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December, 2008:

Green group blames charges for rise in dumped building waste

South China Morning Post — 03 Dec 2008

Illegal dumping of construction waste has increased since the government began charging contractors for dumping it three years ago, conservancy group Green Council said yesterday.

The group said this was illustrated by an annual coast-cleaning drive in which construction waste had figured among the top 10 pollutants for the first time.

About 7,500kg of rubbish was raked up by 2,100 corporate and student volunteers in the local leg of International Coastal Cleanup from September to last month, which scoured almost 42km of coastline.

Construction materials ranked ninth – or 1.9 per cent of the total – with 1,649 pieces. “There is probably a lot more construction waste out there since we only targeted beaches that the public would go to,” said Linda Ho Wai-ping, Green Council chief executive. Construction debris had not figured significantly before.

“[Dumping] has been a big problem since the government came up with the law in 2005,” said Ms Ho, who described the situation as “a worrying trend in marine ecology”. “It is something that the government should address,” she said.

Contractors are charged HK$27 to HK$125 for every tonne of waste going to government waste sites, including landfills and sorting facilities.

Lung Kwu Tan in Tuen Mun, Shek O beach and the Lamma Island beach Nga Kau Wan had been hardest-hit by construction rubble, Green Council said.

Volunteers also recovered a record amount of broken glass, mostly from popular seafood areas including Sok Kwu Wan on Lamma and Lei Yue Mun. At 55,650 pieces, they topped the list, followed by plastic bags and polystyrene boxes.

The group said it was common for coastal eateries to throw glass bottles into the sea, to avoid transporting them to dump sites.

Studies found glass bottles would take 1 million years to fully disintegrate, council project manager Thierry Chan Tak-chuen said. Plastic bags take 10 to 20 years.

Green Council urged the government to include glass in its recycling policy and step up its beach inspections and cleaning efforts.

A Leisure and Cultural Services Department spokesman said all its beaches were cleaned daily.

The Environmental Protection Department said it was not recycling glass because it had a lower scrap value. It was trying to extend a glass recycling scheme for hotels, launched last month, to other sectors.

Government Must Do More To Clean Up Air

SCMP – Dec 02, 2008

It would seem as if the government is taking a large step towards improving air quality in Hong Kong by agreeing to revise the air quality objectives according to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) air quality guidance.

The latest policy address promised this [so-called] improvement and Secretary for the Environment Edward Yau Tang-wah said later that Hong Kong would follow the WHO standards, but only the preliminary targets.

What the government is offering is not enough to improve Hong Kong’s air quality.

For example, the annual concentration rate for respiratory suspended particulates (RSP) in the new standard is 70 micrograms per cubic metre.

The present RSP standard is 55 micrograms per cubic metre.

Why is our government adopting the higher figure, which is a lowering of standards? The WHO’s guidance comprises a series of targets across different stages which leads to an ultimate target.

The new figure, in accordance with the WHO’s lowest standard, is not in line with much stricter targets. Why is the government adopting a target for air quality that poses a higher risk for citizens?

The air quality objectives that the administration adopts should benefit Hongkongers. If it really wants better air for Hong Kong, it must immediately revise its air quality objectives to the most stringent level.

The present level will not lead to an improvement of our air.

We should have an air quality constitution, which would lay down all policies related to our air and which would influence areas such as city planning and urban renewal.

For example, stricter air quality objectives could halt the construction of buildings that would be responsible for the “wall effect” – blocked air circulation – and they might lead to a reduction of the number of cars travelling through Central and so result in less congestion. Greenpeace is dissatisfied that the government has come up with a piecemeal plan.

The government must have a clear timetable and adopt the most stringent air quality standards, so that Hong Kong citizens can enjoy clear air.

Prentice Koo, campaigner, Greenpeace

City Enjoys Rare Winter Days Of Clear Blue Skies – Northern Monsoon Sweeps Pollution Out To Sea, Experts Say

Joyce Ng and Phyllis Tsang, SCMP – Dec 02, 2008

Hong Kong saw clear blue skies rarely seen during the winter over the weekend, but data shows that the overall picture was no better than last year and roadside pollution remains a serious problem.

Visibility recorded by the Observatory in Central came close to 20km last Thursday, and continued to improve over the weekend.

Sunday morning saw readings as high as 30km, and the same reading was found at the Chek Lap Kok station. A view from the peak of Tai Mo Shan would afford a clear view of the city.

Visibility, affected mainly by the concentration of particulate matter in the air and humidity, is said by the Observatory to be “reduced” by haze if it reads below 8km and there is no fog, mist or rain.

The Observatory and other atmospheric scientists attributed the clear sky to a strong northeast monsoon, which blew at an average speed of 48km/h at Waglan Island last Thursday, stronger than the monthly average of 30km/h.

The monsoon was strong enough to push pollutants from the north into the South China Sea, dispersing particulate matter, senior Observatory scientific officer Yeung King-kay said.

However, the Observatory headquarters in Tsim Sha Tsui recorded 20 more hours of reduced visibility last month than the same month a year ago.

Alexis Lau Kai-hon, an atmospheric scientist at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said visibility readings of 20km to 30km at the airport were “very rare” in winter, but pointed out that this did not mean the air was any cleaner.

All last Thursday the air quality monitoring station in Central recorded indices over 100, meaning “very high” pollution levels. The pollution levels there remained “high” or “very high” through the weekend.

The index continued to be over 100 yesterday, with Central and the other two roadside stations all exceeding 100 in the afternoon and evening. “No matter how strong the winds are, you see the roadside pollution indices remain high, showing the pollutants are all nitrogen dioxide,” Professor Lau said.

The major source of the pollution was vehicles. Heavy vehicular emissions were still a serious problem, Professor Lau said, and the government should step up efforts to combat it.

Meanwhile, factory closures in the Pearl River Delta triggered by the financial meltdown have not meant increased visibility in the city.

Professor Lau said continued monitoring was needed, though he would not rule out that closures could help contribute to clearer skies.

Wang Tao, a specialist on atmospheric chemistry at Polytechnic University, expected factory closures would bring improved visibility.

He said closures would mean less electricity consumption, meaning power plants would generate less sulfur dioxide.

Through a chemical reaction, sulfur dioxide will become sulfate, a particulate matter lowering visibility.

Britain ‘Needs Deeper CO2 Cuts’

Roger Harrabin, Environment analyst, BBC News – 1 Dec 2008

Official advisers to the UK government have demanded Britain slash greenhouse gases by a fifth of current levels by 2020 – the toughest target so far.

The Committee on Climate Change said the cut (21% on 2005 levels) is needed for the UK to play its fair share in combating dangerous change.

They propose firm carbon budgets for the next three five-year periods.

It is believed to be the first time that any major nation has attempted this.

If the budgets work, they are could be copied worldwide.

The independent committee recommends that by 2020 it should be made almost impossible to burn coal for electricity without technology to capture and store the carbon emissions.

This has major implications for the UK’s energy policy.

The report says fuel will inevitably become more expensive to achieve the carbon targets. But it says the government will need to compensate poor households rather than trying to keep prices down.

To make the targets even harder for the government, the committee recommends the UK should not be able to buy its way out of its obligations by paying poor countries to cut carbon on our behalf.

Until now, the government has been planning to buy up to half of our carbon credits.

The report will be widely welcomed by environmentalists, but they are angry that the committee has not set any specific targets for aviation – the fastest-growing source of emissions.

The committee has put aviation into the overall carbon budget but exempted it from specific targets until disputes over responsibility for international aviation emissions have been resolved.

Lord Turner, the committee chairman, said the cuts could be achieved without compromising our lifestyles or economy: “The reductions can be achieved at very low cost (an estimated 1% loss of GDP growth in 2020). The cost of not achieving the reductions at a national and global level will be far greater.”

The climate change secretary Ed Miliband said: “We will give the report in-depth consideration but I am pleased to say that from 2009 carbon budgets will take their place alongside the financial budget.”

A ministerial source told BBC News that the government would almost inevitably adopt the committee’s suggested carbon budgets.

The big question will be how far ministers accept the committee’s policies to achieve those reductions. The committee notes that the government has been good at making bold statements on climate but bad at putting firm policies in place.

Story from BBC NEWS: