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March 6th, 2008:

Bridge Will Damage Our Environment

Updated on Mar 06, 2008 – SCMP

Kudos to Jake van der Kamp’s Monitor column (“Bridge to Nevernever Land doesn’t add up”, March 3) and David Sadoway’s letter (“Delta bridge will be an ecological monstrosity”, March 4), for pointing out the economic and environmental shortcomings of the monstrous bridge planned to link Hong Kong with Zhuhai and Macau.

This indeed appears to be little more than a grandiose concrete pouring scheme that will benefit few people – several of them already very rich – while proving costly and environmentally damaging, far beyond the bridge. Not only is it likely to result in North Lantau coming to resemble the northwest New Territories, complete with container parks, but it is also intended to spur development in Zhuhai, so wreaking further havoc.

Zhuhai’s development will result in more regional air pollution, from power stations, factories and petrol and diesel vehicles, therefore, making Hong Kong’s air pollution even worse. This casts doubt on the government’s supposed aim of making our air cleaner.

The bridge is not the only economically dubious and environmentally damaging project Hong Kong has planned or built in recent years following on from Cyberport, Disneyland, the Hong Kong-Shekou Bridge and the partly built Stonecutters Bridge.

Sadly, the people in power here seem oblivious to the fact that Hong Kong has one of the greatest natural settings of any city in the world, and are hell-bent on creating a city of concrete and pollution.

Dr Martin Williams, director, Hong Kong Outdoors

Cleanup Is No Breeze

Updated on Mar 06, 2008 – SCMP

Hong Kong has seen some of the city’s worst ever air pollution over the past few days. Readings for various pollutants have been extremely high, and some parts of the Pearl River Delta on Monday recorded the highest pollution levels (Grade V) even by mainland standards. These were well above the air quality guidelines set by the World Health Organisation.

The government blamed light winds for the poor air quality. In other words, if there had been more wind, the pollution would have been blown away, rather than enveloping us.

The truth is that the region’s air quality has become extremely poor. Day in, day out, emissions are so high that, without stronger winds to dissipate the pollution, we suffer acute conditions. Indeed, most of the time, we are already breathing chronically bad air. The problem is not the wind, it’s the pollution.

The reality of extremely bad air pollution becomes undeniable when the winds are light; the bad stuff just hangs around in the air. So, just to repeat: the reason for our extremely bad air is not the light winds, it’s the high pollution levels.

In 1998, the government acknowledged that air pollution was a major and pressing problem. It said that “we should be satisfied with nothing less than a world-class environment”. The administration concluded that it needed to focus on two key areas: first, reducing roadside air pollution – something that is within Hong Kong’s control; and, second, working with Guangdong to reduce regional air pollution.

Over the next few years, the government had taxis switch from using diesel to liquid petroleum gas, and minibuses have also started to use LPG. It has offered a concessionary duty rate on ultra-low-sulfur diesel, for diesel vehicles – mostly buses and trucks. Owners have been encouraged, through subsidy schemes, to add particulate traps; and any new vehicles purchased have to meet the latest Euro environmental standards. The latest scheme involves providing subsidies to replace old trucks.

To what extent have these measures actually improved roadside air quality? Undoubtedly, things would be very much worse if the government had not implemented the measures. Yet, the air pollution is still extremely high on a daily basis. That is the rub; not nearly enough has been done. So, the argument that things would be worse but for the government’s measures is not sufficient. There is no justification for the dangerously high levels of roadside pollution in Hong Kong. Looking at the current conditions is really the only way to judge success or failure. In health terms, the conditions mean that, every day, many Hongkongers are exposed to unacceptable levels of air pollution when they are at the side of, or close to, busy roads. A comprehensive cleanup is needed. This requires active planning and collaboration between the bureaus and departments responsible for planning, the environment and transport.

Each minister and deputy secretary should be made to read the roadside air-pollution data on a daily basis, alongside the WHO air-quality standards, so they can personally comprehend how bad things are and use that to measure whether they are doing enough. The chief executive and the chief secretary ought to do the same. Unless they show leadership and demand tough action, tackling roadside air pollution will prove too difficult. This is why we have not seen significant improvements to date.

As for regional air pollution, Hong Kong and Guangdong are not going to meet their agreed improvement targets by 2010. It was always going to be a tough challenge, because with the level of pollution being generated, small fixes would never be enough; the region needs a directional change. Hong Kong must work closely with Shenzhen to improve emissions related to power generation, and clean up manufacturing, logistics, shipping and port-operation activities, for starters. Moreover, the government can use the Guangzhou Asian Games in 2010 to push regional collaboration. And, please, stop blaming the wind for our bad air.

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

Waste Proposals Need To Receive A Fair Hearing

Updated on Mar 06, 2008 – Leader

Time is running out to decide how to dispose of our city’s rubbish after its landfills are exhausted. Burning it is the preferred option. Two suggested sites for a waste incinerator have, however, aroused concerns among environmentalists and nearby residents. Now the government has received an offer that raises other issues.

Green Island Cement, a subsidiary of Cheung Kong Infrastructure, wants to build the incinerator at its plant in Tuen Mun near one of the government’s chosen sites. It says the proposal would harness the energy generated by the incinerator to power its cement plant, a heavy user of electricity now produced by polluting, coal-fired generation. A pilot study shows the plan would meet all environmental criteria, the company claims.

The proposal could potentially solve two problems at once – burning the city’s massive volume of solid waste while eliminating the use of coal to power the cement plant. Depending on the details, it could save money and be good for the environment.

The government will, no doubt, be mindful of past criticism over claims of collusion with – and favouritism to – developers in major projects. It might, however, be argued that since Cheung Kong has come up with this idea, it should get the contract if the proposal finds favour with the government. But such a move does not necessarily follow. It would be a little like suggesting Sir Gordon Wu Ying-sheung, chairman of Hopewell Holdings, should automatically be given the right to build the Hong Kong-Macau-Zhuhai bridge because he first proposed it in the early 1980s.

While Cheung Kong’s idea has its merits and should be considered, proposals from other potential operators must also have a fair chance. What if CLP Power, which has a plant in the same locality also wants to build the incinerator?

The answer lies in finding the waste-disposal solution that is in the best long-term interests of Hong Kong. If Cheung Kong’s proposal is considered fairly and transparently, along with any others, neither the government nor the public need fear the perception of collusion or favouritism.