the Pearl River Delta region, which has a denser population, more vehicles, faster industrial development and poorer air quality.”

He said the province would impose different speed limits for different vehicles and restrict vehicles of lower emission standards on some roads.

And the province will modify the petrol supply in accordance with the enhancement of the vehicle emission standard while improving the mechanism for vehicle emission monitoring.

Ling Haiheng, an associate professor with South China Normal University and a potential car buyer, said he supported the government’s move.

“Though a car of stage III emission standard can be more expensive, it is worthwhile,” he said.

Nick Willis Confident Beijing’s Pollution Won’t Be A Problem

Athletics: Nick Willis Confident Beijing’s Pollution Won’t Be A Problem

18-Mar 18:12 – Nick Willis – TV3

One of our big hopes in Beijing is not letting the threat of pollution get to him.

Commonwealth Games 1500 metre gold medallist Nick Willis reckons it will not be such a big problem come the games in August.

He had a leisurely stride-out around Oriental Parade today but by August Nick Willis hopes to be travelling like the Orient Express over 1500 metres in Beijing – where he’s rated a medal contender.

“it has really been in the last three years or so since the world record holder Hicham el Gharrouj retired and since he left everybody thinks they’ve got a chance at winning, the event has real depth – in fact there probably 20 guys who have a chance of medalling in Beijing.”

Willis has an open mind over research into Beijing’s pollution.

“A run for an hour in those conditions is like smoking ten cigarettes – I’m not sure I believe that, it’s a bit of an exaggeration.”

But while the Commonwealth Games gold medallist won’t take any chances, choosing to stay in Hong Kong until just two days before his event, he is confident the Chinese will do their best.

“I think that when it comes down to it china is going to do a miracle and pull out an amazing way to clear up their system when they shut down all their cars and stuff right up to the Games – I mean they’ve got so much riding on this.”

While he is back home, Willis is concentrating on his speed work aiming to improve on his personal best over 100 metres.

While he is not planning a rematch with his good friend Waldrom, Willis plans to run a number of 800 metre races in his build-up to Beijing – but the 1500 will remain his specialist event.

Protest Call To Residents

Olga Wong – Updated on Mar 18, 2008 – SCMP

An environmental group is asking residents of a Mid-Levels development to request that a developer lower the density of a proposed two-tower, 50-storey project before they sell their flats to the consortium.

Merry Terrace in Seymour Road – five 14-storey buildings – will be turned into the 50-storey redevelopment if most of the flat owners agree to sell. Reports said most residents had agreed to sell to the consortium, formed by Shun Tak Holdings and New World Development.

Green Sense said the redevelopment – and a neighbouring site owned by Swire – would worsen traffic and air pollution. Gabrielle Ho Ka-po, of Green Sense, said the organisation had written to Merry Terrace residents hoping they would help ease development stress in Mid-Levels.

The Shun Tak-New World consortium is believed to have acquired the bid for HK$3.95 billion. Shun Tak Holdings would not confirm yesterday whether the company had acquired the bid.

Given a plot ratio of nine, a plan for the redevelopment – two 44-storey buildings with six-level podiums – was approved last November.

“The developer is willing to pay a handsome price because it will profit from building the giant towers,” said Ms Ho.

IOC Sends Mixed Signals On Pollution

Officials say Beijing unfairly targeted but also that some athletes will be at risk Peter Simpson and Martin Zhou in Beijing – Updated on Mar 18, 2008 – SCMP

Beijing has been unfairly targeted over its notorious pollution, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) medical chief claimed yesterday – and in the next breath admitted some athletes will be at risk during the Games.

IOC Medical Commission chairman Arne Ljungqvist warned asthma sufferers to be on their guard and ruled out records being broken because of the suffocating smog and humidity cocktail threat.

Competitors in endurance events were most at risk, he said, before applauding under-siege Beijing for its huge clean-up campaign.

“Beijing has probably been unfairly targeted [over its pollution battle]. It’s probably fair to say that,” he said. “But we did identify four outdoor events that include a minimum of one hour continuous physical effort at high level [including the marathon, cycling and triathlon], where the findings indicate there may be some risk. They’d be associated with prolonged high-risk respiratory functions. [Athletes] may breathe a lot of air that may be polluted. We may not see world records in unfavourable conditions.”

The IOC examined data taken by Games organisers Bocog and the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau at some of last year’s test events, which took place during the planned Olympic period, August 8-29. Some endurance events could be rescheduled if daily monitoring carried out by several independent groups declared wind, humidity and pollution to be damaging to health, Ljungqvist said during a teleconference from Sweden

“People with asthma may suffer more than others,” he conceded.

When asked if endurance competitors with asthma should follow the example set by fellow sufferer and multiple Olympic champion, Haile Gebrselassie, who is to snub the marathon on health grounds, Ljungqvist said: “Gebrselassie’s decision is a private one but I would not say his example should be the gold standard for others.

“Our experience and data do not support that this will become a problem for the vast majority of athletes participating in Beijing.”

Ljungqvist said rescheduling an event would not be a new thing, citing a tennis match at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona that was stopped because of the heat. But he added: “This is the first time air pollution has become an issue.”

Various claims from international environmentalists that mainland authorities were falsifying their figures forced the IOC to launch an unprecedented probe a few weeks ago. For the first time in Olympic history IOC chiefs demanded Bocog hand over findings from the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau for independent examination.

The results left the IOC “full of confidence” in Beijing’s air cleaning and record keeping, Ljungqvist said.

However, he did not offer any figures to back the new mood – and he refused to name the four independent pollution experts who gave Beijing a healthy air quality report. Such omissions are likely to ensure some suspicion remains.

However, the IOC’s thumbs up will come as a welcome respite from the Tibet storm that has engulfed the games’ final preparations.

The deputy head of the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau, Du Shaozhong, said the IOC’s findings proved “conclusively” that his department and Bocog were cleaning up the air with transparency.

“I can assure athletes we are doing our best and we still have five months to go. During this time, we are confident of making all the events fit for all competitors,” he said.

Light Pollution in Hong Kong

SCMP – 18th March

Why is it that, when so much fuss is being made regarding reducing pollution in Hong Kong and saving electricity so that we can save the environment, a large insurance company like Fortis is allowed to erect a gigantic neon sign in Tai Koo Shing that shines directly into the apartments of Westland Gardens and Splendid Place, not only destroying our privacy and right to a relaxing evening at home, but also being bad for the environment?

I cannot understand how Hong Kong can on the one hand pretend to care about the environment, but on the other hand let companies do something like this. If Fortis needs to display such a huge neon sign, why not do it in the central business district, away from residents? Many residents have been totally affected by Fortis’ selfish marketing, finding it difficult to relax at night and have a good night’s sleep – vital factors to maintaining a healthy body and mind.

Even though many residents have contacted the marketing department and begged to have the neon sign switched off, there has been no co-operation from Fortis. How long does one have to suffer?

K. Mane, Quarry Bay

Lung Cancer Is The No1 Killer Disease On The Mainland

Lung cancer is the No1 killer disease on the mainland. In 2005 about 500,000 people were found to have lung cancer and the number is growing by 26.9 per cent annually. Medical experts attribute the high rate of lung cancer primarily to air pollution and widespread smoking (two out of three Chinese men smoke). Unchecked, the number of lung cancer patients on the mainland is projected to hit 1 million by 2025.