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June, 2008:

Politburo Talks Point To Climate Change Action

Wang Xiangwei – Updated on Jun 30, 2008 – SCMP

As soon as President Hu Jintao came to power in late 2002, he introduced a regular study session for all members of the Communist Party’s Politburo. This was aimed at educating and providing a forum for top leaders to discuss strategic and significant national issues.

Although details of the sessions are kept secret, Xinhua usually releases short summary remarks by Mr Hu after the meetings.

Some dismiss the sessions as mere public relations exercises and the sessions receive scant attention from overseas media.

But for many observers, reports of the subjects covered in the sessions and Mr Hu’s summaries – though couched in official jargon – can provide a rare glimpse into the leadership’s lines of thinking on strategic issues.

Previous discussions have mainly focused on subjects such as the rule of law, national defence, the economy, agriculture and how to strengthen control of the party. So it is interesting to note Xinhua’s report on Saturday that the Politburo’s latest study session on Friday was devoted to climate change.

This is significant in several ways. Recognising the importance of climate change and addressing the matter have finally become a priority for the mainland leadership after years of empty talk.

“How we cope with climate change is related to the country’s economic development and people’s practical benefits,” Xinhua quoted Mr Hu as saying. “It is in line with the country’s basic interests.

“Our task is tough, and our time is limited. Party organisations and governments at all levels must give priority to emissions reduction … and bring the idea deep into people’s hearts.”

He called for efforts to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by optimising energy efficiency, promoting recycling, increasing forest coverage, exploring water resources scientifically and strengthening international co-operation.

The timing of the study session is also interesting as it came just days before the Group of Eight meeting in Japan, where Mr Hu will join world leaders to discuss climate change, among other issues.

The buzz is intensifying in Beijing that Mr Hu is likely to put forward some bold proposals at the meeting, although it remains unclear what those proposals might be.

Beijing has resisted international efforts to impose targets for reducing emissions on developing countries, including China. Mr Hu has argued that developed countries should step up efforts on emissions reduction, and should provide financial and technical support to developing countries.

China is among the countries that have ratified the Kyoto Protocol, the international treaty aimed at reducing greenhouse gases, although Beijing is only required to monitor and report its emissions.

To be sure, one Politburo study session is unlikely to lead to immediate policy changes on climate change, but it can help trigger a national debate on what the mainland should do and can do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Although officials still refuse to acknowledge it, the mainland has already overtaken the United States as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

Many officials have argued that the mainland produces far less on a per capita basis than many developed countries, and some even believe the conspiracy theory that western countries have used climate change as an excuse to derail the mainland’s economic growth – why should China, which embarked on industrialisation only 30 years ago, take the blame when western countries have polluted the climate for the past 200 years.

That means it is of the utmost importance that this country’s leaders launch a national campaign to educate the public on the impact of global warming on China.

Evidence abounds: persistent smog over Beijing despite efforts to clean up the air for the Olympics; recent reports of algae outbreaks in Qingdao’s harbour, where the Olympic sailing events are to be held; and abnormal weather in recent years that has included the February snowstorm that paralysed southern parts of the country, as well as serious flooding in the south and dried riverbeds in the north.

But before the public can take the issue seriously and government can act, the leaders should know what they are dealing with. That is why the Politburo session is a step in the right direction.

Air Pollution vs. Allergies and Respiratory Illnesses

Choke hold

Hong Kong’s increasingly polluted air could be to blame for more allergies and respiratory ills than we realise

Hazel Parry – Updated on Jun 30, 2008 – SCMP

It may start with a few sneezes and a runny nose, progress to a cough and then turn into a full-blown hacking wheeze. At first you may think you’re suffering from a chest infection brought on by a cold, but when the cough fails to show signs of abating two weeks later, you consult your doctor. The problem: Hong Kong’s bad air. You’re suffering an allergic reaction to pollution.

The smog that regularly cloaks our skyline is getting worse, and it’s not only annoying tourists who make the trip up Victoria Peak only to see nothing and driving businesses to other Asian cities, it is also interfering with the quality of life and the general health of people who work and live in the city.

A recent report by the think-tank Civic Exchange claimed poor air quality was responsible for 10,000 premature deaths and 440,000 hospital bed days a year in the Pearl River Delta, at a cost of 6.7 billion yuan (HK$7.6 billion) annually.

And it’s not just the very young, old or those with existing respiratory problems such as asthma who are paying the price for pollution. Ear, nose and throat experts claim they are seeing an increasing number of seemingly healthy people seeking help for problems of the upper respiratory system caused by pollutants in the air they breathe.

Some are suffering in silence – blaming their symptoms on colds, stress or being overtired, and letting the problem affect their life, sleep patterns and working day. They may be dangerously self-medicating or dosing themselves with cold remedies. Others are seeking help from their GPs, only to find there’s little they can do.

The Civic Exchange report claims pollution is behind 11 million doctor visits a year. A separate study by the Chinese University of Hong Kong published in 2005 found a significant link between people making first visits to their GPs with upper respiratory tract problems on days of increased pollution. This led the researchers to conclude that “air pollution, besides affecting at-risk populations [those with existing problems], also affects the relatively healthy population.”

The Chinese University study monitored more than 300,000 consultations from 13 participating GP surgeries across Hong Kong between 2000 and 2002 to assess the risk of less serious or short-term effects of pollution on health (as opposed to the serious effects, which require hospitalisation). Researchers say about three-quarters of the consultations were first visits for new health problems – and of those, two thirds were for respiratory disorders. They also found that as the concentration of pollutants such as ozone and nitrogen dioxide in the air increased, the greater the number of first-time visits there were for upper respiratory disorders.

“Although these illnesses are minor in nature with minimum long term effects on health, they represent a substantial proportion of overall morbidity in the community,” the study concludes, adding that the problems are a financial drain on Hong Kong in terms of escalating medical costs and loss of productivity.

According to ear, nose and throat (ENT) expert John Woo Kong-sang, in most cases an allergy to pollution manifests itself as rhinitis or rhino-sinusitis – inflammation of the mucous membrane lining of the nose or sinuses – causing symptoms such as runny noses, sneezing and coughing. A sore throat, phlegm, loss of smell, watery or itchy eyes are also common reactions to pollution.

Woo, an honorary clinical associate professor in the department of otorhinolaryngology at Chinese University, estimates that patients with allergic rhinitis or rhino-sinusitis account for about 30 to 40 per cent per cent of cases at the ENT clinic, up from about 10 to 15 per cent a decade ago.

“We don’t know for sure whether the increase is due to the growth in population in Sha Tin [the area the clinic serves], but judging from the number of people turning up at our clinics, I am quite sure the problem has become worse as pollution has grown worse, and it is affecting the health of the population in general,” he says.

Woo says the nose, as the air filter for the lungs, is the first to suffer from exposure to pollution. “When it’s working properly, the nose filters out about 90 per cent of pollutants. But when you have a lot of pollutants in the air, it has to work harder,” he says.

In people with allergic tendencies who have become sensitised to pollutants, a slight increase in pollution may be too much for the nose to bear, resulting in an allergic reaction – the inflammation and all the symptoms which come with it.

“You may think you have a cold and the symptoms may be the same. But the difference is that an infected condition, even without treatment, is self-limiting. It may last one or two weeks and then you get over it,” says Woo. “With allergic rhinitis, the symptoms will linger on.”

It’s the lingering nature of the symptoms that distinguishes an allergy from a cold, and which eventually leads many people to their GPs. Likewise, it’s the fact that symptoms occur year-round that makes many experts believe the problem is more likely to be pollution than pollen.

Respiratory specialist Lam Bing, an honorary assistant professor at the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Hong Kong, says rhinitis is known to affect about 20 to 30 per cent of the world’s population.

A recent report by the multi-centred International Study into Allergies and Asthma in Childhood claims that although cases of asthma appear to have reached a plateau, rhinitis is on the rise.

“I would say in Hong Kong the number of people with rhinitis is a similar number to the worldwide figure,” says Lam. “If you were to ask people a simple question such as, `Do you suffer from nasal discharge, blockage or congestion in the morning?’ you would probably find many people suffer some kind of complaint.”

“It’s a common problem, but many people ignore it. Especially as a typical feature of rhinitis is that the symptoms are worse in the morning but gradually improve during the day, so people tend to think they can cope with problem. If they have a sore throat they think it’s because they have talked too much or that it’s an infection.”

To what precise extent pollution is to blame for the growing number of minor respiratory problems is difficult to say because of the lack of research, says Lam, although studies have also shown that people living nearer highways have far more chance of developing respiratory problems than those living in urban areas.

Johnny Koo Tak-ching is in no doubt pollution is partly to blame for Hong Kong’s worsening coughs, sniffles, sneezes and sore throats. He’s an ENT expert at a private clinic in Central, the majority of whose patients are expatriates who move from city to city in their work.

“Those patients who have long-term rhinitis, sinusitis and nasal polyps get worse when they’re working in a city with higher pollution. They can tell which city has the worst pollution by how bad their symptoms get,” he says.

“They feel much better in places like the Mediterranean and some northern Chinese cities, such as Harbin, but feel worse when they move to places like Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong. Singapore is better than Hong Kong, and Kuala Lumpur is better than Singapore.”

The bad news for everyone living and working in central Hong Kong is that there’s little we can do while pollution remains a problem.

Antihistamines, which reduce allergic reactions, can alleviate itching and sneezing, steroid-based nasal drops can reduce some of the inflammation and clear the nose, and pain killers provide relief for a sore throat. But all of these treatments only address the symptoms and not the cause, and, in the long term, nasal allergies can lead to nasal polyps, which may require surgery.

Koo says: “Reduce your exposure to very polluted areas. If you know you’re going to a more polluted area, then start the preventive medicine for the allergy before you go. If you have minor symptoms such as throat discomfort or more phlegm, keep an eye on your health, drink more water and take some vitamin C, and you should be fine.

“However, if symptoms last more than a week, you had better see a doctor to see if there’s a more serious problem.

“Unfortunately, my impression is, generally, there is no escape – unless you move to another country that’s less polluted.”

Koo’s observation is reflected by the experience of Elaine Tse, who has suffered from a sore throat that has persisted for months despite the installation of a HK$12,000 air purifier in her home. “Nothing was working, so I went to the ENT specialist, who stuck a camera up my nose and down the back of my throat,” she says. “He asked me if I’d visited any toxic plants in China. I hadn’t, of course. He concluded that it was allergies to the pollution and gave me antihistamines.”

That conclusion was borne out when Elaine took a trip to Australia. “After just 24 hours the sore throat went away,” she says. “Now I am back in Hong Kong, it’s back again.”

Sole Survivors

Monday, June 30, 2008 – The Standard

German and Japanese machines whirl endlessly in one of Hong Kongs few remaining spinning mills as the droning sound of raw US cotton being spun into thread for clothing made in the mainland hums 24 hours a day.

The mill is one of only two remaining in the city where more than 30 thrived just 20 years ago.

This one has only been able to survive the exodus towards cheaper labor in the mainland because it is so heavily mechanized.

But mill owner Woo Pat-nie, the third generation of his family to run the company, now faces another challenge to maintain his competitive edge slashing his carbon footprint.

The companies that are going to make the best of the material resources are going to survive and everyone else is not going to survive. Reducing your impact on the environment is crucial, Woo said.

Woos company is at the vanguard of a realization among a currently small number of factory owners in Hong Kong and elsewhere in southern China that greenhouse gas emissions must be dramatically cut to prevent catastrophic global warming.

He has joined with environmental pressure group WWF in developing a carbon labeling system, which aims to provide a simple measure of how effective factories have been in reducing emissions of carbon dioxide.

The system will be similar to the labeling system used to measure the efficiency of refrigerators.

Chinas rampant industrialization in recent decades has meant it is set to overtake the US as the worlds number one source of greenhouse gas emissions, prompting criticism it is not doing enough to halt global warming.

But Woos move, along with around a dozen fellow factory owners, is not simply an assertion of green credentials he is hard-headed enough to recognize the financial advantage of cutting his energy output as costs rise on rocketing oil, gas and coal prices.

Everyone is facing severe cost pressures. On one side we have the commodities increasing in price, on the other side we have a slowing economy, but buyers are still asking for discounts, Woo said.

Early indications show that the scheme could reduce the companys energy bill by between 10 and 20 percent, the equivalent of the energy needs of almost 2,000 homes, said Woo.

To save 20 percent on your electricity bill and to be able to reduce energy consumption when the whole of China is lacking energy? It is a no brainer.

Liam Salter, head of WWF Hong Kongs climate and energy program, said that the scheme, which he believes is the first of its kind in the world, will allow participants to prove to Western buyers their carbon credentials.

Salter said commitments from US retail giant Wal-Mart and British supermarket Tesco to reduce the carbon footprint of their entire supply chain had created an opportunity for such innovation.

The nightmare scenario for manufacturers is that buyers come out with five different requirements on carbon, which just pushes up costs. This project gives a chance for manufacturers to differentiate themselves in front of buyers, he said.

Initial signs are positive.

Since Woos Central Textiles and fellow manufacturers launched the Sustainable Fashion Business Consortium, a group which aims to promote sustainable development in Chinas clothing industry, this year, they have been contacted by Tesco about their work, he said. The scheme will assess a factorys systems and technologies and the success it has made in reducing its overall carbon dioxide emissions.

WWF hope to trial the system this year before encouraging factories across the Pearl River Delta to use it.

More than 30 percent of the worlds clothes are made in China, mainly in the belt of factories across the border from Hong Kong.

Alex Yeung, from the Hong Kong- based Clothing Industry Training Authority that will train industry workers to use the program once it has been tested, said the initiative showed that Chinese factories were keen to promote a more positive image, following safety and labor scandals that have dogged them over the past two years.

We want to show that we can do more than be pushed, that we can be more proactive [in dealing with problems], Yeung said.

Salter concedes the program will initially be small scale, but insists that if a robust, easy-to-use system can be developed, it could have a significant impact, on both manufacturers and buyers.

This mechanism will help us see how serious the Western companies are, he said.

This is not about bullying your factories into becoming low carbon. You are going to have to offer support to factories wanting to improve.

Woo, who also owns a huge spinning and weaving operation in Guangdong, played down the need to satisfy Western buyers and insisted the move was not just motivated by the need to survive.

It is every factory owners responsibility to be sustainable on an ongoing basis. It has to be sustainable in a business sense, but also in an environmental sense, he said.


Cleaning Up Hong Kong’s Act

Just the ticket for cleaning up our act

Thomas Tang – SCMP – Updated on Jun 28, 2008

The recent news that Hong Kong has launched a new form of international emissions trading to help the city fulfil its obligations under the Kyoto Protocol comes, literally, as a breath of fresh air for local companies.

In particular, the latitude extended to Hong Kong projects for acceptance under the Clean Development Mechanism, (CDM) through exemptions of government fees and relaxation of ownership conditions on the sale of certified emission reduction credits, should – in theory – make investing in clean energy projects all the more attractive to Hong Kong companies.

But the rush may take a while to materialise. The CDM was originally a proposal for developed economies to find ways of offsetting unavoidable carbon emissions by buying certified emission reduction credits from clean energy projects in developing economies.

Hong Kong is far from being a developing economy. The role of energy policy has much less to do with reducing global warming than ensuring energy security. The benefits of projects like wind, hydro and solar power would be questionable, given the exorbitant costs of such projects in a small environment like Hong Kong.

The city, therefore, needs a much smarter way to capitalise on the CDM and exhibit global responsibility. This mechanism could serve as the long-awaited incentive for property developers to embed energy efficient and energy reduction designs in new and existing buildings, to comply with carbon credit requirements.

This is one obvious route, but the bigger bang for the special administrative region’s buck could lie in using the mechanism to tackle one of its perennial problems – transport.

Clean transport strategies employed in cities throughout the world have paid dividends in terms of reduced congestion, better air quality and much nicer living environments. Places like London, Stockholm and Singapore have adopted traffic measures like road pricing to achieve significant reductions in vehicles on their roads.

The city of Curitiba in Brazil has been a model of how robust transport planning has enabled its inhabitants to enjoy efficient public transport but still maintain the independent advantages of private vehicle ownership, showing that the best of public and private transport systems can co-exist.

Hong Kong’s opportunity surely lies in using its highly efficient public transport system linked to strategic measures like road pricing and converting more streets to pedestrian use that would yield obvious reductions in carbon by removing vehicles from the roads.

With the backing of the National Reform Development Commission in Beijing, whose role is to screen national CDM projects, it is a huge opportunity to use market forces to bring a welcome change to Hong Kong’s environment.

Rail, bus and tram companies would be able to run their businesses and get carbon credits for their investments. Imagine the MTR Corporation being able to partially finance and operate a new line from carbon credit trading. And having to build fewer roads must make sense to the government, as well as taxpayers.

Last year’s stakeholder-engagement exercise on achieving better air quality for Hong Kong, run by the Council for Sustainable Development, showed an overwhelming public response in support of measures such as road pricing to provide cleaner air for Hong Kong, to help resolve our much publicised pollution problems.

With this need to improve the environment, the CDM opportunity must look even more attractive both politically and commercially.

It just needs Hong Kong companies and policymakers to be bold and not just engage in hot-air debates, and to actually start selling the idea.

Dr Thomas Tang is executive director of the Global Institute for Tomorrow

Beijing Pollution A Shocker

Coach: Beijing pollution ‘a shocker …just awful’

5:00AM Saturday June 28, 2008 – The New Zealand Herald – By Terry Maddaford

Pollution levels in Beijing are so high that the Black Sticks women’s hockey team plan a change to their itinerary, delaying their arrival in the Olympic city until the last-possible minute.

And the concern spreads wider than hockey, with other Olympians warned by Athens Games triathlon gold medallist Hamish Carter that the conditions could affect performances.

National women’s hockey coach Kevin Towns, just back from watching the New Zealanders finish a commendable third in a four-team warm-up tournament in the Chinese capital, did not attempt to hide his concerns. “Frankly, the conditions in Beijing were pretty awful,” said Towns. “The atmosphere was a shocker. In the time we were there we had one day of blue sky – and that was the rest day. It is very, very bad.

“When I was there as an observer at the site visit in 2007 we were assured things would `be right on the day’. But they are struggling. Organisers plan to shut factories down and order vehicles off the road in the days leading up to and then during the Games but there will still be crap in the air.

Beijing has been identified by the World Health Organisation as one of seven megacities around the globe with three or more pollutants exceeding WHO health protection guidelines.

Towns said it was planned that he and his team would be in Hong Kong from July 19 to 30 for a match against Great Britain and others against either the Hong Kong women or their under-20 men.

“We are then scheduled to fly to Beijing, go into the Games Village and play four games at the tournament venue. I have real concerns at this stage about spending that much time there.”

Hockey New Zealand chief executive Ramesh Patel conceded that “from a health point of view there have to be concerns”.

“Certainly it is a worry. But from a competitive point of view, it is the same for every team,” said Patel. “We have had regular meetings with Sparc and the National Olympic Committee at which this has been discussed. Certainly, we will raise it again.

“Possibly the team could stay longer in Hong Kong but my preference is to get them to Beijing as scheduled and get the distractions the Olympics bring out of the way.”

Patel said, unlike the New Zealand soccer teams who would be based away from Beijing, he expected the two hockey teams to be part of the opening ceremony especially as they had a full day (women) and two-day (men) break before their first matches.

Carter, who would be in Beijing as one of the 105-strong official party who would accompany the New Zealand team, said the conditions would “throw another variable” at the competitors. “I haven’t competed in Beijing but I remember a race we had in downtown Paris where some of the guys couldn’t breathe properly and were struggling with their asthma,” said Carter. “You can throw as much science you like at it but that is no guarantee you can fix the problem.

NZ Olympic Committee secretary general Barry Maister is confident the situation will be carefully monitored. “We will all have reservations until the day arrives,” said Maister. “But we can only be guided by what the IOC are telling us. They insist athletes’ interests are paramount and that if pollution levels reach an unacceptable level they will postpone or even cancel events.

“The Chinese, we can be sure, will not want to lose face by having events cancelled.

“I’m as confident as I can be but without being super-confident. I have been in Beijing when you can’t see across the road. I’m not trying to downplay the situation but it is hard to fathom what causes the atmosphere to go from blue to shitty so quickly.”

Herald chief sports writer David Leggat and senior journalist Eugene Bingham will be reporting from Beijing throughout the Games. Award-winning photographer Kenny Rodger joins the team.


– The city has spent nearly $17 billion on anti-pollution measures such as moving factories, adding subway lines, upgrading boilers and converting coal-heated homes to electric.

– The Government has ordered work stoppages at construction sites, chemical plants, cement manufacturers and mines by July 20.

– On July 20 another regulation kicks in that will allow vehicles on the road only on odd or even days, depending on their licence plate numbers.

– The city will also ban spray painting and crack down on printing, furniture production and motor vehicle repair outlets that don’t meet city standards.

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After carefully reviewing each of these criteria, our site was given its 8.4 score.

Climate Change and Refugees

Flood of refugees

Updated on Jun 27, 2008 – SCMP

If we thought that tackling global warming meant only signing and adhering to agreements to cut emissions of the pollutants that are causing temperatures to rise, we have been misled. Climate change is about much more, as ballooning food and fuel prices prove – as does an as-worrying facet highlighted by leaders of the Pacific island nation of Kiribati.

President Anote Tong led a delegation to Australia last week to secure a place for his country’s people to live, should international climate change measures fail. He has to hedge his bets – the 33 islands he heads will be under water come the end of the century if polar ice and glaciers do not stop melting at present rates.

Mr Tong got encouraging words from Australia’s new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Climate Change Minister Penny Wong. They made no promises despite Kiribati having only 105,000 inhabitants: Australia, at least under the previous John Howard government, did not readily welcome displaced people.

There were 11.4 million people in UN refugee camps last year and only 49,900 found their way to third countries. But there is an even bigger problem for countries threatened by climate change: people fleeing conflict or persecution can hope to one day return to their homes; those from nations drowned by rising seas cannot.

New Zealand has promised to take the citizens of another threatened Pacific nation, Tuvalu, which has just 12,000 people. Should Australia decline, Kiribati may find New Zealand and refugee-friendly Canada and the US more accommodating.

Such deals should not be viewed as a solution, Australia-based climate change scientist Donna Green told me. Rather, she contended, the matter should be one for the world as a whole.

Mr Tong is getting in early because he knows there will be stiff competition. In the Pacific, some islands in Fiji, the Marshall Islands and Vanuatu also lie a metre or so above the high-tide mark. There has already been a precedent in Papua New Guinea, where residents of the even-lower-lying Carteret Islands have been relocated to nearby Bougainville.

But the nation that could have the biggest impact is Bangladesh. Should predictions of sea-level rises of 14cm to 32cm by 2050 be dramatically exceeded, perhaps 20 million Bangladeshis will need another country in which to live. Floods and other weather-related disasters over the past two decades have already prompted 10 million citizens to migrate to neighbouring India.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies believes that there are more people in the world who have fled because of climate change than there are UN refugees. Other non-governmental groups have put the figure at up to 50 million and believe it could be up to 250 million by 2050. The numbers remain a guess as there is no internationally recognised term for a person forced from their home by global warming.

Doing so would seem simple; the definition of a refugee under the 1951 Geneva Conventions could be broadened beyond the meaning of a person fleeing violence or persecution to include the environment. Human-rights lawyers object, arguing that this would erode the rights of asylum seekers.

But, getting a term in place and protecting such people under international law was urgently needed, said Dr Green, of the University of New South Wales. Piecemeal and ad hoc arrangements like those being sought by Kiribati were not the best solution to what may become a major factor in mass migration, she said. An international institution would be better “to identify the regions most at risk and prioritise and plan relocation options”.

The paradox of climate change is that the nations most at risk tend not to have caused the problem. Industrialisation on Pacific islands is minimal; Bangladesh accounts for just 0.02 per cent of world emissions of greenhouse gases.

This makes it straightforward to decide where to relocate people forced from their homes by global warming. The nations that, over the decades, have caused the most pollution – the US and European countries foremost – should put out welcome mats.

Peter Kammerer is the Post’s foreign editor

Smoke Screen

Updated on Jun 26, 2008 – SCMP

A certain amount of government spin is inevitable, but it is also time for officials to improve the message. The worst thing is to obfuscate and hope the public won’t see the fudge. A member of the public recently showed me a letter she had written to environmental protection officials, together with their reply. She asked why public health isn’t the government’s top priority, in terms of air pollution control. The writer said it was intolerable that the government had not accepted World Health Organisation air quality standards for Hong Kong.

The reply noted that the administration had appointed consultants to draw up a new set of standards and devise a plan to meet them. It would be finished by the end of the year. Most importantly, it said, the government was determined to tighten the standards “to ensure proper protection of public health, in line with the principles recommended by the WHO”.

A careful reading shows that the government did not commit itself to adopting WHO standards. The concern among public health physicians and air quality experts is that the administration will not, in fact, adopt such standards, for fear of being unable to meet them any time soon. Hong Kong is unique among developed economies in having extremely lax air quality standards, referred to as air quality “objectives”. Indeed, a mistaken understanding of what the WHO standards are about has led to officials denying themselves a powerful instrument to improve air quality.

The WHO standards are based on the best available data and indicate the health risks arising from air quality. If met, the standards correspond to a level that can be said to represent a lower risk, and the pollutant levels show what authorities around the world should strive for. There is, in fact, no real argument over the standards, which were reviewed before being published as recommendations globally in 2006. The real question is why they should not be adopted.

The fact is the Hong Kong government has never made public health the raison d’etre for air quality management. The empowering legislation to control pollution does not mention public health, unlike its equivalent on the mainland, in the United States and Europe. Thus, the Air Pollution Control Ordinance needs to be amended. The government-appointed consultants should make a clear recommendation in this regard. Otherwise, they will have to explain why Hong Kong remains an exception, and how it is going to clean itself up. In truth, public health needs to become a legal requirement to get officials to act.

Once protection of public health is the goal, our officials would have to devise policies to get us there, over time. The public understands that merely resetting standards will not improve our air. It is, however, the necessary first step. The WHO also recognises this. So, governments need to devise air improvement plans in phases.

Officials would have to explain how each proposed measure would work and what improvements could be expected. They would have to track results, so that adjustments could be made to ensure their initiatives delivered the expected results. The WHO guidelines are there to remind everyone of the level of risk the community faces when they are not being met.

By linking health outcomes to air-pollution-control initiatives, our officials would have to be more directly accountable for their decisions and actions. It would not be enough to push one initiative at a time – such as, say, a ban on idling engines. Information would have to be provided about what such an initiative could be expected to achieve. And maybe, even when all the initiatives are taken into account, officials may find that it still isn’t enough to reduce the health risk. That would provide pressure to do more.

Yes, there would be additional costs, but Hong Kong is a rich city, and it is time officials dropped their developing-economy mindset and joined the developed world.

Christine Loh Kung-wai is chief executive of the think-tank Civic Exchange.

Scrapping Fuel Tax Is Wrong

Updated on Jun 26, 2008 – SCMP

I cannot believe that our administration is scrapping duty on Euro V diesel just to please a minority of angry vehicle operators.

At the same time, the very same operators allow their drivers to keep thousands of engines idling and waste a vast amount of fuel while polluting our already deteriorating environment.

As long as drivers can afford to idle their engines for hours, the cost of fuel obviously is still too cheap – otherwise, they would start saving at their own end first.

What Hong Kong needs is a strategic environmental vision and policy put into practice now to achieve the kind of quality environment that you find in other countries.

A scrapping of fuel tax without a clear policy is shortsighted. We need laws forcing drivers and operators of heavy vehicles to reduce fuel consumption and switch to the most modern available engine technology to achieve immediate air quality improvements.

Saki A. Chatzichristidis, Kennedy Town

Going Green – Search For Solutions


“Going Green: Search for Solutions” airs June 30 – July 6

Clear The Air would like to bring to your attention that starting on the 30th of June, CNN International will air a week of special programming searching for innovative yet tangible solutions to existing environmental problems.

In “Going Green: Search for Solutions”, CNN correspondents will report live from five continents and will provide the most comprehensive assessment to date of environmental threats in five distinct areas: food and water production, living, business, transport and energy.

An online special at features exclusive video and in-depth coverage tracking the environmental footprint left behind by citizens of the world.

Please tune in and do your bit to Clear The Air in Hong Kong.

“Going Green: Search for Solutions” airs from June 30 – July 4 during CNN Today at 7-10 am and World News Asia at 7-8pm. A 30-min special airs July 5th at 2:30-3:00pm and 1030-1100pm.

It’s on Chanel 316 on NowTV and 74 on i-Cable. Check schedule times to be sure not to miss it!