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April 1st, 2008:

A Conversation with Christine Loh

A conversation between Conde Naste Traveler (CNT) and Christine Loh (Loh): 

Published April 2008 Conde Naste Traveler

CNT:How scary are China’s environmental problems?
Loh: They are very serious. The degree of degradation threatens human as well as ecological health.

CNT: Does China have the will to clean up its environment?
Loh: The government has shown more commitment in recent years. There are mandatory national and provincial energy-efficiency targets. To ensure that they are taken seriously, the Communist party secretary—the highest authority in a location—is held responsible.

CNT: How do China’s environmental policies compare with those in the United States?
Loh: China has the opposite issues from the United States. In America, you’ve got states like California moving ahead on environmental policies but a federal government that is a problem. In contrast, China’s central government has done a lot, passing environmental laws and setting standards for industry. The problem is at the local level. People have this idea of splendid central control, but it doesn’t exist anymore.

CNT: They’ve lost control of the local economies?
Loh: State-owned enterprises are all told to meet energy-efficiency standards. It’s much harder to control private businesses because regulation can’t keep up.

CNT: Millions of Chinese peasants still live on a couple of dollars a day. They want development, they want cars. Don’t they have a right to things we enjoy in the West?
Loh: It’s a challenge. The environmental folks are working themselves to death. On the ground it’s a different story—people want to make money.

CNT: If the government is so committed to the environment, why do activists get harassed? Wu Lihong, winner of the Condé Nast Traveler Environmental Award last year, is in jail for what looks like political reasons [see “Environmental Award,” November 2007].
Loh: Activists run into local vested interests and get into terrible trouble. And in China, individual rights are still not adequately protected.

CNT: This summer will be the country’s biggest tourist event ever: the Olympics. Can China pull it off without the athletes getting sick from the air?
Loh: Athletes and their coaches are looking at ways to deal with the pollution in Beijing. Some may park the athletes in Korea or Japan and only fly them in for competitions. Several athletes have announced that they will run fewer races.

CNT: Are there still pristine places to visit in China?
Loh: In Yunnan, Guizhou, and Inner Mongolia, there are many beautiful, untouched places.

CNT: As a Hong Kong environmentalist, what role can you play in China?
Loh: China’s richer areas can help the less developed areas so that they can come up with ways to monitor carbon emissions more effectively.

CNT: Why has Hong Kong failed to deal with pollution? You can hardly see across the harbor these days.
Loh: The government seems to be in total denial. Any idiot can tell that pollution is a problem. But the government doesn’t like to admit it because it reflects badly on them. If there were real democracy and the government were accountable to the people, it would be a different story.

The Bio
Claim to Fame: Asia’s best-known environmentalist; democracy advocate; former Hong Kong legislator.
Founder: Civic Exchange, a Hong Kong-based public policy think tank.
Co-chair: Human Rights in China.
Bridge Builder: Working with Western organizations (G8+5 Climate Change Dialogue and C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group), Loh explains China’s attitudes, while interpreting Western positions in China.
Current Obsession: Convincing Asia’s developing countries that environmental protection is not a luxury.

Travel Log
Last Trip: Bali, for the UN Climate Change meetings.
Next Trip: Sweden, for a Tällberg Foundation meeting on social innovation; and New York, for a Human Rights in China meeting.
Dream Trip: Brazil, to see the forests.
Best Trip: To a small English village for my nephew’s christening. I almost missed the plane but was upgraded to first class; then family and fun in London.
Should we travel less? When possible, it’s best to cut down business travel.

Plan For Idling Ban Supported

1st April, 2008 – SCMP

The government has received nearly 1,200 submissions on a proposed ban on idling engines as a public consultation ended. An Environment Bureau spokeswoman said the proposals showed most residents supported the idea and the government planned to send a bill to the Legislative Council in the 2008-09 legislature year.

Tax Break For Vehicles

April 1st, 2008 – SCMP

Buyers of newly registered commercial vehicles that meet the standard for environmentally friendly commercial vehicles, set at the Euro V level, will from today enjoy concessions of up to 100 per cent on their first registration taxes, the Environmental Protection Department said.