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December 23rd, 2008:

Residential Car-Park Plans Fly In The Face Of Air Pollution Pledges

SCMP – Updated on Dec 23, 2008

I was stunned to read in the report (“Plan to cut developers’ sweeteners”, December 13), that our government, despite its declarations of commitment to sustainable development and to cleaning up our abominable air quality, has in fact been pushing property developers to include parking facilities in their developments. You quoted a Development Bureau source: “Existing planning guidelines asked each development to build a minimum amount of parking space.”

So instead of encouraging inner-city dwellers to use the convenient and abundant public transport services available in urban areas, the government has been promoting car ownership. This explains why new developments on crowded, narrow, inner-city streets have sprouted large podiums that block ventilation and are a major cause of air pollution and conflict between pedestrians and vehicles.

In most mature cities, inner-city residential accommodation does not include parking facilities, yet here in Hong Kong, where previously few blocks included car parking, people who would never have dreamed of purchasing a car now find themselves with an empty garage to fill. Perhaps the Development Bureau would like to let the public know which official came up with this dumb idea?

While massive podiums may be permissible on standalone sites on say Castle Peak Road, they are certainly not appropriate in areas such as Wan Chai, Central, Sheung Wan, Causeway Bay and Yau Tsim Mong. Residents of these areas for years traditionally did not own cars and it is in the interests of the community both from a health perspective and also to promote interaction between the different strata of society that they continue not doing so.

In view of the soaring pollution and the high cost to the community in terms of chronic respiratory conditions, medical fees and lost productivity we must call for an immediate halt to parking-related concessions. Hundreds of thousands of chickens have been slaughtered to ward off the spread of bird flu. Measures to counteract air pollution should be implemented in the same decisive and immediate manner. Public health must come before the pecuniary interests of property developers.

Martin Brinkley, Ma Wan

Perfect Partnership To Tackle Climate Change

Trevor Houser, SCMP – Updated on Dec 23, 2008

The current economic crisis cast a pall over climate change talks held this month in Poland. With American home values and retirement savings falling, and Chinese unemployment figures rising, observers worry that neither America nor China – the world’s two largest polluters – will have much appetite to cut emissions.

The paradox here is that the crisis presents a unique opportunity for the US and China to strike a deal that would lay the groundwork for a global climate agreement. Indeed, one of the main goals of the most recent biannual meeting of the US-China strategic economic dialogue was to begin work under the 10-year energy and environment co-operation framework, created earlier this year.

This initiative comes after a decade in which America abstained from international efforts to address climate change, concerned that if it acted but China didn’t, the world would fail to meet its emission-reduction targets and US industry would be disadvantaged.

China has countered that its historic and per capita emissions remain well below US levels, and that to cap aggregate national emissions at the same level as the US would imply a personal carbon budget in San Francisco five times greater than in Shanghai.

Economically, the US and China are mirror images, opposite sides of a massive global imbalance. Americans spend too much and save too little, leaving a US$250 billion trade deficit financed by other countries, notably China, whose firms and citizens save too much and consume too little, leaving a surplus of goods and capital that flows abroad.

This macroeconomic imbalance is reflected in the nations’ carbon footprints. In the US, more than 70 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions come from consumer-related activities. In China, more than 70 per cent of emissions are industrial.

In terms of brokering a climate deal, this imbalance is good news. It suggests a framework for reducing emissions that respects the development needs of China’s households, addresses US firms’ competitiveness concerns, and adheres to the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” embedded in international negotiations.

In recognition of its outsized historic and per capita emissions, the US should agree to economy-wide emission cuts in line with domestic climate laws under consideration. China should be excused of consumer-related obligations for now, but assume pledges on industrial production.

If China consolidates its energy-intensive manufacturing, thereby freeing up investment capital for lighter manufacturing and services, then it will emerge from the crisis with a growth model that pollutes less and employs more. If the US and China can find agreement on these issues in the midst of crisis, they will pave the way for success when climate negotiators meet again next year in Copenhagen.

Trevor Houser is a visiting fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. Copyright: Project Syndicate

Price Too High For New Runway

SCMP – Updated on Dec 23, 2008

Hong Kong International Airport should not have a third runway.

The environmental consequences of a third runway are enormous in an area of Hong Kong that records very high pollution levels and is home to the endangered pink dolphin.

A new runway will cause huge increases in carbon emissions that will make a mockery of Hong Kong’s measures to reduce greenhouse gas pollutants.

At the recent Clinton Global Initiative conference held in Hong Kong, former US president Bill Clinton, who champions efforts to fight climate change, said: “Asia has a strong history of social responsibility and we have a unique opportunity to work together in innovative and effective ways to achieve positive change.”

Let us show the world that Hong Kong cares and responds to such calls.

Eliane Florentin, Mid-Levels