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March 5th, 2008:

Water Taxi Plan Is Bad News

Updated on Mar 05, 2008 – SCMP
I would like to add to the views of Jon Martin (“Government must act to reduce pollution from pleasure craft”, March 1) on the matter of proposals for “water taxis” to ply the south side of Hong Kong Island (“Water taxi plan wins support”, February 29).

This part of the island is unique, contrasting with the hassle and buzz of the built-up areas like the harbourside and Aberdeen. Tourists are astounded when they see the built-up areas, with the pollution of the roadsides in Central and elsewhere and then experience the tranquillity and beauty of the south side, areas like Deep Water Bay, Middle Bay, Repulse Bay and South Bay.

I can imagine that with a fleet of smoke-puffing water taxis with tourists invading these waters, pollution is guaranteed, and this will have an impact on beaches where people enjoy bathing.

Allan Zeman, the chairman of the Ocean Park, is interested in boosting business for his enterprise, but he should think twice before adding his support to an idea I think will be destructive.

The further build up of Ocean Park and its surroundings with tourist facilities, already adds to the heavy traffic with tourist buses which also go from Ocean Park to Stanley.

We must preserve the uniqueness of the south side of Hong Kong Island.

Thomas Gebauer, Discovery Bay

London Bike-Only Superhighways

It’s ‘on yer bike’ as transport gurus switch focus to two wheels

Tim Bryan – Updated on Mar 05, 2008 – SCMP

Two wheels good, four wheels bad. So say London’s transport gurus. After years of criticism, delay, and seemingly endless consultation, transport chiefs have come up with sweeping new cycle plans – backed by £400 million (HK$6.18 billion) of public money – to transform some of London’s main routes into bike-only superhighways.

No more green-asphalt cycle lanes that start suddenly and end mysteriously 50 metres later. Out with cycle lanes that pit cyclists against oncoming one-way traffic. An end to bike lanes blocked by parked cars or invaded by buses. So dangerous is cycling in London that some bike riders wear cameras on their helmets and post dangerous drivers on the internet.

The 12 new cycle-only routes are to hail from known cyclist-heavy residential areas such as Clapham, in the south-west, Greenwich in the south-east, Hackney in the east, and Kilburn, in the north-west.

The superhighways will also link suburban centres such as Croydon, Kingston and Richmond, with local networks, and dedicated lanes linking parks, schools and train stations. “Integrated transport”, say planners – a novel idea for London, which has developed for centuries in an organic (read chaotic) fashion.

The plans fit snugly with greener tenets of transport wisdom. The successful congestion charge has been expanded, fees raised for high-polluting cars, while parking is becoming more and more pricey.

There’s also the planned London-wide launch of a scheme pioneered in Paris, in which thousands of free bikes are offered to commuters for a minimal charge.

Overall, planners hope to lift the current 500,000 cycling trips made per day to 1.9 million, double even the best forecasts, by 2025.

The London Cycling Campaign hailed the superhighways as a watershed. A spokeswoman told The Guardian newspaper: “This proposal will transform London, making cycling more visible.” The really interesting thing, she continued, was that “cycling is now associated with a modern cosmopolitan city that is in control and at ease with itself”.

Even the motoring group AA backs the plans, albeit cautiously, saying the system of haphazard provision for cyclists was no good for cyclists or other road users.

The Freight Transport Association also welcomed the move only if it was aligned with more education for cyclists “so they obey the rules of the road”.

The FTA has a point. Cycling in London may be the most efficient, cheap and timesaving way to get about, but it is fraught with danger, not least because of the higgledy-piggledy nature of cycling provision. Cyclists do ride down one-way streets, on pavements and jump lights. However, they do so knowing they are at the bottom of the transport chain. Cyclists often need to be aggressive and far from law-abiding to survive.

Cycling deaths are on the increase, largely because more people are taking to two wheels, but also because those who do obey the rules are forgotten. The major cause of death involves trucks and buses turning left at junctions and crushing cyclists against railings. The cyclists are where the Highway Code says they should be, but until proposed European legislation makes mandatory a longer wing mirror on British trucks, drivers cannot see them.

Pollution Key Factor In Hong Kong Losing Expat Allure

Pollution key factor in HK losing expat allure

Liz Heron – Updated on Mar 05, 2008 – SCMP

Hong Kong may style itself as Asia’s “world city” but the continent’s expatriates do not rate it among the world’s top 10 places to live.

Expatriates from Asian countries regard Singapore as the world’s most desirable location, followed by Sydney and Melbourne, and put Hong Kong in 15th place behind Yokohama and on a par with Tokyo.

The findings were announced in a survey by recruitment consultancy ECA International.

The consultancy ranks 254 cities worldwide for the quality of life they offer to Asian expatriates across 15 sectors in the annual survey, including transport, recreation facilities, housing, health care, housing, crime and air quality. It said Hong Kong had risen from 23rd position last year because the crime rate had improved, but air pollution had worsened.

General manager Lee Quane said: “Air pollution is the main reason why Hong Kong comes 15th in comparison to Singapore. In all the other factors – including the quality of health-care facilities, recreational facilities and infrastructure – Hong Kong and Singapore score quite similarly.

“I have seen from personal experience that many expatriates have indicated their preference to live in another Asian city such as Singapore due to Hong Kong’s relatively poor air quality,” he said.

Mr Quane said the survey was used by multinationals to decide whether they should pay a hardship allowance to employees who were moved to another country. The further down the ranking a country was, the more likely the company was to pay the allowance.

Levina Poon, an associate director with international headhunters Robert Walters, said air pollution was a factor that expatriates considered when deciding whether to accept a job offer in Hong Kong.

Green Whirlwind Sweeps China

By Wu Zhong, China Editor – Asia Times Online

HONG KONG – The annual session of the National People’s Congress (NPC), which convenes on Wednesday, is likely to endorse the upgrading of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) into a mega-sized Ministry of Environment.

This is to highlight the greater importance the Chinese government attaches to environment protection. It is also a gesture to toe the new party line of “scientific development” based on President Hu Jintao’s concepts.

As if to boost its authority ahead of the anticipated upgrading, SEPA has been gearing up to launch one after another of what the Chinese media call “green whirlwinds”. So much so that the word “green” has become very fashionable in the country recently.

On February 25, SEPA unveiled a “green securities” policy. Pan Yue, vice director of SEPA, said the agency had issued a regulation stipulating that highly polluting companies must pass environmental inspections when applying for initial public offerings (IPO). Listed companies with high pollution emissions and energy are required to make environmental disclosures and pass environmental inspections for refinancing.

Pan said most domestically listed companies either do not report their environmental performance or submit “only qualitative descriptions” and “scantily useful facts”, according to a China Daily report. The regulation is designed to make environmental disclosure a key criterion for companies raising funds from the Chinese capital markets, according to Pan.

The regulation targeted companies engaged in power generation, steel, cement and aluminum production, and provincial companies classified as energy-intensive or highly polluting. That latter category covers 13 industries, including metallurgy, coal, textiles and paper.

Making environmental reporting compulsory is a joint program of SEPA and the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC), China Daily said. The two agencies worked together in reviewing the information submitted by 37 companies applying for IPO last year.

The next day, SEPA blacklisted 141 products as being “highly polluting and environmentally dangerous”. It suggested that 39 such items should be ineligible for tax refunds, as well as processing and trading. The blacklist would protect public health and be a tangible step toward honoring China’s international commitments to safeguard the environment, Pan said.

Earlier, on February 18, SEPA issued a “green insurance” policy. The policy, supported by the China Insurance Regulatory Commission (CIRC) and aimed at insuring enterprises with pollution risks, will be implemented nationwide by 2015 after a trial period, state-run Xinhua News Agency reported. The goal would be to have insurers compensate victims of environmental accidents, avoid bankruptcy by the polluting company and lessen the government’s financial burden.

According to Pan, SEPA handled 108 emergency environmental pollution incidents across the country, one per two working days on average. Many polluting enterprises did not have funds to deal with the aftermath, victims could not be compensated and cleaning up could not be done in time. In the end, the government had to take up the responsibility, which is against the principle of “he who pollutes is held responsible”. This problem could be solved if enterprises were insured.

In July, 2007, with the support of China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC), SEPA launched the so-called “green credit” policy. It demands banks to restrict their loans to energy-intensive, polluting industries. Under this policy, companies with violations could be barred from getting loans and those with outstanding loans could have their loans called in.

Under this “green credit” policy, so far some 3.93 billion yuan (US$554 million) worth of credit has been called in from companies that failed to meet environment standards, a Xinhua report last week said quoting CBRC. CBRC also said that some 30 energy-intensive, high-polluting enterprises were denied credit from the top five banks last year after they were blacklisted by the environmental authorities. CBRC statistics showed major commercial banks have provided 1.7 trillion yuan in loans for energy-intensive, polluting industries including chemicals, iron and steel and thermal power generation.

On the other hand, China’s top five banks – the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), China Construction Bank (CCB), Bank of China (BOC), Agricultural Bank of China (ABC), and Bank of Communications (BoCom) – offered loans of more than 100 billion yuan last year to support companies’ environmental plans, the top banking regulator said.

Meanwhile, China will get tough on corporate executives responsible for causing severe pollution by imposing hefty fines on them. Heads of Chinese enterprises which cause severe pollution incidents may face fines equivalent to half of their annual income, according to an amended law on water pollution, Xinhua said.

The NPC Standing Committee on February 29 passed an amendment to the Water Pollution Prevention and Control Law, which will take effect from June 1. “Enterprise heads directly responsible for causing severe water pollution incidents and others with direct responsibility will be fined up to half of their income in the previous year,” the revised law says. Previous punishment of responsible company heads stopped at administrative penalties.

All these are signs suggesting the new environment body will be empowered with greater authority, no longer remaining a “toothless tiger” as SEPA used to be called.

Nevertheless, as powerful as the new Ministry of Environment may be, it is still a ministry under the State Council, China’s cabinet. And under China’s administrative hierarchy, it is at the same ranking as other ministries or provinces or large state-owned enterprises such as PetroChina, Sinopec, or the State Grid. As such, it cannot really order the others to do as it says.

Therefore, whether the new environment authority can effectively exercise its function still largely depends on whether other government departments or provinces are willing to cooperate and coordinate. In the three “green” policies, for example, SEPA has the full support of the three financial regulators.

However, as departmentalism and regionalism run rampant in China, it remains uncertain whether other government departments and provinces will be as fully cooperative as the financial regulators, particularly when their own interests are infringed.

From the long-term perspective, therefore, China must build up a sounder rule of law if it wants to push for environment-friendly development. Empowering the environment watchdog with greater capacities, after all, is only an administrative measure. Its power can be properly exercised only when it is armed with proper laws and regulations.