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April 4th, 2008:

Pearl River Delta Air Just Keeps Getting Worse

Guangdong cities on list of filthy

Shi Jiangtao in Beijing and Cheung Chi-fai – Updated on Apr 04, 2008 – SCMP

Air quality in the Pearl River Delta is some of the filthiest on the mainland, with the number of smoggy days recorded in Shenzhen and Dongguan shooting up last year.

Shenzhen recorded 231 smoggy days, a sharp increase from 164 in 2006, the lead story in the Southern Weekend newspaper said yesterday.

Dongguan, one of the top industrial cities in Guangdong and home to many Hong Kong factories, was now the dirtiest city in the province in terms of air pollution, the newspaper said.

Quoting a report by meteorological experts in Beijing and Guangzhou, the newspaper included delta cities, especially those west of the Pearl River mouth, on a list of mainland cities suffering from the worst smog recorded across the country. The cities span the most developed regions, including Beijing, Shanghai, Xian , Chengdu , Taiyuan and Shenyang , Nanjing and Hangzhou.

The report came after Premier Wen Jiabao declared an initial victory in curbing pollution last year.

It has sparked doubts about the effectiveness of pollution controls which cost billions of yuan annually.

About 358,000 urban dwellers in 600 mainland cities died prematurely from breathing polluted air in 2004, said the report from the Chinese Academy of Environmental Planning under the newly upgraded Ministry of Environmental Protection.

Health costs from premature deaths and serious illness associated with air pollution were estimated at 152.7 billion yuan in 2004.

Academy chief engineer Wang Jinnan said Hong Kong had been hit hard by the worsening pollution.

The Guangdong Meteorological Bureau said earlier that 27 major cities and counties in the province, including Guangzhou, had experienced the worst smog last year in the 59 years records had been kept. The provincial capital recorded 75.5 smoggy days last year, with 22 days in December alone.

Bureau atmospheric scientist Wu Dui told the newspaper that mainland pollution standards, which measured only three main air pollutants – sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter with a median diameter less than 10 microns – were partly to blame for appalling pollution and mounting health risks.

Most industrial countries and the World Health Organisation believe PM2.5, which refers to particulate matter with a median diameter less than 2.5 microns, is a more accurate standard for evaluating airborne pollution. Particulate matter from the burning of fossil and other types of fuels, is the main pollutant in most mainland cities.

The academy’s Professor Wang said progress reported by the government may not accurately reflect real air pollution.

He said it would take years before the country could start measuring the much smaller particulate matter, believed to be the real cause of deaths, as only big cities like Beijing and Guangzhou had the technology.

Hong Kong has just experienced the smoggiest March since 2004.

The Hong Kong Observatory recorded 137 hours of reduced visibility during the month. Despite various anti-pollution measures introduced last year, the city’s air pollution reading in 2007 was also the worst since 2004, with 87 days when the air pollution index (API) registered over 100.

Last year, there were 74 days with high API readings recorded, compared to 49 days in 2005 and 56 days in 2006.

China’s Belching Factories Take A Toll On Japan’s Famous Ice Trees

Agence France-Presse in Yamagata – Updated on Apr 04, 2008

Skier Kazumi Furukawa can vividly recall the time three years ago when she stood on Mount Zao and looked down at fir trees turned into glittering crystals.

“The sky was cobalt blue and I could see the tiny snow crystals on the tips of the tree branches,” Ms Furukawa, 56, remembers with a smile.

But these days, the natural phenomenon is growing rarer, and scientists say the culprit is beyond Japan’s control – industrial pollution from China.

Mount Zao is whipped every year by wet winds from across the Sea of Japan, or East Sea, that form hoar frost – layers of ice and snow that shine like crystals on trees. The Japanese call them juhyo, or ice trees.

Skiers from Japan and other Asian nations regularly fly to the 1,600- metre mountain just for a glimpse of the juhyo, which local people describe as little monsters for their intricate twisted shapes.

Fumitaka Yanagisawa, an assistant professor of Yamagata University who has studied the juhyo for nearly two decades, warns that the frost is increasingly mixed with acid, spelling danger for the trees’ future.

This year, he recorded the highest levels of acid so far, “which could have severe ramifications on the ecosystem”, he said.

Looking at satellite data, he and another professor, Junichi Kudo of Tohoku University, concluded that the acid in the trees came from sulfur produced at factories in Shanxi province .

Since he first wrote about his research in a scientific journal in 2006, elementary-school teachers have asked him to give lectures to local children.

“It’s hard to explain this kind of scientific evidence to children, but finally they seem to come up with the same question: `What are you going to do about the problem?'” Professor Yanagisawa said.

He regretted that he had no good answer.

“The pollution comes from outside Japan. There’s a limit to what local residents here can do.”

Mount Zao is only one example of pollution hitting Japan from China, where factory emissions are causing international concern as China’s economy surges ahead.

Some schools in southern Japan and South Korea have occasionally curbed activities because of toxic chemical smog from China’s factories or sandstorms from the Gobi Desert caused by deforestation.

Environmental ministers of China, Japan and South Korea agreed last year to look jointly at the problem, but Tokyo has accused Beijing of secrecy.

“About yellow sand, I am not quite sure how and why it can be regarded as a national secret,” Japanese Environment Minister Ichiro Kamoshita said in February.

Scrap Import Tariffs On Green Machines

Scrap import tariffs on green machines, Paulson tells Beijing

Bloomberg – Updated on Apr 04, 2008

US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has urged the mainland to drop tariffs on environmental equipment, saying trade barriers are hindering efforts to clean up a country that the World Bank says has 16 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities.

“There’s something that doesn’t seem economically sensible and morally right” about charging a tariff on clean technology, Mr Paulson said after his speech on energy and the environment at the Chinese Academy of Sciences yesterday.

“In China, I hear from government officials about the need for US technology to help clean up China’s rivers and control pollution from China’s many smokestacks, but that technology can be expensive, in part due to tariffs and non-tariff barriers,” he said. “We have a shared interest in resolving these dilemmas, and we can solve them.”

He said imported water membrane technology could help reduce river pollution from power plants.

The Ministry of Commerce did not immediately comment.

Mr Paulson said China and the US – the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases – must work together to cut their dependence on oil and increase energy security.

The nations signed a deal in December to ensure imports and exports met environmental protection law standards, and pledged to co-operate to promote alternative fuel technologies for cars. Since then, they have been fleshing out the accord, Mr Paulson said.

He praised efforts to reduce the amount of energy used per unit of gross domestic product, but said more needed to be done. He urged Beijing to lift price controls on electricity and fuel which he said upset “the natural equilibrium of markets to match supply and demand”.

Washington this week rejected Beijing’s proposal for developed countries to contribute a percentage of their GDP to offset the impact of climate change.

Mr Paulson is meeting leaders appointed to the cabinet last month to prepare for the next round of bilateral talks on economics and trade. He and mainland leaders have also discussed topics ranging from the authorities’ response to unrest in Tibet to the strength of the yuan. Yesterday he described the rise in value of the mainland currency as “good”.

The mainland’s economy grew 11.2 per cent in the fourth quarter of last year and was the biggest contributor to global growth last year, according to International Monetary Fund estimates.

Plan To ‘Fertilise’ Ocean Divides World’s Scientists

Carbon sequestration

Carrie Peyton Dahlberg – Updated on Apr 04, 2008 – SCMP

Dan Whaley wants to change the world’s oceans. Right at the edge between hopeful and scary, the San Francisco entrepreneur wants to fight global warming by altering the amount of carbon in the sea.

Mr Whaley hopes to sell carbon credits for “ocean fertilisation”, a plan that mixes big money and big science so ambitiously that some researchers fear science will never fully understand what it will do.

This year, Mr Whaley’s company, Climos, expects to seek permits to drizzle an iron slurry over about 10,300 sq km of ocean.

In its wake, a green film of phytoplankton would bloom, absorb carbon dioxide, and either fade, naturally, or become some other creature’s meal. As waste and decomposing fragments from this eruption of life drift downward, carrying their internal carbon with them, some could sink deeply enough to be sequestered for 100 years or more, potentially slowing down global warming.

It is an elegant theory that researchers have explored for 20 years. Along the way, businesses have latched on to that theory, hoping to make millions or even billions of dollars.

Climate change driven by greenhouse gas emissions already is moving faster than predicted and some scientists say the unknown impact of ocean fertilisation might be mild compared with the disruption expected from the growing load of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere.

In January a group of 16 ocean specialists from around the world wrote in Science magazine that the option should be investigated, even though it can’t be demonstrated that fertilisation will work or is safe.

“The carbon problem will be harder than we think,” said Scott Doney, an ocean chemistry specialist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts and one of the essay’s co-authors. “While ocean fertilisation alone is not the golden bullet, potentially it could be one of a dozen or several dozen approaches that in aggregate might slow the rise of carbon dioxide.”

Planktos is the only other US company to make a recent effort to profit by fertilising the ocean.

Today, Planktos’ stock is trading at around 1.2 US cents per share and its website has been reduced to a single page blaming the company’s inertia on “a highly effective disinformation campaign”.

In the California office where Planktos founder Russ George once outlined his dreams for cold fusion, tree planting and ocean fertilisation, the letters are flaking from a worn sign that now reads “lanktos Inc”.

“Planktos has completely collapsed”, its ship having been sold to pay bills, Dr George said. “I have left the company.”

He said he was starting a new Bay Area business that would raise US$2 million to US$5 million to spread iron in the ocean, a task he vowed to complete before the end of this year.

“The smell of money” has transformed the way people view ocean processes that once fascinated only academics, said Kenneth Coale, director of the Moss Landing Marine Laboratories and one of the earliest researchers into iron’s ability to nurture plankton blooms. Dr Coale told of being offered US$1 million just to lend his name to a Japanese firm pursing fertilisation’s potential. He declined.

“We need to separate the money from the science,” he said, calling for an international panel of experts to decide the next research steps. Dr Coale also signed the Science policy essay, which argued that it was premature to sell carbon credits until much more is known.

Among the unknowns are questions such as whether new plankton blooms would consume nutrients that would otherwise be used elsewhere in the ocean, and so not reduce carbon dioxide. Would organic carbon residue from those blooms sink deeply enough to stay out of the atmosphere for 100 years, considered the limit for selling credits? Would decomposing sea life emit more potent greenhouse gases, such as nitrous oxide or methane, counteracting any benefits?

“The waters of the ocean move … effects will be manifest at many depths,” said John Cullen, an oceanography professor at Dalhousie University in Canada.

Complicating things further, the ocean is already changing, plagued by massive and mysterious fish kills such as the one that occurred off the northwest coast of the US in 2006. If scientists started fertilising the ocean, he asked, how would the world know whether the next die-off was triggered by fertilisation, climate change or something else?

Professor Cullen said the initial experiment proposed by Climos for 2009 would probably not have any permanent impact on the ocean, but he wanted would-be fertilisers held to a higher standard than that.

“The proponents must be able to demonstrate that the long-term and widespread effects of multiple fertilisations can be predicted and monitored accurately,” he said. “I am doubtful it can be done.”

Without such certainty, Professor Cullen said, pretending researchers could understand ocean fertilisation from a few experiments was like saying it was possible to assess a 2,000-home subdivision by tracking changes caused by two houses.

Deepening the unease, Climos plans to sell any carbon reductions it can prove it has made, beginning with its first experimental voyage – a commercialisation that many scientists warn goes too far, too fast.

Climos says it will need only a permit from a nation that has signed the London Convention on marine pollution and is near the company’s still-undetermined research site. Yet the regulatory issue is murky, and an international conference will discuss it further in Ecuador next month.


Harsh Controls For Ships, Planes

Published on Apr 4, 2008

Latest proposal will hit poorer countries hard

Airline and shipping operators, especially those in developing countries, will be hit hard if a European Union proposal on greenhouse gas emissions is adopted, officials warned yesterday.

The EU submitted a proposal yesterday to the ongoing Bangkok round of climate-change negotiations to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

Delegates from 163 countries have participated in the United Nations-sanctioned conference here with the objective of managing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.

As a result, EU delegates asked for the control of greenhouse gases from the use of maritime and aviation fuels.

According to EU delegates, airlines and shipping lines are important sources of these emissions, which have been growing at a fast rate and neither is covered by the Kyoto Protocol.

“Even though it is just the first draft of a proposal, there is a strong chance it will be approved by member countries,” said Sirithan Pairojborriboon, director of the Greenhouse Gas Management Public Organisation.

“If that’s the case, airline operators [such as Thai Airways International and other Asian carriers] will be affected significantly, as they will be forced to control their emissions or else they will be charged for such emissions.”

Sirithan warned that the burden would be heavy for airline operators in developing countries, as currently they have no obligations on emission controls under the global climate pact.

“These operators could be forced to pay even though the total emissions of their respective countries is not within the level of Annex I countries,” he said, adding that the tourism and logistics industries might also be affected.

Annex I countries have to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by about 5 per cent from the 1990 level. Under the Kyoto Protocol, this target is supposed to be met by 2012.

Currently, Thailand and other developing countries are not on the Annex I list and emission cuts are still voluntary.

According to Sirithan, the EU has suggested two options for its proposal: allowing an emission trading system among airlines or initiating a carbon dioxide charge on airlines.

The EU proposal yesterday faced strong opposition from many delegates from developing countries, he said.

“They fear that a rise in costs from greenhouse gases will affect air fares or route management and in the end reduce the airline industry’s competitiveness,” Sirithan said, adding that the EU plan is expected to be debated more widely in the next round of climate talks in Bonn, Germany, in June.

The EU proposal was submitted to one of the two meetings at the Bangkok Climate Talks – called the Meeting of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol – which will end today.

Kamol Sukin

The Nation