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July 4th, 2008:

Basic Law Sets Out Obligation To Public Health

Jul 04, 2008 – SCMP

Christine Loh Kung-wai is right to say that Hong Kong’s 20-year-old air quality objectives do not adequately protect public health (“Smoke screen”, June 26), but she is wrong about one thing. The problem is not that Hong Kong’s environmental laws do not mention public health.

Article 39 of the Basic Law requires the government to implement the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights through Hong Kong law. Article 12 of the covenant imposes a duty on governments to take steps to secure the highest attainable standards of public health for everyone, including progressively improving all aspects of environmental and industrial hygiene.

By undertaking to tighten its air quality objectives to ensure proper protection of public health in line with the principles recommended by the World Health Organisation, our government is belatedly doing what the Basic Law requires.

The Basic Law does not tell the government what standards to adopt, but the fact that the duty to adopt health-based environmental standards is contained in a UN covenant has important implications. Because Beijing has ratified the covenant, it provides a common legal framework for Hong Kong and Guangdong to set appropriate air quality standards for the affluent Pearl River Delta region.

It also means that the international community is entitled to compare the government’s air quality objectives to international standards and decide whether Hong Kong deserves the title of Asia’s World City.

David Renton, Repulse Bay

China Happy To Talk About Emissions Goals

Reuters – Updated on Jul 04, 2008

China says it is open to general discussion at the G8 summit on longer-term goals and industrial targets to combat global warming, but has deflected talk of pledges, stressing rich nations should lead the way.

China is not a member of the Group of Eight industrialised countries but President Hu Jintao is attending the talks around the gathering next week.

The G8 countries have been discussing whether to take on the medium-term targets, with China and other developing countries saying rich nations should make big cuts in the next few decades. An official in charge of steering China’s climate change policy said yesterday that his government was open to discussing commitments in the longer term, and Tokyo’s proposals for emissions goals for specific industries.

But the official, Su Wei, director-general of the Office of China’s Leading Group on Climate Change, said developed countries should show leadership also in transferring pollution-cutting technology. “China has a very open attitude towards discussing any issues about responding to climate change,” Mr Su said, while discouraging the idea China was considering specific international greenhouse goals.

Guangdong Wants Hong Kong Plants To Stay

Guangdong wants HK plants to stay

Concerns over global slowdown prompt backdown on move against low-value factories

Denise Tsang – Updated on Jul 04, 2008 – SCMP

Guangdong has changed its mind on kicking out tens of thousands of Hong Kong-owned factories involved in low-value and highly polluting manufacturing amid fears an exodus will worsen the impact of a global economic slowdown on the province.

The province yesterday announced plans to encourage more Hong Kong factory owners to stay and upgrade their businesses rather than relocate to more investment friendly regions in western China.

Guangdong vice-governor Wan Qingliang, marking the 30th anniversary of mainland economic reforms, called for closer co-operation between the province and Hong Kong to “jointly overcome unprecedented challenges” from the sinking US dollar, spiralling costs and the growing divide between the two neighbours.

Mr Wan, who described Guangdong and Hong Kong as intimate brothers, said the provincial government had earmarked 40 billion yuan (HK$45.53 billion) to expand road infrastructure and utilities in mountainous areas in the northeast and southwest of the province to help factory relocation.

His remarks are in stark contrast to governor Huang Huahua’s comments in March when he championed Guangdong’s transformation from a low-end manufacturing hub into a service-backed economy.

At the time, Mr Huang said the Pearl River Delta was losing its cost advantages on land and labour and encouraged Hong Kong manufacturers engaged in low-end and energy-consuming industries to move out of the province.

After decades of making cheap toys and clothes for export markets, Guangdong is seeking to burnish its reputation by encouraging more high-end industry in the form of electronics, services and information technology.

But the move to push out the low-value, labour-intensive industries is now being softened amid fears the province will lose one of the backbones of its economy.

“The country’s new policies on trade and industry structure led to more restrictions in Guangdong-Hong Kong co-operation,” Mr Wan said at the beginning of a three-day Guangdong Trade Fair in Hong Kong.

“Despite the unprecedented challenges, we must overcome them together and break new ground through further co-operation.”

Mr Wan added that Guangdong would improve rail, road and energy infrastructure to facilitate factories relocating to remoter parts of the province while helping exporters to upgrade their businesses to plug into the domestic consumer market.

Hong Kong Chamber of Small and Medium Business president Dennis Ng Wang-pun said Mr Wan’s friendly tone was much-needed at a time when a wave of factory shutdowns had intensified.

“The message is very clear and encouraging,” Mr Ng said at the trade fair. “Three months ago, the province was hailing the slogan of phasing out the secondary [manufacturing] industries and introducing the tertiary [service] industries, but now it is upgrading the secondary industries and introducing the tertiary industries.”

Some manufacturers attribute the softened tone to concerns by provincial leaders that it is not a good time to encourage factories to move out when a recession is looming in the United States.

On the domestic front, Guangdong faces stiff competition for Hong Kong capital from provinces such as Hunan, Jiangxi, and Guangxi and the Chongqing municipality.

Some trade groups estimate that 20,000 of the 65,000 Hong Kong-owned processing trade exporters will be forced to shut down by the end of this year under the weight of soaring raw materials, labour and fuel costs as well as tougher environmental controls.

“If the drain of foreign investors, namely those from Hong Kong, worsens, it will raise a big question mark about whether Guangdong will be able to achieve its targeted 9 per cent economic growth in each of the next five years,” said Yeung Chi-kwong, who runs a shoe factory in Longhua, Shenzhen.

Mr Wan said that Hong Kong accounted for 50 per cent of Guangdong’s US$14 billion foreign investment last year and was a core contributor to the province’s exponential economic growth over the past 30 years.

Magic Number 350

Updated on Jul 04, 2008 – SCMP

Scientists, environmentalists and politicians have got the message about global warming out loud and clear. We know that if we pollute less, temperatures will fall; glaciers and polar ice will then stop melting, sea levels will drop and there will be fewer severe climate patterns. But not so widely known is what we have to aim for to achieve this.

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol on climate change generally puts this target at a reduction of 10 per cent of 1990 carbon dioxide emission levels. Each country has a different figure. Few in the world have an inkling of just exactly what this might be. With greenhouse gas emissions ever-rising, the number is constantly changing.

Nasa climate scientist James Hansen, who tuned us in to global warming and the need to do something about it 20 years ago, has been looking for an answer for some time. He revealed one that we can all relate to and aim for, speaking at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco last December. It is 350.

This, specifically, is 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Dr Hansen says this is the absolute upper boundary at which the Earth can be safe from global warming. If we can keep it lower, then all the better.

We should be alarmed. The foremost measurement station for atmospheric readings of carbon dioxide, the Mauna Loa Observatory, 3,397 metres up a volcano in Hawaii, puts the latest figure at 387 parts per million – 2 ppm more than when Dr Hansen gave his presentation. Based on his assertion at the time, this means that our climate patterns are fast unravelling and will continue to do so until the number is back down to 350.

Our leaders are telling us that global warming is a problem and advising what to do about it. The big picture is not so clear, though: Do we cut by a certain percentage, or reduce by half, or decrease to previous levels, the amount of carbon dioxide we pour into the atmosphere? We would do much better to follow the preaching of American environmentalist and author Bill McKibben and express how much over the minimum level we are, as with temperatures.

McKibben is spearheading the 350 movement, which has tasked itself with getting the number into the minds and actions of as many people as possible across the world, using the website He told me from Beijing on Wednesday that it was essential that those drafting the successor pact to Kyoto had the number firmly in mind during negotiations, which are to conclude in Copenhagen in December next year.

The campaign is barely four months old, but already significant achievements can be claimed. US Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barak Obama has already signed up; so, too, has his former challenger, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. The organisers of the Tallberg Forum, an international meeting on poverty and development attended by a number of present and past world leaders in Sweden last month, took out full-page advertisements using the number in some of the world’s most prestigious newspapers. In early April, 350 bicycle riders took to the streets of Salt Lake City in the US to promote the idea.

McKibben, who in the past two weeks has been in Canada, Italy, Trinidad and Sweden, wants similar events themed around the number 350 to push the cause. Anything will do to get the message out: a 350 marked in organic paint on a shrinking glacier, or a banner with the number hanging prominently down a building. The one he seems to quote the most is 350 churches ringing their bells 350 times, although he would be happy to see temporary “350” tattoos on people’s foreheads. The more people who see the number and ask what it means, the more who will know of their obligations.

There can be no better way of getting as many people as possible involved in fighting global warming. As McKibben explained, the situation was akin to a patient with high cholesterol being told by a doctor that a heart attack or stroke was in the offing unless action was taken. The world already has those danger signs – and only by getting to the 350 safety zone can survival be assured.

Peter Kammerer is the Post’s foreign editor.