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June 28th, 2008:

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.