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December, 2008:

Pollution Alerts And Effects On Internet Tracker

HK Standard – Friday, December 19, 2008

An air pollution tracker has been launched to give readings online on smog and its associated costs in real time.

The Hedley Environmental Index, which provides readings from the Environmental Protection Department’s general and roadside stations, was commissioned by the Civic Exchange and developed by the Department of Community Medicine, School of Public Health of Hong Kong University.

“By showing how far our pollution exceeds the World Health Organization’s Air Quality Guidelines, and how much this is costing us in dollars and affecting lives, HEI lays down a minute by minute marker that tells us how much we have to do,” Civic Exchange chief executive Christine Loh Kung-wai said.

“You may check the weather and the air pollution index, but low, moderate and high API readings given by the government are vague at best.”

The tracker will allow users to have a better grasp of the air quality to expect, Friends of the Earth director Edwin Lau Che-feng said.

SPH chairman Anthony Hedley added: “The index makes clear that we are facing an epidemic of heart and lung disease. The current standard doesn’t offer … an indication of the damage to their health or how to reduce their exposure,”

HEI can be found at hedleyindex. TIMOTHY CHUI

HK People Ignore Pollution Problems

SCMP – Updated on Dec 14, 2008

Pollution in Hong Kong must be reduced.

Problems are caused by factories polluting the atmosphere and lead to people suffering respiratory illnesses such as asthma.

Cars are also a major cause of pollution and drivers can be so selfish. Many keep their engines idling even when their vehicles are stationary and this makes me furious. Also, some people appear to keep their air conditioners on even when they are out of their flats.

It makes me wonder if people care about the pollution problems in Hong Kong. It is clear that pollution levels in the city must be cut back.

Tiffany Tang, The Peak

Climate Change In Hong Kong And The Role Of The Private Sector by Richard Welford – 17 Dec 2008

Greenhouse gases emitted in the last century is still present in today’s atmosphere and is unlikely to be reabsorbed into oceans and forests until the middle of the 21st century. Yet we continue to add carbon dioxide to our environment at an increasing and alarming rate. Even if all emissions stopped today, carbon dioxide levels could take 50 to 150 years to reduce, during which time we will continue to experience the impacts of climate change. Since emissions are set to increase for some time yet we are clearly going to see accelerations in climate change trends requiring ongoing mitigation and adaptation measures.

If greenhouse gases (GHGs) are not drastically reduced, then the world faces a significant temperature change and potentially irreversible damage to the planet’s ability to buffer extreme changes in our climate. Tackling climate change therefore requires mitigation measures that limit the magnitude of further climate change and avoid catastrophic consequences by reducing GHG emissions. In response to this CSR Asia and the University of Hong Kong have recently published a report on climate change adaptation in Hong Kong. This article concentrates on the private sector’s role in that adaptation.

Climate change is inevitable and therefore there is a need to examine adaptation measures that can manage the challenges presented by changes in the climate that we will experience in Hong Kong. Such measures include an important role for the private sector.

Climate change will mean that Hong Kong will experience a warmer climate, at times with significantly more rainfall but will also face the risk of seasonal water shortages. Hong Kong will also experience a significant increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, such as heat waves, tidal surges, typhoons and very heavy rainfall. Sea levels will continue to rise for decades. The impacts of these changes on Hong Kong will be increased risks of flooding, droughts and dangerously hot weather. There will also be secondary and indirect impacts, including an increased risk of infrastructure damage, ground instability and landslides, and further increases in dangerously poor air quality periods. This will all impact on human health and quality of life and pose significant risks for the economy of Hong Kong.

It is important that Hong Kong begins to recognize the risks of climate change and puts into place both mitigation and adaptation measures now. Early anticipatory adaptation will be more effective and less costly than retrospective, emergency action. Although the scale of climate change risk is uncertain, it is increasingly clear that like many of the world’s leading cities, Hong Kong faces huge changes as a result of climate change and that adaptation measures must become a strategic priority.

In Hong Kong adaptation will be needed to deal with the following issues:

  • Extreme weather events including heavy rainfall, high temperatures, sea-level rises, tidal surges and super-typhoons.
  • Flooding, overstrained drainage systems and groundwater pollution leading to possible disease, damage to property, soil degradation and personal injury.
  • Decreasing water availability and periods of drought, increased water evaporation.
  • Heat waves and dangerously hot days with the potential to cause death, severe health problems and economic losses through damage to infrastructure.
  • Health impacts and rising social inequities with the poorer suffering more health problems associated with heat exhaustion, respiratory problems and pollution effects.
  • Threatened ecosystem services through impacts on wetland areas and other crucial ecosystems which affect species distribution, spawning, flowering, water retention and replenishment.

Hong Kong is particularly vulnerable to climate change because of the agglomeration of people and assets in a small area. Hong Kong is also highly dependent on importing food, water, energy and products for the territory to thrive. All these facets of life in Hong Kong will be impacted by climate change and there is therefore a need for Hong Kong to become more resilient to the full impacts of climate change over coming decades. Unless it builds this resilience it will easily lose its competitive advantage as both people and businesses move to alternative destinations.

Hong Kong’s position as a world city could easily be undermined unless it not only tackles climate change but also takes on a leadership role, providing the skills that the world needs to cope with a changing climate. There is a role for all sectors of society including the government, NGO community and the private sector in ensuring that the economic prosperity of Hong Kong is protected therefore.

Hong Kong’s ability to remain as a world city will be in part a function of how it prepares for and adapts to climate change. It needs to be able to continue to provide a base for internationally competitive firms in the finance and business sectors as well as attract new investment. To do this, it will need to be able to train, attract and retain high quality human resources. In achieving this, Hong Kong will have to be able to invest in developing the quality of life it offers to its residents and current and future workforces.

Hong Kong is ranked the seventh most vulnerable megacity on a natural hazards risk register for the world’s 50 megacities. Most risks are weather related and include tropical storms, flooding and sea level rises. Only Tokyo, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Osaka, Miami and New York rank above Hong Kong in terms of risks and in many cases this is because they have a high risk of earthquakes.

In the context of the many facets of climate change identified above, Hong Kong will need to ensure that it is seen as a safe and secure place to do business. It will have to identify its main risks associated with climate change and to begin to work on them now. It should take its world city status seriously and demonstrate leadership in mitigating and adapting to climate change.

One of the most important business sectors in Hong Kong is the financial services sector. This sector is hugely exposed to climate change because of its links to assets that are put at risk by climate change. One problem is that the impacts of climate change are beyond the time horizons upon which many of these businesses base their decisions. Yet, taking action now will reduce risks later. This is something that many companies currently fail to grasp adequately.

Of course, different segments of the financial services sector will experience differing risks and opportunities. Assets vulnerable to climate change risk losing value and fund managers may be held accountable for not considering climate change impacts sooner. The insurance sector has a clear role to play in climate change risk management. Weather-related insurance claims have risen steadily over the past decade and are set to continue to do so. Many more assets are going to become uninsurable, however.

Both life insurance business and general insurance business are exposed to climate change risks through the people and assets that they insure and the portfolio of assets they own to pay for insurance claims. General insurers face two key risks. Firstly, an increase in the number of claims being made due to changes in the frequency, intensity and location of extreme weather events. Secondly, a potential devaluation of the capital assets they own to pay out on claims. Both put significant pressure on the sector meaning that insurers may decide not to provide cover for certain risks, may decide on the need to raise premiums which some people may not be able to afford, may raise excesses on certain risks, leaving some people still vulnerable and require those seeking insurance to take steps to reduce the risk of making a claim through mitigatory actions.

Apart from finance, Hong Kong is a large logistics hub with international trade the bedrock of many of its activities. Climate change will significantly impact on this sector both directly and indirectly as supply chains become more vulnerable.

Hong Kong’s skyline might be part of its world city status but it also poses a risk as freak weather incidents, sea levels rises and flooding begin to impact real estate. There are therefore huge implications for building design, construction, maintenance and facilities management. However, many of the buildings most at risk from climate change are old, poorly managed and home to some of the most disadvantaged groups.

Businesses will also be impacted by many of the human dimensions associated with climate change. If Hong Kong fails to address the impacts of climate change it can rapidly become an unattractive place to live and work impacting on the quality of the workforce available to employers. But climate change may also be associated with changing lifestyles, changing patterns of consumer demand and changing expectations on the part of a wide range of stakeholders on the activities of business in the territory.

If Hong Kong continues to want to be positioned as a world city it will have to demonstrate leadership on climate change issues. Located at the heart of a typhoon zone, Hong Kong could position itself as a leader on climate change adaptation in the region as well. A new partnership between government, civil society and business will be needed if Hong Kong is not to lose its global position and competitiveness to other locations less at risk from climate change.

The business community, in particular, needs to respond to both climate change risks and possible business opportunities by undertaking climate risks assessments, carbon foot-printing, developing climate change strategies and preparing a business continuity plan.

It is urgent that Hong Kong recognizes the risks of climate change and puts into place both mitigation and adaptation measures now. Early anticipatory adaptation will be more effective and less costly than retrospective, emergency action. Although the exact ramifications of climate change risk remain uncertain for Hong Kong, it is increasingly clear that like many of the world’s leading cities, Hong Kong faces huge changes as a result of the impacts outlined in this report. Adaptation measures must become a strategic priority for both government and the private sector if the full impacts are not to impact on the competitiveness of the economy.

Levels of awareness in Hong Kong in relation to climate change remain relatively low. There is a need for education and capacity building initiatives amongst individuals living in Hong Kong and organisations impacted by climate change. This should involve community-based adaptation planning and capacity building for the private sector to put into place both climate change mitigation and adaptation measures.

There is a need for more research into the possible impacts of climate change on Hong Kong and the most cost effective adaptation strategies that should be put in place. Such research should include risk assessments of the impacts of climate change on all facets of society.

There is also a need for Hong Kong to demonstrate a degree of leadership on climate change issues if it is to maintain its reputation for a high degree of competitiveness and innovation.

The full report can be found here.

Counting The High Cost Of Growth – Economic Success Has Led To A Growing Environmental Crisis, Experts Warn

Shi Jiangtao in Beijing, SCMP – Updated on Dec 16, 2008

Undeterred by the cold, a few dozen people gathered outside the Chaoyang District Court in Beijing last month to wait for a trial that was probably their last chance for redress on a government decision they say threatens the health of thousands of people.

Representing more than 15,000 residents of three housing estates in the Wangjing area, they opposed the building of a high-voltage substation next to their subdivisions.

“We don’t want pollution in our backyards,” they said.

Their suit was just one of hundreds of thousands of anti-pollution campaigns and protests across the mainland every year, a sign of rising of public awareness of environmental issues and the legacy of three decades of breakneck economic growth.

Whether in cities or rural areas, more environmentally aware people are fighting the scourge of pollution, according to Xu Kezhu of the China University of Politics and Law’s Centre for Legal Assistance for Pollution Victims.

“It also shows the extent of China’s environmental problems,” Professor Xu said.

“People used to be indifferent about pollution on their doorstep. But now they know about its adverse impact on their health and the environment, they cannot sit by and endure further suffering.”

While Beijing has good cause to celebrate 30 years of reform and opening and its robust economy despite the global recession, it cannot overlook the unfolding environmental crisis confronting the country. Pollution and other environmental problems have become the biggest byproduct of China’s economic leap forward in the past three decades.

Air pollution is common in almost every mainland city, with China accounting for 20 of the 30 cities with the worst air in the world, according to the World Bank.

Severe pollution has contaminated 90 per cent of the country’s rivers and lakes, leaving more than 360 million people living without access to clean water.

While more than 70 per cent of water in the Yellow, Huai and Hai rivers is considered “too polluted for human use”, the Yangtze River, China’s longest, which absorbs more than 40 per cent of the country’s total waste water – most of it untreated – is turning “cancerous”.

Algal outbreaks have repeatedly hit offshore waters and 75 per cent of the more than 20,000 lakes and reservoirs on the mainland, according to the Ministry of Environmental Protection. The Bohai Sea area, the site earmarked for the country’s next economic powerhouse, will be dead in about 10 years because of 1.6 billion tonnes of sewage from Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei dumped into it every year, according to People’s Daily.

Environmental Protection Minister Zhou Shengxian has labelled environmental disasters threats to social stability.

Mr Zhou’s ministry acknowledged there were about 51,000 pollution-related protests in 2005 and it dealt with 580,000 cases of environmental complaints in 2006.

Pollution also takes a heavy physical toll on people. According to an unpublished World Bank report, 750,000 mainlanders die prematurely every year as a result of air and water pollution. The Chinese Academy of Environmental Planning put the air-pollution death toll in 600 mainland cities in 2004 at about 358,000 and its health bill at 152.7 billion yuan (HK$173.2 billion).

“China has made the kind of economic advances in three decades that required 100 years in western countries. But China also has suffered a century’s worth of environmental damage in 30 years,” Environmental Protection Vice-Minister Pan Yue said.

The obsession with “develop first and clean up later” had caused the near-breakdown of the nation’s resources and environment, and the people’s lives were in great danger, he said.

When the new leadership made pledges to clean up water and air and provide people with a better environment, few doubted the sincerity of President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao to stop heedless development. They introduced an automated system to monitor big polluters, published a blacklist of the top 6,000 polluters and threatened to halt tax incentives and deny bank loans to energy-intensive metals, energy and cement industries. They even started calculating the environmental cost of the mainland’s much-praised economic leap forward by coming up with a “green GDP” report.

An incomplete calculation of the environmental costs in 2004 showed that pollution caused more than 510 billion yuan in economic losses, or 3 per cent of gross domestic product, according to the mainland’s first green-GDP report, released in 2006.

“But more realistic estimates put environmental damage at 8 to 13 per cent of GDP each year, which means that China has lost almost everything it has gained since the late 1970s due to pollution,” Mr Pan said.

The environmental price tag of the mainland’s runaway development has apparently embarrassed its leaders, including Mr Hu, who lent his support from the outset of the research scheme, and sparked fierce resistance among development-minded local authorities.

The resistance was part of the reason Beijing failed to meet annual commitments in 2006 as part of a five-year plan to slash energy consumption by 20 per cent and curb pollution emissions by 10 per cent by 2010. But rather than reining in local officials who favoured economic development over pollution control, or encouraging much-needed supervision, Beijing’s disappointing prescription has been to stall further announcements of related statistics.

The decision to shelve the green-GDP calculations came ahead of a political reshuffle at the Communist Party’s congress last year that further cemented Mr Hu’s grip on power. Analysts said that despite his talk about conservation, Mr Hu could not afford to let environmentalism disrupt his political agenda.

Elizabeth Economy, director for Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, said China’s leaders paid more attention to their political image than to conservation.

Mr Hu has pushed the lofty ideas of the “scientific concept of development” and the need to build a harmonious society against the backdrop of a harsh reality of economic woes, social tensions and environmental damage, but few people are impressed.

“There will be no harmonious society without a harmonious environment,” said US field biologist George Schaller, who first visited China in the early 1980s for panda research.

Analysts have also cautioned against expecting too much of the State Environmental Protection Administration’s elevation to a full ministry, saying the move could hardly reverse pollution and degradation.

Given the mainland’s thirst for growth, environmental watchdogs can only at best stop pollution getting worse, they say. Poor law enforcement, local protectionism and rampant corruption are also hampering Beijing’s cleanup effort.

China is reaching a crisis point, experts warn. The question is: Can the country bring its runaway pollution under control before it’s too late?

City Dodging Duty On Air Targets, Group Says

Tiffany Lam and Peter So, SCMP – Updated on Dec 15, 2008

A green group has accused the government of dodging its duty to clear the city’s polluted air by adopting less stringent targets meant for use by developing countries.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen has said the government would consider replacing the city’s 21-year-old air-quality objective with the World Health Organisation’s “interim target-1” standard, which measures particulate matter.

Friends of the Earth noted yesterday that it was the lowest standard among the four listed by the WHO for countries at different stages of development. Countries are expected to abide by stricter standards as they move up the stages.

As a “world-class city”, Hong Kong should not be bound by the lax targets designed for developing countries, the group said.

In response, the government said it was still reviewing its air-quality guidelines, and noted that in adopting the interim targets, the WHO had left it to individual countries to adopt what suited them best.

Meanwhile, hundreds of buildings in the city, including the Convention and Exhibition Centre and the Peak Tower, will go dark for an hour on March 28 to join the WWF’s “Earth Hour” global campaign that rallies people to save energy. Trevor Yang Chi-hsin, chairman of WWF Hong Kong, said the government and more than 140 business and community groups would take part.

Planet Waste Art – by Chris Jordan

Chris Jordan – American Artist

This project visually examines the vast and bizarre measures of our society, in large intricately detailed prints assembled from thousands of smaller photographs. Employing themes such as the near versus the far, and the one versus the many, I hope to raise some questions about the roles and responsibililties of the individual in a society that is increasingly enormous, incomprehensible, and overwhelming.

~chris jordan, Seattle, 2008

It is part of the collection on the topic “Running The Numbers” by Chris Jordan, please find more from the following link:

Department Must Not Build Tunnel Portal Close to Yau Ma Tei Estate

SCMP – Updated on Dec 14, 2008

Serious planning mistakes have been made by officials with infrastructure projects near an estate in Yau Ma Tei.

Flyovers, interchanges and many roads have been built close to Prosperous Garden, yet no mitigation measures have been put in place for residents.

Over a 10-year period they have had to endure severe noise and exhaust pollution from traffic.

At no time has the government made the necessary improvements.

The Highways Department has made serious errors with these projects. For example the Gascoigne Road flyover had a very serious design fault, as it was built without any noise insulation barriers being installed to protect residents.

Now, to add insult to injury, the department will cause residents further disruption with its Central Kowloon Route.

It intends to build the route’s tunnel portal next to Prosperous Garden. Officials have shown no regard for the health and traffic nuisance concerns of residents. Various environmental indicators show that the current level of noise from traffic affecting Prosperous Garden exceeds legal standards.

Also, over the last eight years, the air in Yau Tsim Mong District [which includes Yau Ma Tei] has failed to comply with air-quality objectives. Harmful pollutants from traffic have a long-term effect on the health of local residents, such as causing respiratory illnesses.

In accordance with the Hong Kong Planning Standards and Guidelines, this tunnel portal should not be located close to a residential community that already has serious pollution.

There should be a buffer zone so that any nuisance caused by vehicle emissions is kept to a minimum.

By failing to provide this, the Highways Department is letting down Prosperous Garden residents: it is failing to take into account the health risks that they face as a consequence of this tunnel project.

Edward Lee, representative, Environmental Group on Central Kowloon Route

Vietnam Under Threat As Seas Rise

David Adam, SCMP – Updated on Dec 14, 2008

As Global Warming Raises Ocean Levels, Rich Nations Are Being Urged to Bail out the Vulnerable

Which country will be most affected by the steady rise of the seas?

Which country could see more than a tenth of its population displaced, a tenth of its economic power crippled and a tenth of its towns and cities swamped by the end of this century?

The answer, which may surprise you, is Vietnam, named by the World Bank as the nation with most to lose as global warming forces the oceans to reclaim the land.

Just a 1-metre rise in sea level would flood more than 7 per cent of the country’s agricultural land and wreck nearly 30 per cent of its wetlands, the bank says. And the situation could be worse than that: a 1-metre rise in sea level is at the conservative end of the predictions for the year 2100. Some climate experts, including Jim Hansen, director of Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, argue the likely rise should be measured in several metres.

A 1-metre rise would still be enough to cause chaos. In a study recently published in the journal Climatic Change, the World Bank says such a rise would have an impact on about 0.3 per cent of the territory – 194,000 sq km – of 84 developing countries. That might not sound much, but it would affect about 56 million people. Coastal populations across poorer countries generally do better economically, so the surge in the seas would affect GDP even more – about 1.3 per cent.

The study, which summarises the findings of a 50-page briefing paper published by the bank last year, comes as campaigners call for rich countries to do more to help the developing world adapt to the inevitable effects of climate change.

Heather Coleman, senior climate change policy adviser with UK-based charity Oxfam, says: “Helping vulnerable people cope with the effects of climate change is desperately needed today because they already face increasingly severe and ever-worsening climate change impacts.”

The charity released a report last week that called for at least US$50 billion a year to be channelled from international carbon trading schemes into adaptation efforts.

“With a global financial crisis unfolding, these mechanisms could raise enough money from polluters without governments having to dip into national treasuries,” Ms Coleman says. “Many negotiators agree that this is one of the more practical approaches. Billions of dollars can be raised and invested to prevent future climate change and to help poor people adapt to the negative impacts of global warming.”

Oxfam says poor countries need help to upgrade national flood early-warning systems, plant mangrove “bio-shields” along coasts to diffuse storm waves, and grow drought-tolerant crops.

The report came out last week as ministers attended UN talks in Poznan, Poland, to continue negotiations on a new global climate treaty to replace the Kyoto protocol.

Ms Coleman said the world’s leaders had paid lip service to the issue of adaptation money for too long. “It is a vital part of the overall deal, a litmus test of how serious rich countries are in tackling the problem.

“Poor people around the world bear the brunt of climate change, and yet they are least responsible for global warming. Even during tempestuous financial times, rich countries can and should help poor people to cope. We can’t afford to exchange a short-term saving for a long-term disaster.”

If countries fail to adapt to the new reality of climate change, Ms Coleman warns, they would suffer far greater damage from floods, droughts and hurricanes.

Of those, the World Bank study, led by Susmita Dasgupta, of its Development Research Group, says some countries will suffer the effects of sea level rise much worse than others. Severe impacts will be limited to a “relatively small number of countries”.

As well as Vietnam, the report highlights likely damage to the Bahamas, which could lose more than a tenth of its territory to a 1-metre rise, and Egypt, which faces the flooding of 13 per cent of its agricultural land. Mauritania, Guyana and Jamaica are also among the biggest losers.

In the bank’s rankings of the top 10 countries affected by a sea level rise, across six different types of impact, Bangladesh – often associated with rising sea levels – features only once. The country is listed as the tenth most affected by land area, with just over 1 per cent likely to be flooded.

The report says: “The overall magnitudes for the developing world are sobering: within this century, tens of millions of people are likely to be displaced by sea level rise, and the accompanying economic and ecological damage will be severe for many.”

It adds: “International resource allocation strategies should recognise the skewed impact distribution we have documented. Some countries will be little affected by sea level rise, while others will be so heavily impacted that their national integrity may be threatened. Given the scarcity of available resources, it would seem sensible to allocate aid according to degree of threat.”

The bank says the study is the first of its kind, but admits it is not foolproof. It did not investigate the effects of milder sea level rise, which will be felt in the next few decades. And its methods were too crude to assess the fate of small islands, which are particularly vulnerable. It also fails to take into account adaptation measures put in place over the next century, which would lessen the damages, or storm surges, which would worsen them.

Nevertheless, its central message is clear: “There is little evidence that the international community has seriously considered the implications of sea level rise for population location and infrastructure planning in many developing countries.”

A separate Oxfam report last month investigated the situation on the ground in Vietnam, in the provinces of Ben Tre and Quang Tri.

The charity warned that the effects of climate change threatened Vietnam’s development achievements. It is one of the few countries on track to meet most of its millennium development goals by 2015, and it managed to reduce its poverty rate from about 58 per cent of the population to 18 per cent in 2006.

“Such impressive achievements are now at risk,” Oxfam says. In 2000, Vietnam produced just 0.35 per cent of world greenhouse gas emissions – one of the lowest contributions in the world.

It is not just rising sea levels that pose a threat; higher temperatures, as well as more extremes of weather such as drought and typhoons, will have a “potentially devastating impact on the country’s people and economy”, the report says.

Some communities are already adapting to changing weather patterns. Rice farmers are harvesting earlier, before the main flooding season, or growing a rice variety with a shorter cycle.

But the report found countless cases of poor people across Ben Tre and Quang Tri who were ill-equipped to cope with the consequences of climate change.

Oxfam says rich countries must step in – and quickly. “The amounts of investment needed are beyond [Vietnam’s] budgetary capacity,” it says. “International adaptation finance will be needed in the face of unavoidable impacts.”

The Guardian

California Passes Rules for Cleaner Diesel Trucks

By Peter Henderson, Reuters13 December 2008

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – California on Friday became the first state in the country to force big diesel trucks to clean up their exhaust, despite warnings from truckers the new rules will force them out of business.

About a million vehicles, from big rigs to school buses, are affected by the new rules, which will begin taking effect in 2011 and do not require further ratification.

Some vehicles will have to start retrofitting engines in 2011 and some older trucks will be forced into retirement starting in 2012. By 2023, all trucks must meet 2010 new engine emission standards.

The rules regulate smog-causing oxides of nitrogen, which are greenhouse gases, and particulate matter, which is toxic. The California Air Resources Board estimated the regulations would cost about $5.5 billion. It put the health benefits of cleaner air at $48 billion to $69 billion over the next couple of decades.

The move by California, the leading U.S. state on climate change, complements a detailed strategy to cut carbon emissions that the board passed on Thursday as part of its sweeping plan to cut carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

While the federal government has no such rules for trucks or carbon, President-elect Barack Obama has said that climate change will be a priority when he takes office in January.

Individual truckers and companies told the board, which is the agency charged with carrying out the state’s landmark global warming law, that the new rules requiring retrofitting of recently purchased trucks and the replacing of older vehicles would prove too financially onerous during a global economic slowdown.

Board members recognized that the buckling U.S. economy could change the impact of the regulation, requiring changes.

But Chairman Mary Nichols said before two unanimous votes ratifying the changes that history showed such rules were not economically onerous.

“While this one is big and expensive and is being adopted in difficult times, we’ve never adopted a rule that I’m aware of that didn’t have severe opposition,” she said. “The reality has been that the cost of compliance has turned out to have been less than we estimated.”

(Reporting by Peter Henderson; Editing by Peter Cooney)

EU Agrees to Cut Greenhouse Gases 20pc by 2020

Agence France-Presse in Brussels, SCMP – Updated on Dec 13, 2008

EU leaders reached agreement on an ambitious package to slash greenhouse-gas emissions yesterday, urging US president-elect Barack Obama to follow their lead in the fight against global warming.

But environmentalists promptly panned the agreement, saying too many concessions had been made to industry and to poorer eastern European nations with their highly polluting coal-fired power plants.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said at the end of the two-day European Union summit in Brussels: “No continent has given itself such binding rules that we have adopted with unanimity.” Mr Sarkozy chaired the gathering as head of the French EU presidency.

The EU’s climate-energy package, the “20-20-20” deal, seeks to decrease greenhouse-gas emissions 20 per cent by 2020, make 20 per cent energy savings and bring renewable energy sources up to 20 per cent of total energy use.

Mr Sarkozy denied the targets had been watered down with leaders fearing the package would hit energy and jobs as recession bites.

But Greenpeace, WWF and other groups denounced the deal as “a dark day for European climate policy”.

“European heads of state and government have reneged on their promises and turned their backs on global efforts to fight climate change,” they said.

One of their gripes was that the French concessions allowed more “polluting rights” to be given out for free rather than be paid for.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the election of Mr Obama offered a chance for a joint effort between Europe and the US to combat global warming.