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June 16th, 2008:

Air Quality Report Set To Boost HK, Guangdong Ties

Anita Lam in Guangzhou – Updated on Jun 16, 2008 – SCMP

Co-operation between Hong Kong and Guangdong is expected to receive a boost as a major work group under the Hong Kong-Guangdong Co-operation Joint Conference completes a report on guidelines to improve regional air monitoring systems.

The work group is expected to submit a draft of its findings to Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen and Guangdong Governor Huang Huahua before the conference in August, a source familiar with the study said.

The report – expected to be ready six months ago – will make proposals on ways to unify the neighbours’ air pollution indices, and on standards for exhaust emissions and effluent discharge.

Such proposals, along with proposals on ways to lower customs barriers and liberalise cross-border flows of goods, people and funds, will be submitted for discussion at the 11th plenary session of the joint conference.

The outgoing director of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in Guangdong, Peter Leung Pak-yan, said this conference – his last before retiring in December – would be an important one.

“This is an important year for China: the Beijing Olympics, the 30th anniversary of the mainland’s opening up to the outside world. It is the best time for China to find its position in the world.”

The new Guangdong party secretary, Wang Yang , has lauded the “liberalised thinking” aimed at turning Hong Kong and Shenzhen into one metropolis and fostering closer co-operation between Hong Kong and the province.

But differences in culture, policies and practices await resolution before the two cities can truly integrate.

Discrepancies between the two air monitoring systems, for example, have been a headache for both jurisdictions, because what might be considered bad air in Hong Kong could be acceptable just metres across the border.

Conservancy Association director Albert Lai Kwong-tak welcomed efforts to standardise measuring mechanisms, but said they should follow international standards.

“It is good that we can compare pollution figures from the two places, but it would be even better if these figures could also be compared with the rest of the world,” Mr Lai said. “Even our own API [air pollution index] system does not follow that of the World Health Organisation.”

He said the two governments should also seek to standardise the method of calculation used to draw correlations between pollution sources and damage caused.

“Knowing the numbers alone is not enough; what the public is really interested in is the health impact the pollutants will have. That is also what would drive a policy change,” he said.

The source said the cross-border work group’s report would consist only of proposals and would not contain technical details, such as timeframes for achieving them.

“After assessments from governments on both sides, the proposals still need to go through public consultations and expert seminars before final guidelines can go to different departments for implementation,” the source said.

The study, begun in 2005, is the first attempt by Guangdong and Hong Kong at a joint overview of town planning. The two sides have also co-operated on projects, including the Hong Kong-Zhuhai -Macau Bridge and the Zhuhai-Macau Cross-Border Industrial Zone.

Aussie Track Athletes To Miss Opening

16th June 2008 –

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) -Because of scheduling issues and a concern about air quality, many of Australia’s track and field athletes will miss the Aug. 8 Olympic opening ceremonies in Beijing.

With the Beijing athletics program not starting until Aug. 15, one week after the opening, Athletics Australia has chosen to hold its pre-Olympic training camp in Hong Kong.

Competitors will then fly to Beijing three or four days before their scheduled events.

“As many sports have said, China presents difficulties for athletes going in and being there for a period of time,” Athletics Australia national performance manager Max Binnington said Monday.

Anything more than five or six days and they inevitably end up with some sort of respiratory problem. So that was why many of the sports who don’t have to be in there early are choosing not to go in. And the outcome is that it’s almost impossible to go for the opening ceremony.”

Australia’s triathletes will also miss the opening ceremonies for similar reasons.

“Most of our athletes have accepted the decision straight away,” Binnington said.

Sun Weide, a spokesman for the Bejiing organizing committee, said countries and teams could be flexible for the opening ceremonies.

“Every team can arrange its schedule according to its own plan,” Sun said. “As for the environmental problems, we’ve said many times that we’re confident that we can provide clean air during the Olympic Games.”

Chinese officials have said that from July 20 to Sept. 20, most construction will halt and heavy industries will close in an effort to cut pollution.

A plan for Beijing’s notoriously clogged traffic has not been formalized, but reports suggest that about half of the city’s 3.3 million vehicles will be banned each day, possibly using an odd-even system from registration plates.

The Australian Olympic Committee earlier said the decision was about logistics rather than health concerns.

“Most of the athletes have decided to come in later and not march,” AOC spokesman Mike Tancred said.

“Generally those competing of the first day or the second day don’t march, standing up for eight hours a day or so before competition isn’t a medically smart thing to do,” Tancred said .

The Australian women’s basketball team also won’t be marching at the opening, because of scheduling. The Australians, who won silver medals at the past two Olympics – losing to the United States each time – has a 9 a.m. game on Aug. 9 against Belarus.

Together We Can Make A Difference

Hong Kong Plans Low-Sulphur Incentives

Keith Wallis, Hong Kong – Monday 16 June 2008

Ships could be asked to reduce speeds to 12 knots.

VESSEL operators could be given incentives to switch to low-sulphur fuels within 64 km of Hong Kong and Shenzhen ports and to reduce ship speeds to just 12 knots, as part of a package of initiatives to reduce maritime pollution.

The plans are among a raft of proposals set to be unveiled tomorrow in a report by Hong Kong public policy think tank Civic Exchange.

The 45-page study, Green Harbours: Hong Kong and Shenzhen — reducing marine and port related emissions, recommends 12 key measures to be implemented by both the private and public sectors.

The document is important because it was prepared with help from the Hong Kong Shipowners’ Association, the Marine Department, terminal companies including Hutchison Ports and other local organisations. As a result, many of the proposals could be speedily launched.

Chief among these are the implementation of what Civic Exchange said are “fast and easy wins, such as requiring vessels to slow down to reduce fuel consumption”.

Vessel operators would be given incentives to switch to a low-sulphur fuel within 64 km of Hong Kong and Shenzhen ports. Under the proposal, port operators would pay shipping companies the difference between the price of bunker fuel and the low-sulphur distillate fuel for vessels that make the fuel switch at least 32 km from the ports.

To qualify for the incentives, ships must also participate in the ports’ voluntary vessel-speed reduction programme, limiting speeds to 12 knots. In addition, ships must burn low-sulphur fuel in their auxiliary engine while at berth.

The report also calls for “the creation of a regional cross-industry body to manage port and marine related environmental issues” and says the Hong Kong government “is well-placed to convene this group”.

The report also calls for “a comprehensive green ports strategy and related policy measures” to be developed. This should include the use of “regulatory processes under international treaties such as emissions control areas to engage Hong Kong, the Pearl River delta and Beijing”.

Officials are urged to “consider imposing fees on high-sulphur fuels and lowering taxes and duties on ultra low sulphur diesel” while improving fuel distribution to decrease the actual cost of ultra-low-sulphur diesel for local craft.

The report also calls for a government-led detailed inventory of maritime-related pollutants, including greenhouse gases, to provide a strong technical foundation for both policy decisions and on-going research and monitoring in southern China. It says research should be carried out on the health effects of marine and port related emissions to determine subsequent policy measures to reduce the impact of maritime related pollution.

Civic Exchange praises several companies, including China Navigation, the privately-owned Swire shipping company, Shekou Container Terminal, and Yantian International Container Terminal for their environmental iniatives, including switching to low-sulphur diesel and electric-power port equipment.

But the group said: “There is a willingness among them to do better but they will need government regulation to create a level playing field so that laggards do not benefit from non-action. Thus, marine and port-related emissions in fact represent a low-hanging fruit for the authorities, which they must harvest sooner rather than later.”