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March 26th, 2008:

Leaders Doing Nothing To Clean Up Filthy Air

Updated on Mar 26, 2008 – SCMP (Letters to Editor)

Wolfgang Ehmann makes an excellent point – each individual must contribute to a clean environment (“Dispelling some myths about incinerators”, March 20). But I disagree with his conclusion, that sustainability is not only having the right leader wisely choose the right solution.

To paraphrase [New York Times columnist] Thomas L. Friedman: the greenest thing you can do is choose the right leaders, because they write the rules.

He said: “Whatever any of us does individually matters … But when leaders change the rules, you get scale change across the whole marketplace.”

I have lived in Hong Kong for three years and have yet to hear Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen’s administration make one meaningful statement – much less take meaningful action – about the city’s pollution.

It seems that neither the Hong Kong authorities nor their Beijing masters are in control. The people who really run this city – the power companies and the moguls with myriad factories in Guangdong – are not accountable to anyone. With each breath of vile air, everyone living near the Pearl River Delta pays the price. On bad days, even The Peak sees particulate levels more than double the EU’s most hazardous limits. Would Mr Ehmann really trust Mr Tsang’s administration to install an incinerator “with the highest health and safety standards”? Please, the authorities don’t even require that bus companies meet emission standards.

The trash isn’t piling up in the streets, but Hong Kong is far dirtier than Naples.

Every mother in this city knows children with serious breathing problems: babies on nebulisers before they can walk, three-year-olds on steroids for asthma.

So, to Hong Kong’s rulers, both the de facto ones and those who really run the show – is this your legacy, turning Hong Kong into an ash heap that poisons its children?

A. K. Sherman, The Peak

A billion seen living in cities by 2030

Stephen Chen
Updated on Mar 26, 2008 – SCMP

China’s urbanisation will continue on an unprecedented scale and pace, to the point where 1 billion people will be living in mainland cities by 2030, according to research by the McKinsey Global Institute.

That means in 20 years Chinese cities will have to provide jobs, housing, food, medical insurance and pension funds for 350 million more people – more than the present population of the United States.

Meanwhile, about 5 billion square metres of roads will have to be paved, 170 mass-transit systems built and 50,000 new skyscrapers – equivalent to 10 New York cities – will appear on the mainland.

Urbanisation at such speed and volume would put huge pressure on the leadership, the report said.

That pressure would include securing enough public funding for social services, dealing with demand and supply for land, energy and water, and protecting the environment. The pressure would intensify despite strong economic growth.

Smaller cities would bear the biggest brunt because they will face insurmountable hurdles in land development, job creation and skilled labour, financing and energy supply.

The researchers said the best solution would be to create more than 20 super-cities as big as Shanghai.

Their argument is partly based on historical records that indicate large, concentrated cities in China perform more effectively than smaller ones.

Concentrated growth would have many positive economic implications, including greater per capita gross domestic product, more efficient use of energy, low arable land loss rates, more efficient mass transit and more effective pollution control.

Policymakers could steer China in that direction by offering favourable land policies, infrastructure investment and preferential political treatment, the report said.