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April 22nd, 2008:

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.