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April, 2008:

Olympic blue skies can shame us into action

Bernard Chan – Updated on Apr 25, 2008 – SCMP

Could the Beijing Olympics help us in Hong Kong tackle our air pollution problem? For many years, Beijing has been famous for having more polluted air than almost anywhere in the world.

We have all heard people say “you should try the mainland”, when someone complains about our air in Hong Kong, and a visit to Beijing used to prove the point. However, on my recent visit, I was amazed to see a clear blue sky. You could even see the mountains in the distance behind the Forbidden City.

For several years, officials in Beijing have been announcing measures to clean up the city’s air. Factories have been moved out of the urban area, homes using coal and charcoal for heating and cooking have been converted to electricity. The subway network has grown impressively. For a short period last year, officials even experimented with a ban on cars with even- and odd-numbered registrations, on corresponding days. The official target is to have “clean air days” on two-thirds of all days this Olympics year.

Although the city authorities are claiming success, not all residents think the measures have been totally effective. As in Hong Kong, there are claims that the standards are set too low and monitoring stations are not located in the right places. Certainly, there is visible pollution on many days.

Perhaps I was simply lucky on my recent visit, and the sky just happened to be clear. What I do know is that it was an impressive sight and a big reminder of what we can gain through a cleanup.

As the Games approaches, Beijing and surrounding regions will introduce even more stringent measures on a temporary basis. Starting in July, construction sites will be banned from digging and pouring concrete, and a range of industries will scale down their emissions. Many quarries and petrol stations will close temporarily, and activities like spray painting will be banned. Many vehicles will be barred from the roads, perhaps cutting traffic by half and, apparently, many residents will be encouraged to take a holiday out of town. The capital’s biggest polluter, the huge steel manufacturer Shougang, is closing many of its operations ahead of the Olympics and will transfer out of the capital entirely by 2010.

It will be very interesting to see what effect these measures have, because it will give us an idea of just how tough we will have to be in Hong Kong if we want to make major improvements in our own air quality.

The two cities have some important differences. Beijing has a long history of using coal or charcoal as fuel in homes. It still has a lot of heavy industry and suffers dust storms and sandstorms from the nearby desert.

This is why our air in Hong Kong has never been as bad as it has been in Beijing. But, like Beijing, we have a lot of factories and power plants in neighbouring areas, coal-fired power stations of our own, continuous construction in downtown areas and a rising number of vehicles on our streets.

Some athletes are worried about Beijing’s air pollution and have wondered whether they should take part in events like the marathon. Some have apparently said they will wear masks. Senior Olympic officials say that, while the air shouldn’t pose a danger, it may prevent athletes from achieving record-breaking performances.

Against this background, the Beijing and national governments will be determined to get air pollution down in as many long-term, permanent or temporary ways as they can.

If Beijing succeeds, could it shame us into doing a better job here? Some people might say that the balance of power in Hong Kong between government, public opinion and commercial interests makes it harder to take radical measures. The phasing out of diesel taxis, which was hard work but ultimately a success, shows two things: it is true, and it is not an excuse.

Bernard Chan is a member of the Executive Council and a legislator representing the insurance functional constituency

Beijing Clamps Down On Pollution Before Olympics

By V. Phani Kumar, MarketWatch – The Wall Street Journal

Last update: 3:56 p.m. EDT April 24, 2008

HONG KONG (MarketWatch) — When the Olympic Village officially opens in Beijing this July, visitors could be in for a treat.

In all likelihood, they will find that what’s inside the 163-acre campus presents a sharp contrast to the horrible tales they have heard or read about the pollution in the Chinese capital.

And for most of the 10,708 athletes expected to arrive there for the Olympics a few days later, the energy-efficient buildings and air-conditioning, solar-panels generated electricity and the biological sewage treatment technology being used in the facility, as well as the lush greenery at the adjoining 1,680-acre Olympic Forest Park, should ease some concerns about environmental sensitivity.

“The harmony between culture, architecture and environment has been achieved in the green residential area,” Liu Rong, an official with the Beijing Guoao Investment Development Co., which built and owns the facility, told the media last month.

But for athletes participating in the endurance events that include an hour or more of physical effort such as marathon running, triathlon and urban road cycling — as well as the Games organizers — Beijing’s air quality may well give some sleepless nights.

A decision last month by Ethiopian runner Haile Gebrselassia to pull out of the 42-kilometer marathon fanned worries about the air pollution in Beijing, even though Gebrselassia, an asthmatic, said he would still participate in the shorter 10-kilometer run.

Earlier this month, the International Olympic Committee said a set of data collected at test events last year, and feedback from athletes’ physicians, showed that one year ahead of the Games, the health of athletes was “largely not impaired.”

The Games organizer, however, said its Medical Commission found there “may be some risk” to the outdoor events and that it was working with international sports federations to put in place procedures to allow a contingency “Plan B” for these events, if necessary. It didn’t detail the plan.

The IOC added “measures are continuously being taken by the Chinese authorities, which can be expected to improve the air quality further when compared with 2006 and 2007.”

The United Nations Environment Programme also agreed in a report that air quality has improved for some monitored pollutants.

“Beijing has implemented a number of initiatives to improve its air quality and reduce its air pollution. From the relocation and refitting of major polluting industries, to the conversion of coal burning boilers, to cleaner fuels and the implementation of vehicle emission standards, the city can boast significant achievements,” UNEP wrote in a report.

“However, it can take years to determine significant changes in air quality. Relevant progress may be evident only in the medium- to long-term,” it added.

Beijing shows it means business

Meanwhile, the Chinese authorities are in overdrive mode to avoid any embarrassment because of the threat from pollution. Leading its efforts are two state-run organizations — Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau and the federal-level organization, State Environmental Protection Administration.

Last week, Du Shaozhong, deputy director at the Beijing environmental watchdog, announced the suspension of construction activity between July 20 and Sept. 20, in addition to ordering 19 heavy-polluting industries to reduce their emissions by as much as 30% during that period, according to state media reports.

Du added that “in case of extremely negative meteorological conditions,” the watchdog could take even harsher measures.

With the Chinese authorities on the defensive after marathon champion Gebrselassia’s pullout, Du said he “guaranteed” that no events will need to be put back because of worries about air quality, according to reports.

Separately, Beijing will restrict movement of about half the city’s cars during the Games to clamp down on another major source of pollution. Under the plan, vehicles with odd- and even-numbered plates will be allowed only on alternate days, the reports said.

SEPA, on the other hand, is targeting companies and even cities with a weak track record on pollution, including a number of offenders in places surrounding Beijing. Last year, it put 39 cities on the blacklist for poor air quality, including seven in the Shanxi province, the country’s largest coal supplier and an equal number in Liaoning province, one of the most industrialized. Both states border Beijing.

The ministry also joined hands with the banking, insurance and securities market regulators to pin down the guilty parties.

In February, SEPA vice minister Pan Yue announced a “guide to green securities” following a one-year trial period, aimed at containing “excessive expansion of high energy consumption and high pollution industries” by raising funds from the stock markets.

The initial public offering of several Chinese companies, including some large ones such as China Coal Energy, reportedly got delayed last year as they awaited government approval for environmental reasons.

On a separate occasion in February, Yue said that several companies were denied bank loans, and in a few cases loans were even recalled, for violation of environmental laws.

Health & hygiene

As the Olympics draw closer, Beijing is also swooping down on health-related issues, in addition to environmental ones. With nearly 1.5 million visitors expected during the 15 days of the Games, authorities are redoubling efforts to ensure food safety and meet acceptable international standards.
Stefan Bollhalder, general manager at Shangri-La group’s China World Hotel in Beijing, said “there are regular inspections by the Beijing Hygiene Bureau,” in addition to the hotel’s own efforts to ensure food safety.

But efforts to impose a blanket ban on smoking in public places have run into slight resistance. China has more than 300 million smokers, according to World Health Organization estimates, and people habitually light up at public places, including restaurants.

According to a report in state-controlled newspaper China Daily, restaurants, bars and internet cafes have been exempted from the ban on smoking at public venues in the wake of concerns raised by those businesses. These places, however, will separate smoking and non-smoking sections from May 1.
A spokeswoman for the Hilton chain of hotels said the Hilton Beijing “recently launched a campaign to introduce smoke free zones into public areas around the hotel.”

Some rooms in the hotel will be designated “smoke-free zones, which is relatively unusual in China,” she added.

Some of the half a million foreigners expected to visit during the Games could, however, be inconvenienced, as most public toilets in China are traditional-styled squat toilets.

An Associated Press report cited a local official as saying renovations were under way at some venues, but that it was difficult to change every permanent toilet in the 37 event locations.

Who will benefit?

From investors’ perspective, tourism and hotel industries were likely to be the big beneficiaries from the Beijing Olympics, according to analysts. Despite the organizers’ efforts to keep hotel tariffs affordable, the quoted tariffs for hotel rooms have more than quadrupled in some cases, according to state media reports.

Real estate firms were also likely to benefit from the temporary restrictions on construction activity.
“The delay in construction work means less supply of property in the second half of the year. It’s good for the companies as prices will be better supported, but it’s not so good for their cash flows,” said Zhufeng Wang, an analyst with Evolution Securities China in Shanghai.

Mona Chung, a senior fund manager at Daiwa Asset Management in Hong Kong, said there has been a lot of hype about sector-specific stocks benefiting from the Olympics.

But it was unlikely “investors will be looking at the Olympic-theme when they decide their investment strategy for the second quarter,” she said.

End of Story

Varahabhotla Phani Kumar is a reporter in MarketWatch’s Hong Kong bureau.

Earth Day’s Token Efforts Show Need For More Awareness

Stephen Chen – Updated on Apr 23, 2008 – SCMP

International Earth Day passed without much fanfare on the mainland yesterday, with environmentalists saying much still needed to be done to raise public awareness.

The event is usually marked clearly on the mainland’s political calendar, but it did not make even a brief story on China Central Television’s evening news – compared with the minute the programme gave to the Beijing car show.

But mainland leaders still say they are devoted to improving environmental protection. They have set the goal of doubling the amount of energy coming from renewable sources such as water, wind, solar and biomass by 2020.

With environmental awareness rising slowly, various public activities and events were held in cities around the nation. But few of these activities concerned global warming, and environmental activists had to admit that there was still a way to go to promote public awareness of the dangers greenhouse gases pose to the mainland – the world’s biggest emitter of the pollutants.

In the northeastern city of Dalian , the Women’s Association launched a Save Chopsticks campaign to encourage households not to use disposable chopsticks, which consume more than 25 million mature trees a year on the mainland. Trees absorb carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas.

More than 1,000 volunteers put half a million young fish into a river in Nanning , Guangxi , in the hope of restoring some ecological balance and improving water quality.

Supermarkets, developers and car makers have sponsored environment-friendly-bag campaigns in big cities such as Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Hangzhou , Zhejiang , urging consumers to stop using plastic bags and choose more sustainable products.

At a primary school in Shenyang , Liaoning , a pupil painted a picture of an ailing Earth with a thermometer sticking out of its mouth.

“The Earth has a fever, and we must cure it,” the 11-year-old told the China Business Morning Post.

Yang Ailun , climate and energy campaign manager for Greenpeace on the mainland, said the group had noticed that most mainland citizens failed to recognise global warming as an imminent threat.

“Most people don’t know what an ordinary person can do in the face of such a big issue,” she said. “You can ask them to stop using plastic bags because it could make them feel rewarded instantly. But global warming is more distant and indirect.

“Air quality, water pollution and food safety are probably more imminent issues in China.”

Guangdong Keeps Value In Clear-Out

By Olivia Chung – Apr 23, 2008 – Asia Times Online

HONG KONG – The Chinese government appears to be gaining ground in its efforts to clear out low-value, high-polluting, industry from Guangdong province, one of the country’s most important industrial areas, and replace it with higher-quality manufacturing.

The volume of shoe exports from Guangdong plunged about 30% to 490 million pairs in the first two months of this year as factories closed, yet the value of the sector’s overseas sales slipped only 0.6% in the period.

China is the world’s largest shoe manufacturer and exporter. Last year, Guangdong exported 42.4% of the 8.2 billion pairs of shoes made in the country, worth US$24.1 billion, and sold to overseas markets. In 2007, the value of the exports jumped 14.9% while volume rose at less than half the rate, at 6.8%.

The central government last year introduced regulations aimed at cutting pollution in the province’s Pearl Delta area by encouraging factories to move elsewhere in the country. Under the policy, implemented in July, manufacturers have to pay as a deposit half the amount they spend importing 1,853 raw materials while export limits were imposed on a wide range of low-value goods. The move ties up exporters’ funds, hurting their cash flow and profitability.

Wang Qinhua, head of the Ministry of Commerce’s mechanical, electronics and high-tech industries department, said the government wanted to curb highly polluting manufacturing, according to a report in the South China Morning Post.

“The new policy will raise costs and affect the cash flow of exporters, especially those engaged in the labor-intensive parts of industry,” the report quoted Wang as saying. “Exporters will be forced to add value to their products and upgrade their technology.”

The mainland posted a record trade surplus of $112.5 billion in the first half of the year before implementation of the policy, as countries such as the US bought its low-cost goods, adding to international trade frictions. Processed goods represented 45% of the first-half trade surplus, the Post report said.

Simon Shi Kai-biu, president of the 1,000-member Hong Kong Small and Medium Business Association, said last July he would not be surprised to see 2,000 or 3,000 factories failing in 12 months, according to a separate South China Morning Post report.

The campaign was also aimed at releasing land, in short supply after 30 years of intense industrialization, for more productive uses. Relocation of factories to more remote and cheaper provinces would also improve employment prospects there and reduce the need for cheap immigrant labor in Guangdong.

Shoe manufacturers are having to contend with more than government policies. Their material and labor costs are increasing, while exporters have to compete against an anti-dumping tariff imposed by the European Union. Some export-oriented manufacturers producing for foreign brands are trying to compete by creating their own brands, increasing their own research and development.

About 55% of the 3,367 shoemakers operating in Guangdong’s nine cities last year had closed by this February, according to statistics from customs in Guangzhou, the provincial capital, leaving only 1,512 footwear companies.

Of the 1,855 shoe companies going out of business in the past year, the vast majority were privately owned. Of the rest, 92 were foreign-invested and 23 state-owned.

The decline in factories meant that the volume of the province’s shoe exports plunged 27.5% year-on-year to 490 million pairs in the first two months of 2008. The decline by value was a mere 0.6% to $1.59 billion, according to Guangzhou customs.

Li Pang, chairman of the Asia Footwear Association, said the average unit price of shoes exported from Guangdong increased by 37% to about $3.20 a pair in the first two months compared with the same period last year.

Analysts said the total drop in export value in terms of US dollars was the result of increased production cost, the yuan appreciation against the dollar, and increased exports to Europe and other non-US dollar regions with currencies that also strengthened against the US dollar. With international buyers pricing their orders in US dollars and local costs set in a strengthening yuan, shoemakers face reduced margins as they compete against non-Chinese competitors.

Of the total shoe exports by quantity in January and February, those from privately owned shoemakers plunged the most, by 41.1%, with foreign-invested enterprises hit less, at 8.9% year-on-year.

The province’s shoe exports to the US, still the biggest market for Guangdong’s footwear makers, dropped 12% by volume in the first two months of 2008 compared with a year earlier, compared with a 3.4% decline for the full year 2007.

Shoe exports to the EU tumbled 17.5% in the first two months this year to 13.3 million pairs, compared with a 6.5% decline to 77.8 million pairs in all of 2007, after the EU imposed a 16.5% anti-dumping tariff on Chinese-made shoes from October, 2006.

Xu Jianrong, the boss of a low-cost shoemaker in the Pear Delta city of Dongguan that exports all its products to the United States, said his company was close to closure.

“Thank God my factory is still here … but I am afraid all the profits I earned in the past are going to be spent to cover possible losses this year. I now am struggling to survive day by day,” Xu told Asia Times Online.

Xu attributed the economic hardship facing his company to the appreciation of yuan and the increasing costs of raw materials and labor. His shoe plant on average received orders for 800,000 pairs a month since it began operation a few years ago, but in April it received orders for only 400,000 pairs.

“Low-cost shoemakers like us have no bargaining power, which is now possessed by the buyers,” Xu said. “We have no choice but to accept the prices offered. For instance, a pair of shoes previously cost us $3.60 and we had to take the purchase order of $4.00 each. Now the cost is more than $4, but the buyers still offer $4 each in their purchase orders. You have to take it or leave it.”

Li of the Asia Footwear Association said the “cruel” reality will be a positive for the country’s shoe industry as the tightened marketing environment could increase fair competition and nurture industry leaders in the country.

The number of shoemaking factories in the whole of China surged by about 50% at the start of this decade to more than 30,000 in 2006 from 20,000 four years earlier, but orders grew at a slower pace, leading to vicious price competition, according to the China Daily.

Zheng Xiaobo, supervisor of sales department of Yin Sheng Shoe Company in Dongguan, one of the top 10 women’s leather shoemakers in Guangdong, said the company is taking steps to reduce cost pressure. It expanded by buying another shoemaker in Dongguan, then turned to developing the domestic market, which now accounts for 20% of its total sales, to reduce pressure from yuan appreciation.

“The company is also going to add value to its production chain through brand building and now we are aiming at the high-end market,” he said.

Footwear companies are upgrading their products, building up their own brands, says Ding Zhizhong, president of the Jinjiang Shoemaking Industry Association in east Fujian province, which produces 1 billion pairs of shoes each year.

Wang Zhentao, president of Aokang Group, one of China’s leading shoemakers, which has three plants in eastern China’s Wenzhou city and southwest Chongqing municipality, said most of the shoe companies, including Aokang, were affected by rising material costs and labor shortages.

“The new workers we recruit are not only producing goods not up to the standard, but also with lower efficiency,” he said.

To raise profits, Wang said his company has improved its technology and built its brands by setting up a research and development center. Input was sought from designers from Italy and Germany. Aokang also signed agreement with Shiling township of Huadu district in Guangzhou last August to jointly develop an international fashion and leather goods center.

Shiling, recognized as China’s leather goods capital, “produces more than 50% of leather products available in the European market and our cooperation aims at building more Chinese brands and raise our quality levels,” Wang said.

Some shoemakers, such as Anta (China) Company, are selling shares to the public to raise money for technological development. Established in 1991 in Fujian province, home to more than 3,000 footwear producers and more than 1,000 supporting companies, Anta was listed last July in Hong Kong, raising HK$3.16 billion (US$405 million).

Olivia Chung is a senior Asia Times Online reporter.

Targets For Greenhouse Gas Cuts Must Be Prudent And Scientific


In the process of amending the Air Pollution Control Ordinance, green groups have been pressing for a setting of greenhouse gas emission reduction targets to mitigate the effect of global warming, in addition to capping emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and respirable suspended particulates of power plants in Hong Kong.

While there is scepticism about climate change, The body of evidence shows that we must act before it is too late.

We should be using fossil fuels prudently and reducing our carbon footprints. We have to adopt a prudent and scientific approach towards the issue of the greenhouse gas effect, including the setting of emission reduction targets.

I am, however, against an arbitrary and imprudent setting of the greenhouse gas emission reduction target. It needs to embrace the principles of sustainable development, reduction and holistic planning.

To allow a meaningful setting of the greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, the government should accelerate its existing study on climate change so as to provide solid scientific information and recommendations. There must also be wide consultation and engagement of major stakeholders, for example, power companies and the transport sector.

Taking account of the local situation of lack of space for renewable energy projects, and the community’s desire for a stable power supply and electricity tariff, the most effective way for Hong Kong to control its greenhouse gas emissions would be to enhance overall energy efficiency in Hong Kong.

In this connection, the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers is very supportive of the government’s initiatives and measures in respect of electricity generation through the new scheme of control, demand side management, energy efficiency and conservation, building energy efficiency, the energy labelling scheme, renewable energy, land transport, use of landfill gas, as well as promoting awareness of environmental issues.

Yim Kin-ping, fellow member, Hong Kong Institution of Engineers

Guangzhou Economic Zone Lures Firms With Land And Cash Subsidies

Denise Tsang – SCMP – Updated on Apr 22, 2008

Guangdong, which is evicting manufacturers of low-value products on grounds that they pollute the province, is attracting investors with land and cash subsidies to foster service industries instead.

The Luogang district, part of Guangzhou’s economic development zone, yesterday signed agreements with about 15 domestic and foreign companies – including some from Hong Kong, Germany and the United States – in deals totalling US$560 million.

The companies will set up outsource service centres, headquarters or research and development units in the district, as well as provide logistics and financial services from there.

On offer are sweeteners including one-off cash grants of 700,000 yuan (HK$781,472) to 20 million yuan, land and rental subsidies, reimbursements on staff training costs and rail and road infrastructure.

The incentives run in tandem with draconian measures including cuts in tax rebates and tightened environmental requirements to snuff out industries deemed energy-consuming, resource-intensive and polluting.

“We have favourable policies for companies that aim to provide greater value-added services in the economic development belt,” said Xue Xiaofeng, the chief of Guangzhou’s economic development zone.

Hong Kong-based electronics maker Matsunichi Group plans to set up headquarters inside the zone while peer e-Commerce Logistics will build a centre for supply chain management.

Other investors are consulting firm AC Nielsen, Italian fashion company Vasto and telecommunications service provider China Direct Telecom. They will join 2,500 foreign firms already in the economic zone.

Among the most tempting incentives is a cash subsidy of 500 yuan per square metre for financial institutions and outsourcing service providers if they buy property in the economic zone, according to Mr Xue.

There is also a bonded logistics park to be connected by three metro rail lines and four light rail links to serve the Pearl River Delta region.

Guangdong has seen the exodus and demise of 10,000 factories in the past year as the province forces manufacturers to move up the value and technology chain. The trend has yet to let up as power and labour shortages and rising costs continue to hurt industries, say some trade groups.

No Friends Of The Earth

Southeast Asia – Apr 22, 2008 – Online Asia Times

By Muhammad Cohen

HONG KONG – The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bali last December generated extraordinary enthusiasm about global warning and put environmentalism at the top of the mainstream agenda for the first time in years. The Bali meeting brought worldwide consensus – albeit loose, broad and unspecific – that something needed to be done about climate change.

Within days of the Bali breakthrough, activists from environmental group Greenpeace were speeding toward Antarctica, ground zero for global warming, with an embedded BBC reporter aboard. The polar ice caps are melting at accelerating rates, and some islands, nestled thousands of kilometers north in the tropical Pacific Ocean are already at risk due to rising sea levels. The environmental activists it seemed could reinforce and extend the message of the Bali conference, with testimony from this critical climate battleground.

Except that the Greenpeace activists aboard MV Esperanza weren’t there to talk about global warming. They were there to stop Japan – a critical player in climate change on several fronts – from conducting its annual whale hunt. Greenpeace planned to tail the Japanese whaling boats, hoping to harass and shame them into stop killing whales. Global warming was not on their agenda.

Environmental activists from Australia-based Sea Shepherd were also pursuing the Japanese fleet, promising “direct action” to stop the hunt. A Sea Shepherd craft collided with a Japanese spotter vessel during the 2007 whaling season, both parties blaming the other for the incident. This year, Sea Shepherd’s leader Paul Watson, formerly of Greenpeace, took a “no-ramming” pledge. Yet on January 15, a pair of giddy Sea Shepherd protesters boarded a Japanese ship, Yushin Maru No 2, saying that they wanted to deliver a protest letter.

Given Sea Shepherd’s violent history, it’s hard to blame Yushin Maru’s commander for chaining his uninvited guests to a deck rail and calling them “terrorists”. Terrorist was the right word, but for the wrong reasons. The dedicated activists had crafted a reminder of all that’s wrong with the environmental movement. Their adolescent grandstanding on the culturally loaded fringe issue of whaling harpooned the reservoir of global goodwill on climate change generated in Bali.

Most critics of the environmental movement oppose its goals; they say global warming is “junk science” (Nobel Prize notwithstanding), extinction is a natural part of evolution, and that markets and science, supported by the wealth that would be destroyed if environmentalists had their way, will find solutions to today’s seemingly insoluble problems.

Global warming updates the 1960s question of balancing economic progress with resource depletion. Today we are still debating what to do about the internal combustion engine; how to preserve species, their habitats, and other areas of exceptional merit in the face of competing human needs. As we mark another Earth Day on Tuesday, it’s time to ask, paraphrasing a line from four decades ago, whether well-meaning, but often inept and misguided environmental activists, are part of the solution or part of the problem.

The Bali meeting and that Southern Ocean whaling sequel highlight several reasons environmentalism keeps extending its record of failure. More than 100 different environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were at the Bali climate change meeting. While the government representatives and other official delegates met in various working groups, there apparently wasn’t a single meeting during those two weeks (or during these past four decades) that brought together the all of environmental NGOs to craft a common message or strategy.

Occasionally a handful of NGOs would hold a joint press conference on some issue. But largely, the groups competed with each other for media attention to their messages that differed mainly in form and nuance rather than substance.

No, not a tuxedo …
I’m the last guy who wants to deny anyone the opportunity to wear a penguin suit in the tropical heat – a Bali stunt by Greenpeace, one of several NGOs that didn’t answer questions for this article. But imagine if these environmental groups had used the occasion to pool their seemingly boundless energy and map out a common strategy.

One reason that there are so many environmental groups is that they find it so hard to agree, or, rather, they find it so easy to disagree. Groups’ narrow focus and unwillingness to compromise hinder progress on core issues. A little flexibility could go a long way toward creating more practical approaches that are more likely to generate greater public support and better results for Mother Earth.

The environmental movement rarely offers ordinary developed world citizens a reasonable road map to join the battle. More often it demonizes them as dupes of the pollution industry, who to make right must don organically grown, fair trade sackcloth and ashes and give environmental groups money as penance. A more accommodating movement would stop using the word “corporation” as an accusation, yet wouldn’t see cooperation with business or government as an end in itself. Such a movement could be far more effective; at least, it couldn’t be much less effective.

Before and after Bali, the environmental movement had hundreds of groups moving in hundreds of different directions – virtually none of them seeking grassroots support. In the battle against global warming, environmental groups don’t really seem interested in grassroots support. Rather, they have something far more powerful on their side: the United Nations.

Another lost cause
Environmental groups have been given a place at the table – though mainly as jesters – in the UN climate change process. The groups have brought not just their plates and cups, but their laptops and sleeping bags. Aside from field projects, environmental groups seem to have completely aligned their climate change efforts with the UN process.

There’s nothing wrong with that as long as the UN process works. But the only precedent in the field is the Kyoto Protocol and that’s been a failure in two major respects. First, Kyoto has failed to reduce emissions. That may be because the top four greenhouse gas emitters – the US, China, Indonesia and Brazil – aren’t covered. China recently surpassed the US as the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter.

“Concrete action in the United States is the key to getting the next international deal,” The Nature Conservancy’s director of international institutions and agreements Andrew Deutz said. “The history of international environmental politics since the 1970s shows that when the US acts first at home, it can lead abroad, as was the case with endangered species and marine pollution; when the US tries to negotiate internationally and then bring the results home for domestic action, it fails, as was the case with the Kyoto Protocol and the Biodiversity Convention.”

Justice for all, sacrifice for few
Yet environmental groups that have largely focused on pulling the US into the global regime are the same ones that won’t accept key US concerns. NGOs make “climate justice” a key plank: the US and other developed countries consumed and polluted at will for centuries, so developing countries deserve their chance for the sake of economic development and poverty alleviation. The US, on the other hand, says that all big emitters must share the burden, particularly when it comes to mandatory targets.

The next US administration is expected to be far more friendly to the climate change cause than the George W Bush administration but unlikely to concede this point may package it as “climate equity” or “shared sacrifice”. The UN process will likely produce an agreement without restrictions on developing countries and proposes standards well beyond what US voters will be ready to accept. If the US rejects that agreement, environmental groups will have a convenient enemy, but Mother Earth will face the inconvenient truth of the top four emitters still outside the global climate change regime.

The other major drawback to relying on the UN process is its lengthy timetable. Despite the drumbeat of warnings about the urgency of the issue, the current negotiations are scheduled to run until the end of 2009. Asked about progress since Bali – including a week-long follow-up meeting in Bangkok earlier this month – the head of climate change for London-based International Institute for Environment and Development Saleem Huq replied, “Not much. But that is to be expected as this is a slow negotiating process and no country will give ground so early in the process; all concessions and invariably made at the last minute and not before. That is the very nature of international negotiations.”

Any agreement will not take effect until 2012. The UN and the NGOs don’t seem to be in any rush. The past four decades have shown that environmental groups pay little price for their failures, but the planet does. This Earth Day – as heroic NGOs craft high-level agreements and statements that will extend their record of futility and evil corporations build hybrid vehicles and wind turbines – consider who now are really the friends of the Earth.

Former US diplomat Muhammad Cohen co-wrote Lonely Planet’s forthcoming guide to Borneo and is author of Hong Kong On Air (, a novel set during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance and cheap lingerie.

SBI Green Week Chatteris

Traffic Concerns Over New Tower In Taikoo Shing

Residents fear more air pollution

Anita Lam – SCMP – Updated on Apr 21, 2008

Residents and workers in Taikoo Shing are bracing for more traffic and increased pollution – from a new office tower in the area.

The 70-storey One Island East, which opened on April 1, will bring an average of 650 more vehicles an hour into the area when most of the tenants move in this summer, according to estimates by developer Swire Properties.

District councillors and residents fear that the traffic – three times more than before the Quarry Bay landmark was developed – will clog the narrow streets, causing more noise and dust.

The company’s head of public affairs, Miranda Szeto, admitted the tower – already 87 per cent leased – would attract more cars and pedestrians to the area. But the impact would be much less than the figures suggested, she said.

“The extra traffic will be mostly private vehicles, not trucks or cargo vans as it used to be,” she said, referring to traffic flow at the two industrial buildings that were demolished to make way for the tower. “And the extra cars will be diverted among various roads within the area … it’s not like they will all jam into one street at a particular moment.”

Westlands Road, which leads to the tower, has already been changed to more clearly direct drivers and allow smoother traffic flow.

But Eastern District councillor Andrew Chiu Ka-yin, a long-time resident in the area, and his neighbours were worried much of the increased traffic would come from the Island Eastern Corridor through Taikoo Wan Road, bringing more noise and dust.

“Swire said vehicles would be encouraged to drive to the corridor through Hoi Tai Street on the harbourfront, but drivers tend to pick the shortest route to their destinations, and that is Taikoo Wan Road.”

Meanwhile, people who drive to work at Taikoo Place were worried that finding a parking space would become more difficult. As One Island East does not have its own car park, drivers would have to use the car parks under Taikoo Place.

But Ms Szeto said the number of parking spaces was adequate. Figures showed that of the 1,300 spaces available, only about 70 per cent were used.

The Transport Department said Swire had not provided figures on the traffic implications of the new office tower, but a government engineer said roads in the district should be able to cope for the next five years.

One Island East, however, is the first of a number of developments expected to add to the congestion in the next few years. The 350-room Cityplaza Hotel on Taikoo Shing Road is expected to open next year.

Swire is also seeking to redevelop three office blocks at Taikoo Place – Somerset, Cornwall and Warwick houses – into two skyscrapers.

Public Urged To Report Cases of Light Pollution

Cheung Chi-fai – Updated on Apr 21, 2008 – SCMP

The public should adopt a zero-tolerance approach to light pollution and report cases to the government to encourage drafting of a regulation to control outdoor lighting, Friends of the Earth said.

The Environmental Protection Department received 40 complaints about light pollution last year, the most in seven years.

The green group said most of the complaints were not resolved because there was no regulation controlling the location and magnitude of outdoor spotlights and neon signs.

Friends of the Earth said yesterday that controls on lighting put in place to protect flight safety had been relaxed since the closing of Kai Tak airport in 1998, allowing lights to spring up on the tops of buildings.

“Most people simply passively respond to the pollution by blocking their windows with thick curtains and pretend to live as usual,” the group’s environmental affairs manger, Hahn Chu Hon-keung, said. “The fact is, what they do is not the most desirable. What we need now are some substantial stories with `flesh and blood’ to kick away the numbness of the government and compel it to address this problem seriously.”

An inquiry by the green group as part of its Dim It campaign found some victims of light pollution had difficulty having their grievances addressed.

An elderly woman living in Argyle Street, Mong Kok, was forced to sleep in her dining room because of strong light beaming into her bedroom from a neon sign illegally built on her flat’s exterior wall.

Another case involved a group of residents in Tai Wai who were driven to stage a sit-in to protest against a steak house’s neon sign. Some had found the light unbearable and had to move home.

A survey of 1,500 people by the group in October found most agreed that the city’s lighting was excessively bright and 8 per cent had been affected by light pollution.

Kam Nai-wai, a Democratic Party Central and Western District councillor, said the council had discussed light pollution with the government four times to no avail.

A spokeswoman for the Environmental Protection Department said light pollution was not subject to control under existing environmental regulations, but outdoor advertising lights were regulated by various departments for safety reasons.

“We are also monitoring international trends on the issue of light pollution to further improve lighting systems,” she said.