Clear The Air News Blog Rotating Header Image

July 9th, 2008:

Leaders Agree On Targets For Climate

Summit reaches a ‘shared vision’ for reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050

Reuters in Toyako – Updated on Jul 09, 2008

G8 nations, papering over deep differences, said yesterday they would work towards a target of at least halving global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, but emphasised they would not be able to do it alone.

In a communique released during their summit in Hokkaido, northern Japan, the Group of Eight leaders agreed that they would need to set interim goals on the way to a “shared vision” for 2050, but they gave no numerical targets.

Mention of mid-term goals was an advance from last year when the G8 agreed only to “seriously consider” a goal of halving emissions by mid-century.

But calling on countries involved in UN negotiations on climate change to also “consider and adopt” the 2050 goal satisfies the United States, which has said it cannot agree to binding targets unless big polluters such as China and India rein in their emissions, too.

Dan Price, assistant to the president for international economic affairs, described the G8 declaration on climate change as “an excellent discussion and an excellent declaration”, and he said that “significant progress” had been made.

Mr Price said the statement reflected that “the G8 alone cannot effectively address climate change, cannot effectively achieve this goal, but that contributions from all major economies are required”.

But critics outside the rich nations’ club slammed the deal. Environmental campaign group WWF said the leaders had ducked their responsibilities.

“The G8 are responsible for 62 per cent of the carbon dioxide accumulated in the Earth’s atmosphere, which makes them the main culprit of climate change and the biggest part of the problem,” WWF said shortly after the G8 statement was issued in Toyako, Sapporo. “WWF finds it pathetic that they still duck their historic responsibility.”

The European Union and Japan had been pressing for this year’s summit to go beyond just “considering” the 2050 goal, and Brussels had wanted clear interim targets as well.

South African Environment Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said he feared this year’s communique was a step backwards.

“While the statement may appear as a movement forward, we are concerned that it may, in effect, be a regression from what is required to make a meaningful contribution to meeting the challenges of climate change,” Mr Van Schalkwyk said.

The UN-led talks aim to create a new framework for when the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012 and are set to conclude in Copenhagen in December next year.

The G8 comprises Japan, Britain, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Russia and the US.

Global warming ties into other big themes such as soaring food and fuel prices being discussed at the three-day summit at a plush mountain-top hotel near Sapporo, where 21,000 police have been mobilised.

In another statement released on the second day of the summit, the leaders expressed strong concern about high food and oil prices, which they said posed risks for a global economy under serious financial strain.

The group also called for “countries with sufficient food stocks to make available a part of their surplus for countries in need, in times of significantly increasing prices and in a way not to distort trade”.

The G8 summit wraps up today with a major economies meeting, comprising the G8 and eight other big greenhouse gas-emitting countries, including India, China and Australia.

A matter of wording

The precise wording of the G8 statement on climate change was a result of much debate – and its scope remains open to interpretation. Critics say the statement leaves G8 nations too much leeway with regard to taking concrete action. The following is one of the statement’s key portions.

“We seek to share with all Parties to the UNFCCC [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] the vision of, and together with them to consider and adopt in the UNFCCC negotiations, the goal of achieving at least 50 per cent reduction of global emissions by 2050, recognising that this global challenge can only be met by a global response, in particular, by the contributions from all major economies, consistent with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.”

Smog Tarnishes ‘Gold Standard’ For Olympics

Games chiefs hail Beijing’s preparations, but admit air quality is still an issue

Peter Simpson in Beijing – Updated on Jul 09, 2008 – SCMP

The International Olympic Committee gave Beijing a final stamp of approval yesterday – but its “gold standard” accolade failed to sparkle in the smog-bound capital.

The Olympics chiefs, making their final inspection of the host city before the Games begin on August 8, said they had underlying confidence the event would be a success.

“Here in the Chinese capital you can now really sense the excitement and anticipation. The quality of preparation, the readiness of the venues and the attention to operational detail for these Games have set a gold standard for the future,” Hein Verbruggen, chairman of the IOC’s co-ordination commission, concluded at the end of a two-day meeting with the Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (Bocog).

But as Mr Verbruggen gave his last glowing report card, flanked by Bocog president Liu Qi, during the opening of the main press and international broadcast centres for the Games, the Olympic Village around them, and its iconic stadiums, were veiled in smog.

“A very small number of open issues remain, such as … our need to see how temporary measures in the city will make an impact on air quality,” Mr Verbruggen admitted.

Beijing has repeatedly promised to meet Chinese and pre-2005 World Health Organisation (WHO) air standards in time for the Games.

Big steps to clear the skies will be taken on July 20. Dozens of industrial plants in the capital and half a dozen surrounding provinces will shut down and 2 million cars and trucks will be barred from Beijing streets.

For the capital’s population of 16 million, the temporary curbs on emissions of pollutants can’t come soon enough.

Sunday’s rare blue skies and sunshine were quickly forgotten as pollution shrouded the city on Monday.

China’s air pollution standards differ from those of the WHO, and the gathering of data such as measurements of PM10 – particulates of 10 microns or more, in other words the dust from vehicle exhausts, construction sites and factory chimneys – has drawn much international criticism.

The Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau said yesterday’s daytime PM10 reading was 98, which it rates “slightly polluted to fair”.

However, to the WHO, 98 is at the low end of the scale of acceptable air quality. Its “safe” standard is 50.

Jacques Rogge, the IOC president, has said outdoor endurance events will be postponed if the air is bad.

The IOC has confirmed that the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau will collect all data used to assess air quality, and spokesman Kevan Gosper said rescheduling would be done in consultation with Bocog and would “be a joint decision”.

“We will not overrule Bocog [on pollution concerns],” he said.

Summing up his report, Mr Verbruggen said of Beijing’s breakneck US$40 billion Olympic makeover: “Now it is operation time. And that means we will have to deliver to all stakeholders … what was pledged.”

Green Roof Systems

HKU’s Sam Hui lists the public and private benefits

Updated on Jul 09, 2008 – SCMP

Public benefits

  • Mitigate urban heat island effect
  • Reduce dust and pollutant levels
  • Rainwater retention
  • Natural habitat for animals/plants
  • More natural look for urban landscape

Private benefits

  • Increase life expectancy of roofs
  • Reduce noise levels
  • Enhance thermal insulation
  • Heat shield
  • Better use of space
  • Reduce risk of glare for surrounding buildings

Key Pollution Levels Down Slightly

Reuters in Beijing – Updated on Jul 08, 2008

Two key measures of pollution in the mainland have fallen slightly in what the country’s environmental regulator cast as a victory in the fight for more sustainable development, state media reported on Tuesday.

Persistent smog over Olympic host Beijing’s skies and a massive algae bloom in sailing venue Qingdao have highlighted China’s environmental concerns a month ahead of the Games.

Emissions for sulfur dioxide, which belches from chimneys and causes acid rain, fell by 4.7 per cent last year compared with the same period a year before, the official newspaper of China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection said.

COD, or chemical oxygen demand, a measure of water pollution, dropped by 3.2 per cent last year, it added.

Sulphur dioxide and COD are primitive indicators of overall environmental health, and do not reflect the many other chemicals that spoil the mainland’s air and waterways.

Beijing has pledged to cut pollution levels for the two indicators by 10 per cent between 2006 and 2010, but failed to meet its target in 2006.

The result was “heartening”, but no cause to rest on laurels, an editorial in the paper warned.

“The environmental situation is still grim. We are still under enormous pressure to meet the targets in the [five-year] plan,” the editorial said.

Beijing, which has spent more than 120 billion yuan in Olympic clean-up efforts but remains almost permanently cloaked in smog, had reduced sulphur dioxide by 13.8 per cent, making it the best performer out of 31 provinces, regions and cities, the paper said.

The results come as thousands of troops and volunteers toil round the clock to remove algae from Olympic sailing competition areas in Qingdao.

Beijing has also demanded factories in surrounding provinces stop work or cut production to clean the city’s air, which has caused health concerns for a number of Games athletes.