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May 12th, 2008:

Founder Of Green Power Resumes Activism

Founder of environmental group resumes activism after 2 decades

Joshua But – SCMP – Updated on May 12, 2008

After two decades, the founder of local environmental group Green Power, John Chan Koon-chung, has decided to resume his role as a green activist, driven by a sense of urgency against climate change.

Better known for founding City Magazine in the 1970s, Mr Chan, a newly elected board member of Greenpeace International, said global warming had evolved into a “round-the-corner disaster”.

“We only talked about that in the 80s, while no one would have imagined how quickly it is happening,” the Beijing-based writer and cultural critic said.

He was a member of the government’s advisory committee on environmental protection before leaving Hong Kong in the early 1990s, partly because of bureaucratic frustrations.

“The agenda was set by the administration, which discussed targets and figures instead of raising incentives on environmental protection,” he said.

Thanks to Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore, Mr Chan said global awareness of climate change was now much higher.

While ideas and solutions were not lacking, now all that was needed were clues on implementation.

“I am optimistic on willpower, but pessimistic on reason [in the fight against global warming],” he said.

“We have to mobilise the masses and tell them their participation can make a difference.”

Referring to the green measures adopted in Hong Kong, he said he was not happy with the fact that the city was not required to commit to any greenhouse gas emission limits under the Kyoto Protocol as it was part of China.

“It is a shame we hide behind the shadow of the mainland on environmental protection. Looking at the per capita GDP of the city, I do not see a reason why we should not shoulder the responsibility against global warming,” he said.

Contrary to Hong Kong, Mr Chan said the mainland had advanced quickly in promoting green measures in recent years.

“Use of compact fluorescent lamps is now state policy, while the Olympics this year also offers an opportunity to introduce more green products,” he said, adding that renewable energy, such as solar power, was becoming more prevalent, given the extensive market.

Officials’ achievements on environmental protection on the mainland were now considered in their work assessments, he said.

Mr Chan said many green measures were not new to the public and feared people would be tired of more promotions.

“Perhaps you and your family can go and travel by riding a bus on holiday, instead of driving your own car.

“You can also switch off electrical appliances instead of leaving them on standby mode when you go out for dinner,” he said. “They are concrete but simple steps.”

Environment Ministry Bans Crop Burn-Offs

Al Guo in Beijing – SCMP – Updated on May 12, 2008

The newly established Ministry of Environmental Protection has banned burn-offs of crop stubble in nine provinces and municipalities in North China from May to September, a clear attempt to improve Beijing’s air quality ahead of the Olympics.

Air pollution from post-harvest burn-offs has long been recognised as a major environmental problem but provincial governments have never totally banned the activity because there no other cost-effective alternatives for farmers wanting to clear their land of crop residue.

In a statement published at the ministry’s website today, the environment watchdog ordered nine provinces and municipalities â Liaoning, Hebei, Henan, Shandong, Shanxi, Anhui and Jiangsu provinces as well as Beijing and Tianjin â “must reinforce an all-around crop stem burning ban” during the period.

Top provincial and city officials will be appointed to monitor the ban’s implementation and those who fail to act with an iron first would be punished, according to the statement.

Satellite-assisted monitoring results from 2004 to last year revealed that every administrative region on the list major crop stubble burn-offs which “polluted the environment, harmed people’s health and negatively affected traffic,” the ministry statement said.

The ban is believed to be only one of a series of measures taken to improve Beijing’s air quality as the August Olympic Games fast approaches.

Critics of the games have long complained that Beijing’s air pollution is so bad that it poses a threat to athletes during outdoor competition.

To improve air quality, Beijing plans to order at least half of the vehicles off the street during the Olympic Games to reduce vehicle exhaustions. Water trucks will also spray city streets on a regular basis to keep dust down.

Beijing’s neighbours, especially Hebei province and Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, had been ordered to plant trees in large-scale in the past few years to stop dust from being blown to the capital.

A wide-ranging smoking ban has also been imposed in Beijing since May 1 to keep even a whiff of smoke out of public places.

Green Cars Take Slow Lane To Popularity

Kandy Wong – SCMP – Updated on May 12, 2008

Hybrid car owner Liu Gang drives home the message – it will take him 10 years to recover his investment in Toyota’s Prius, but the “green” car saves him fuel costs on a daily basis.

As market watchers question the industry’s commitment to environment-friendly vehicles, senior management at various motorworks have said gradual technological improvement instead of swift replacement probably will establish the popularity of green cars over time.

They were speaking on the sidelines of the Beijing Car Show held last month.

“It’ll not be a big bang of a change,” said executive vice-president Soh Weiming of Volkswagen China, which will put more focus on diesel-engine cars domestically. “But [the switch to green cars] will go on from region to region.”

Cynics remained unconvinced, however, as to how carmakers could promote green cars in a market where pollution is part of daily life, as they did not unveil any solid marketing plan.

“If I tell you that you can recoup the investment in a green car in less than two years, then you may be persuaded to buy,” said Cheng Mei-wei, vice-president of Ford Motor.

“But nowadays, it takes up to 12 years for consumers to recover their investment in a hybrid”, which commands a price premium of as much as 100 per cent over a conventional car.

Mr Cheng added it was not necessary to have a completely brand-new model but just the installation of green technology in existing models.

More than a dozen green cars – with fuel cells, diesel and electric engines – were featured in the show last month with the theme, “Looking into a green future”.

In sharp contrast to reality and the theme, Mr Liu said fewer than 50 hybrids were running on the roads of Beijing “because carmakers are not keen to promote their green cars”.

Many analysts are sceptical about the focus on going green. They believe that green cars are probably just a marketing gimmick rather than a practical move by car manufacturers.

A Prius is priced between 250,000 yuan (HK$279,350) and 300,000 yuan, about twice the price of models such as Toyota’s 1.8-litre Corolla and Honda’s 1.5-litre Civic, which are both popular with mainland consumers.

The state is expected to play its part to promote the green revolution, such as offering tax concessions, but that often takes time to implement.

Mainland media reported recently that the government is discussing the possibility of slashing the 17 per cent value-added tax in the second half to lower the cost of buying a hybrid or diesel-engine car. Customers may only have to bear a 10 per cent consumption tax in the future.

Shi Yaobin, chief director of the Ministry of Finance’s Taxation Department, said at a motor conference in Tianjin in September last year that the government was working on preferential tax policies to promote low-fuel-consuming and environment-friendly vehicles.

Mr Liu touted the concept that a hybrid does not have less power than a conventional car but said green cars should target young consumers who are fascinated by new technologies.

Carlos Ghosn, chief executive of Nissan Motor, may have shared that vision when he said: “Young consumers should be the real targets for green cars as `zero emission’ may not be an issue for this generation.”

Global carmakers such as General Motors, Toyota and Honda, displayed their green models at the show, while local carmakers, including Anhui-based Chery Automobile, Hangzhou’s Geely Holding Group, BYD Auto of Shenzhen, Chongqing Changan Automobile and Jilin-based First Auto Work Group also showcased theirs.

However, the domestic carmakers did not disclose details of their new technologies.

Shanghai General Motors, the 50-50 joint venture of SAIC Motor Corp and General Motors China, will launch its first hybrid Buick LaCrosse next month. Nissan will launch electric vehicles in the United States and Japan by 2010, and globally by 2012. Honda, meanwhile, started selling its Civic hybrids at its joint venture with Dongfeng Motor at end of last year.

Besides the models and their launch schedules, carmakers have yet to announce plans on production capacity, sales targets and prices.

The 50-50 joint venture FAW-Toyota was the earliest to launch a hybrid on the mainland, unveiking it two years ago. Last year, it sold 414 Prius units in a market where about 6 million passenger cars were sold.

“The company will take steps to move hybrid technologies as China continues to drive a fuel-efficient economy,” said Kevin Wale, General Motors China’s managing director.

Similarly, Mr Ghosn said: “There are no obstacles to introducing green cars in China, [particularly since] the Chinese government talks about harmonious development.”

But until something more encouraging develops, carmakers will maintain a trial mentality.