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February, 2009:

Nation’s First Emissions Exchange Likely To Start Trading By End Of Year

Reuters in Beijing, Updated on Feb 20, 2009

The nation’s first emissions exchange is expected to begin trading by the end of this year as it works out trading procedures and recruits more member firms, a senior exchange executive said yesterday.

The Tianjin Climate Exchange was established in September, but acceptance has been slow among the small mainland companies that the exchange is trying to attract.

“We hope the exchange will start trading sulfur dioxide, COD [chemical oxygen demand] and energy intensity credits by the end of this year,” exchange assistant chairman Jeff Huang said.

The exchange was working on operational details with the central government and potential member companies before trading could kick off, Mr Huang added.

Beijing has long vowed to save energy and reduce emissions, setting a goal to reduce all emissions by 10 per cent from 2006 to 2010.

But to initiate active trading on the country’s only emissions exchange, Mr Huang said the mainland needed to change the way it allocated emissions credits.

Mr Huang is also vice-president of the Chicago Climate Exchange, which owns 25 per cent of the Tianjin exchange. An asset management unit of China’s top oil and gas firm, China National Petroleum, owns more than 50 per cent of the venture and Tianjin Property Rights Exchange owns the rest.

Emissions credits on the mainland are allocated by the central government to the provinces, which often ignore environmental regulations to focus on economic growth, which produces tax revenue.

Mr Huang said Beijing should hand out emissions credits to companies directly, bypassing local officials and, more importantly, giving firms the incentives to bring emission credits to market.

“Polluters can now cash in on their emissions credits at the exchange,” he said.

The Chicago exchange, run by Britain’s Climate Exchange, is a voluntary market that aims to reduce emissions of gases such as carbon dioxide that scientists blame for global warming.

The Tianjin exchange has about 20 member companies, which include the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, China Construction Bank and Delong Steel, a unit of Singapore-listed Delong Holdings.

The Chicago exchange had 13 member firms when it began trading in 2003 and now hosts more than 400 members. Mr Huang declined to forecast future trading levels at the new exchange, pointing instead to the Chicago exchange’s history, where total trading volume surged to 110 million tonnes last year from only 2.2 million tonnes in 2003, he said.

The Tianjin exchange’s success could hinge on Beijing’s official support for environmental goals, something the Chicago exchange does not enjoy as the US is still not a party to the Kyoto Protocol.

“The current overall conditions in China for trading emissions are much better than in the United States when the Chicago exchange started up,” Mr Huang said.

Hillary Clinton’s Visit Unlikely To Yield Breakthrough Over Global Warming, Say Analysts

Shi Jiangtao in Beijing, SCMP – Updated on Feb 20, 2009

As US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrives in Beijing today, the global media will watch closely to see if Washington’s new-found interest in climate change will result in closer ties between the world’s two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases.

There has been much talk in the US about setting aside differences over global warming responsibilities and working together towards a solution ahead of a key December climate meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Climate change, one of the most talked about but least acted upon world issues, is expected to be high on Mrs Clinton’s agenda during her first official trip as secretary of state.

It is even described by US officials as a new focal point in Sino-US ties, which have often been marked by political and economic rifts.

China has responded with a cautious welcome, calling on the US and other developed countries to “take the lead in cutting emissions, and providing funds and technical help”.

Despite positive, yet vague diplomatic rhetoric, mainland experts said neither side had offered much to end the impasse in the international climate talks and ignite change.

Renmin University professor Zou Ji said Mrs Clinton’s visit was just the first step towards further communication, and the Beijing talks were unlikely to yield a substantial outcome.

“It will prepare the way for the G20 summit in London in early April, which will see the first meeting between President Hu Jintao and [US President Barack] Obama,” Professor Zou said.

He said recent academic reports in the US suggested closer co-operation between the world’s two biggest polluters but failed to present concrete measures.

“Compared with the much more sophisticated economic co-operation such as the strategic economic dialogue mechanism between the two countries, climate co-operation has just begun,” he said.

Tsinghua University climate expert Liu Bin said the recent US remarks reflected the new American administration’s diplomatic strategy of playing the climate card to put China at a disadvantage ahead of the Copenhagen talks.

“Mounting international pressure has already pushed the US to the brink of accepting its responsibility for climate change, which is long overdue. It wants to use China as a scapegoat,” Ms Liu said.

The US has been fiercely criticised for its refusal to ratify the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which subjected industrialised countries to mandatory carbon emissions caps and was supposed to help developing countries adapt to rising temperatures.

Washington has long argued that the existing climate pact, which exempted large developing countries such as China, Brazil and India from emission reduction targets, was unfair and harmful to its economy.

Representatives from nearly 200 countries will meet in the Danish capital to agree on a successor climate treaty to Kyoto, which expires in 2012.

However, talks in recent years have reached a stalemate, with developed and developing countries wrangling over key issues such as carbon targets, technology transfer and funding for adaptation in poor countries.

Lin Erda, a veteran expert from the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences said developed countries should take much of the blame for the “we will only take on commitments if they do” stalemate.

Although developed countries are obliged to provide finance and technology to developing countries under the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, a parent pact of Kyoto, little funding has been made available and hardly any technology has been transferred.

Experts agreed that funding shortages, which have plagued international co-operation for years and have been exacerbated by the unfolding financial crisis, would further delay bilateral collaboration.

“The previous US administrations, including those of George W. Bush and his predecessor Bill Clinton, offered little funding support for the international effort to address climate change. I don’t see any possibility for a turnaround in US policy in the near future given the current economic situation in the US,” Ms Liu said.

The deadlock on technology transfer also proved difficult to break.

Ms Liu said developed countries and businesses were more concerned about losing their competitive edge than the disastrous effects of global warming.

“There has been much talk about the China threat. Why would industrialised countries be willing to offer China the latest climate-friendly technologies?” she said.

Ms Liu said the US and China were more likely to join hands in fields such as research on clean coal and renewable energy, and the development of electric cars.

Mainland experts said the extent of each country’s commitment to tackling climate change should be decided by the level of economic development, and should not lower the living standards of ordinary citizens.

Although China was rumoured to have overtaken the US as the world’s top carbon emitter, it was developed countries, including the US, that had contributed the most to global warming historically, Professor Lin said.

“The stalemate in fund-raising and technology transfer has already prompted questions about whether developed countries intended to contain China and other developing countries,” he said.

His views were supported by other mainland experts, who pointed out that per capita carbon emissions for China’s 1.3 billion people were a fraction of that of rich countries.

Professor Zou said China did not have much room for compromise in Copenhagen. “China will eventually accept the limits, but it is definitely not now or in 10 years. I think it will probably happen in 20 years when China’s urbanisation is basically complete and most people lead decent lives in their houses with water and power supplies,” he said.

Jin Canrong, a Renmin University Sino-US affairs specialist, said Washington’s new-found willingness to address climate issues was largely a result of pledges Mr Obama made during his election campaign.

Although both sides expressed intentions to improve co-operation, Professor Jin agreed that it was difficult to see how far the two countries were willing to go.

But he agreed that compared with a host of sensitive political, economic and financial issues, climate change was a good choice for both countries to foster closer ties.

Waiting To Inhale

Hong Kong’s worsening air quality has many looking for the exit.

By Matt Driskill – GlobalPost – Published: February 20, 2009 13:35 ET

HONG KONG – Air pollution in Hong Kong is so bad that one-in-five residents in a recent poll said they were considering leaving the city. That has some here calling that exodus the biggest brain drain threat since the British handed the city back to China in 1997 when 450,000 people are estimated to have left.

The poll, conducted by the Hong Kong Transition Project at Baptist University on behalf of the Civic Exchange non-governmental organization, showed public concern about air pollution rose dramatically from 2001 to 2008. It also showed that people believe air pollution is making Hong Kong an “undesirable location for both locals and prospective international talent.”

“People from all sectors of society know that air pollution is making them sick,” said Prof. Michael DeGolyer, director of the transition project. “However, almost no one is expressing their concerns to government leaders or the media. This silence indicates a serious breakdown in communication and trust and a need to review the public consultation system.”

The survey was taken during September and October 2008 and polled 1,020 Hong Kong adults in Cantonese, Mandarin, English, and the Chinese dialects of Hakka and Fujianese.

“If there are people who still think poor air quality is mainly a concern of the expatriate community, they need to look at the evidence,” said Christine Loh, chief executive of the Civic Exchange. “The survey shows local people are extremely concerned about the bad air they have to breath every day. It is also no comfort to them to know that our air is better than that in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.”

For its part, the government of Hong Kong says it is working to improve air quality. In his 2008 policy address, similar to a U.S. president’s State of the Union speech, Hong Kong’s chief executive, Donald Tsang, said the government was reviewing its air quality objectives and would adopt targets in line with those proposed by the World Health Organization.

Those targets however, fall within the so-called “entry level, interim target 1” objectives, which Loh says will not offer any meaningful improvement.

“The government is concerned tighter standards would lead to Hong Kong failing them by an even larger margin” than the standards currently employed, Loh said. “This mindset sees the air quality objectives as administrative hurdles rather than health-based standards,” he added.

“The government’s view on this needs to be brought in line with international thinking.”

Greener Paths

SCMP – Updated on Feb 19, 2009

It is fashionable, the world over, to talk about government budget-stimulus measures and job-creation packages. There is also a trend promoting the transformation to a “green” and “low carbon” economy, as well as creating “green” jobs. What might work in Hong Kong? A green economic approach needs to be defined for policymaking purposes. Now is the right time to shape a new kind of prosperity, based on quality of life rather than materialism. If the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak in 2003 and the current financial crisis have taught us anything, it is to treasure how we live rather than to define ourselves by what we buy. Good health and well-being have become much more important to Hong Kong people, and they will only become more important. The green agenda reminds us that our good health depends on ecological health. Therefore, protecting the environment and reversing climate change are vital. A degraded environment will definitely compromise our health.

Thus, a green economy is one based on creating prosperity and jobs while stabilising the climate, protecting the environment, reversing its degradation and promoting people’s health. This new economic vision works within ecological boundaries of resource renewal and waste absorption, while people’s health is also a key focus. This means we must pay more attention to what the planet is telling us about ecological tipping points.

Mainland China has several strategies, which are already national policies, that Hong Kong can adopt while making the transition to a green economy.

First, Hong Kong must strive to be more resource efficient, which means conserving all raw materials, including water. When we use raw materials, we must do so as efficiently as modern technology and good management allow us. For example, we must become much more energy efficient in everything, from power generation to transport, manufacturing, property development and consumer choices.

Second, we should aim to achieve the greatest number of benefits across the board. For example, as policymakers seek ways to improve energy efficiency, they could also address the impact of air pollution and climate change. Third, we must reduce waste massively, by redesigning products, improving their durability, and promoting reuse and recycling. National policymakers call this the “circular economy”.

Such concepts aim to achieve the greatest climate, ecological and health benefits through saving resources, which can also result in financial gains. In other words, use less, spend less, pollute less. To get there, the government has numerous tools at its disposal. A good start is better standards. Tightening the city’s air-quality standards, for example, would promote technical innovation and new management approaches, while improving air quality and public health. By reforming energy and building codes, Hong Kong will get a new generation of much better buildings in return.

Another powerful tool is for the government to use its procurement and public works as levers for a green revolution. Public-sector spending, coupled with wide consumer-product labelling and public-information campaigns, can play a very important role in ramping up economies of scale and therefore achieving cost competitiveness.

Public works offer a large range of green projects and jobs. There are many opportunities for green “intelligent” government buildings and public housing, to propel the economy out of its current inefficient, “business-as-usual”, mode.

More green jobs could be created on the design side of development. Thoughtfully designed buildings and districts require more services like architecture, urban planning, landscaping, electrical and mechanical services, and indoor air-and water-quality control. Many buildings will need to be retrofitted to make them more energy efficient, for

Christine Loh Kung-wai is chief executive of the think-tank Civic Exchange.

Scorched Earth – The Signs Of Accelerating Man-made Global Warming Are All Around The Asia-Pacific Region

Michael Richardson, SCMP – Updated on Feb 18, 2009

The devastating bush fires in Australia, severe drought in China and the spread of haze pollution in Indonesia in recent days are linked by a common underlying trend – temperature rise in the Asia-Pacific region and other parts of the world. They are an unwelcome reminder to policymakers preoccupied with the global financial and economic crisis that climate change is striking now and will strike much harder in future if not tackled effectively by the international community. Australians, who live in the driest inhabited continent on the planet, are counting the cost of the extreme heat and prolonged lack of rain that set the scene for the raging fires in the southeast state of Victoria earlier this month. The final death toll is expected to rise to about 300 as more bodies are discovered. Damage to property and livestock, and the cost of treating the injured, could exceed A$2 billion (HK$10.1 billion).

In China, drought has spread to 12 provinces across central and northern China that produce the bulk of the country’s wheat, threatening the staple winter crop. The China Meteorological Administration said on February 5 that some parts of the country were experiencing the worst drought and highest average temperatures in 30-50 years.

Last week, thick haze from forest fires blanketed large areas of Indonesia’s Riau province as farmers and plantations took advantage of dry conditions to burn forest and clear land cheaply. This practice, although illegal, has proved difficult to stop. It causes acrid smoke to drift over neighbouring countries when the wind blows in their direction.

No one is suggesting that above-average temperatures alone are responsible for these events. The Australian fires were fanned by wild winds and, in some cases, police suspect arson. However, temperature rise is an important factor. It increases susceptibility to disaster, whether caused by nature or people. On January 5, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology said that 2008 was the 14th-warmest since records began in 1910 and 0.41 degrees Celsius above the 1961-1990 average. It noted that Australia had warmed by about 0.9 degrees over the past century.

The panel of international scientists advising the UN on climate change warned in its most recent report two years ago that fires in Australia were “virtually certain to increase in intensity and frequency” because of steadily warming temperatures in the next few decades.

The same panel, in its summary for policymakers around the world, found that the “warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global average sea level”, caused when oceans expand as they warm. Melting glaciers and polar ice sheets adds to their volume.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), set up in 1988 to provide independent advice to the UN, gave examples of projected regional impacts on Asia. It said that, by the 2050s, freshwater availability in Central, South, East and Southeast Asia, particularly in large river basins, would decrease. Heavily populated coastal areas in South, East and Southeast Asia would be at greatest risk due to rising sea levels while mega-delta regions would also be subjected to increased flooding from rivers fed from melting glaciers on China’s Qinghai-Tibet plateau and the Himalayas. The panel also said that health risks associated with floods and droughts were expected to rise in East, South and Southeast Asia.

According to the World Meteorological Organisation, which helped set up the IPCC, the global combined sea-surface and land-surface air temperature for last year is estimated to be 0.31 degrees above the 1961-1990 annual average of 14 degrees. This makes 2008 the 10th-warmest since 1850. It is now 23 years since the world has had a cooler-than-average year. The warmest year on record was 1998.

Vast swathes of Indonesia’s forest and underlying peat bogs dried out and burned in 1997 and 1998, casting a pall of toxic haze over much of Southeast Asia.

The IPCC says that emissions of greenhouse gases from human activity, mainly from burning fossil fuels and deforestation, are blanketing the planet, making it warmer. The scientists concluded that the average global temperature would increase by between 1.1 degrees and 6.4 degrees by the end of the century, depending on the level of emissions over coming decades.

Last week, the Norwegian Polar Institute reported that atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, were hitting new highs. Levels rose to 392 parts per million, a rise of 2.3 ppm from a year earlier, up by a third since the 19th-century Industrial Revolution. The Pew Centre on Global Climate Change in the US says that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are now at their highest in at least 800,000 years. Once carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere, it stays there for a long time. The economic slump may cut emissions for the time being, but this will have little, if any, impact on atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases.

We are seeing, in Australia’s bush fires and China’s drought, the grim face of the future in the Asia-Pacific region as the temperature rises. Curbing global warming emissions and adapting to climate change will be costly. But failing to do so will be even more expensive and painful.

Michael Richardson is a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

China Study Blames Indoor Burning For Lung Ailment

Wed Feb 18, 2009 6:00pm EST

HONG KONG, Feb 19 (Reuters) – A study of more than 20,000 people in China has shown that exposure to burning solid fuel indoors for heat and cooking may cause the lung ailment known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

The finding, published in the European Respiratory Journal, is significant because COPD has long been associated with smoking and very little research has been done to find out why non-smokers also suffer from the disease.

COPD includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

Emphysema is the loss of elasticity of lung tissues, resulting in the collapse of small airways which gives rise to shortness of breath and hyperventilation.

The study covered 20,245 people over 40 years of age in seven Chinese cities and provinces who were interviewed about their smoking habits, family health history and exposure to smoke from solid fuels, such as wood, coal, grass and dung.

Among the participants, 12,471 were non-smokers and 5.2 percent of them were diagnosed as suffering from COPD, wrote the researchers, led by Pixin Ran at the State Key Laboratory of Respiratory Disease in China’s southern Guangzhou city.

The prevalence of COPD among non-smokers varies widely from country to country: 6 percent in Mexico City, 9 percent in the United States and 16 percent in Santiago de Chile.

These statistics suggest the illness may be linked to other causes such as differences in lifestyle, behaviour and exposure to various toxic substances.

After adjusting for other possible causes, including passive smoking, the Chinese researchers found that exposure to various types of smoke in the home, such as that produced by burning coal and biomass, was the leading cause of COPD in non-smokers.

Around 73 percent had been exposed for at least a year to burning fuel indoors for the purpose of heating or cooking.

In four out of 10 cases, kitchen ventilation was poor and both men and women were harmed, they added.

Nearly four-fifths of the non-smokers, or 78 percent, were also found to have lived with tobacco fumes.

It is well known that children of smoking parents are more likely to suffer from respiratory disease as adults and the researchers said the problem will be more acute in China, where nearly 40 percent of adults smoke.

“Our results can probably be applied to other developing countries, such as India and Nepal, which have a similar indoor pollution problem”, wrote the researchers.

They hoped a substantial number of COPD cases could be avoided through health education, better ventilation in kitchens and getting people to quit smoking. (Reporting by Tan Ee Lyn, editing by Tim Pearce)

Beijing Roads See 1,500 New Cars A Day

Reuters in Beijing, SCMP – Updated on Feb 17, 2009

The capital has added nearly 1,500 new cars to its notoriously congested roads each day so far this year, state media said on Tuesday, despite a nationwide fall in car sales and efforts to cut traffic. “The city is facing serious traffic pressure and safety risks due to the growing number of automobiles,” Song Jianguo, head of the Beijing Traffic Management Bureau, was quoted by Xinhua news agency as saying.

Beijing registered 65,970 new vehicles in the first 45 days of the year, or a daily increase of 1,466, Xinhua said.

Authorities have introduced incentives to try to boost domestic demand but official data shows car sales in January fell 7.76 per cent from a year earlier as traditionally roaring economic growth slowed.

Beijing has also introduced rules aimed at taking a fifth of private cars off the road each day, according to licence plate numbers, to ease congestion and pollution.

Mainland roads have long been among the most dangerous in the world due to overloaded and speeding trucks and drivers who switch lanes without signalling and often ignore traffic lights.

The country recorded 5.1 road accident deaths for every 10,000 motor vehicles in 2007, the highest rate in the world, Xinhua reported earlier.

Green Initiatives Urged To Keep Prices Down And Create Jobs

Albert Wong and Tiffany Lam, SCMP – Updated on Feb 16, 2009

The Civic Party and Green Sense have called on the government to use any surplus on green initiatives that can keep prices down and create jobs. The party said HK$6 billion should be set aside to subsidise buses to convert to cleaner engines.

The proposal is part of the party’s “green new deal” – regular proposals to create a greener city while offering more business opportunities.

It referred to studies showing air pollution costs the city HK$1.5 billion a year in direct health costs, and HK$21 billion in lost productivity. The HK$6 billion would go towards either fixing after-treatment devices onto current buses by the end of this year, or replacing buses at least 14 years old with ones that run on the latest green engines by 2010. There have been a range of forecasts on the government’s fiscal situation, with predictions ranging from a small surplus to a small deficit.

Conservancy group Green Sense issued several talking points, urging the government to use HK$11 billion to create a “greener economy”.

It proposed the government shell out HK$4 billion to develop renewable energy, creating 7,000 jobs for architects and engineers; HK$3 billion should be allotted to buttress the city’s recycling facilities; and HK$2 billion could be used to promote green roofs to reduce the heat-island effect.

Green Sense also said HK$1.5 billion should be used to improve the efficiency of air conditioners, with the rest spent on policies such as promoting eco-tourism and developing a local market for organic foods. It estimated the package should generate 17,200 jobs.

Fine-Particulate Air Pollution And Life Expectancy

Improvements in life expectancy among Americans during the 1980s and 1990s were associated with reductions in fine-particulate air pollution…

Title: Fine-particulate air pollution and life expectancy in the United States

Authors: CA Pope III, M Ezzati, DW Dockery – Reference: N Engl J Med 2009; 360: 376-386,

Reviewer: Robert Goldberg, PhD, Contributing editor, ProCor; Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology, Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA

Problem addressed: Air pollution in the US and life expectancy.

Purpose of study: To examine the association between changes in fine particulate air pollution during recent decades and life expectancy in Americans residing in major metropolitan areas.

Location of study: United States

Study design: Investigators of these ecologic and cross-sectional analyses utilized data from a variety of sources to examine the a asociation between changes in average life expectancy over the period 1978-1982 and 1997-2001 with declines in fine particulate air pollution among residents of 211 county units in 51 major metropolitan areas throughout the US. To this end, data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Inhalable Particulate Monitoring Network, other air pollution monitoring sources, and national mortality data were collated and analyzed. Age standardized death rates from lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) were also utilized as proxy indicators of accumulated exposure to cigarette smoking, which may have acted as an important potential confounder.

Results: In the initial period examined (1978-1982), average life expectancy in the US was 74.3 years whereas average life expectancy increased to 77 years during the most recent period under study of 1997-2001. During the period of improved life expectancy, ambient concentrations of fine particulate matter declined in each of the metropolitan areas examined whereas the death rates from lung cancer and COPD increased.

A variety of cross-sectional and regression analyses were performed to examine the association between changes in the concentrations of air pollutants and increases in life expectancy while controlling for several sociodemographic variables and proxy indicators for cigarette smoking. A decline of 10 ug per cubic meter in the concentration of ambient fine particulate matter was associated with an estimated increase in average life expectancy of slightly more than six months.

Comments: The results of this observational study suggest that improvements in life expectancy among Americans during the 1980s and 1990s were associated with reductions in fine particulate air pollution as measured by various sources in major metropolitan areas throughout the US. While other factors were associated with increases in average life expectancy during the years under study, improvements in air quality were estimated to have contributed to as much as 15% of the overall increase in life expectancy observed.

The results of the present study, which were based on the best data available to the investigators with its inherent strengths and weaknesses, provide encouraging support for the health benefits associated with improvements in air quality noted throughout the US over the past several decades. This has been a direct result of significant discussions and efforts to improve air quality by the EPA and other federal and local agencies.

While there are ongoing concerns with the state of the US economy, and much needed increases in health related sources of funding, the results of the present study suggest that efforts directed at improving the air that we breathe have paid significant dividends with regards to improving life expectancy in Americans. Efforts to improve the quality of the air that Americans (and those of all nations) breathe, and the water they drink, need to be continually encouraged as topics of environmental concern might be placed on the back burner during these difficult economic times. Broad policy level efforts remained needed, as well as efforts that each person can do more of, such as driving their automobiles for fewer miles (with concomitant increases in physical activity), need to be continually encouraged to improve both the general environment as well as our quality and duration of life.

Green-lung Vision Strikes Terror In Officials’ Hearts

Stephen Vines, SCMP – Updated on Feb 13, 2009

Very occasionally someone comes up with a brilliant idea for improving Hong Kong and, almost always, it strikes terror in the hearts of the bureaucrats who run this place. The architect Rocco Yim Sen-kee has had an idea of this kind. It involves creating a magnificent green lung in the middle of Hong Kong Island, running from the Zoological and Botanical Gardens in Central to Victoria Park in Causeway Bay. This green corridor would be achieved by linking existing parks with a network of boulevards surrounded by trees and other vegetation stretching from above Central to the harbourfront and creating a zone of calm in the midst of bustle and pollution.

The ingenuity of the plan lies in the way it links what exists with what could be built with relatively little effort. But an enormous amount of determination and vision for it involves cutting (very modestly) into the fortress which Government House has become and possibly infringing on the new government palace, or headquarters as it is formally known – which, as it happens, Mr Yim has designed.

You can almost sense the nervous twitching of the bureaucrats as they contemplate an idea that involves such revolutionary thinking. Indeed, it would not be surprising if those on the front line of obstructing new ideas were already reaching for a familiar set of adjectives to put down the plan. In bureaucrat-speak, these would include assertions that the plan is far too idealistic (a very bad word in government circles), that Mr Yim is well intentioned but naive (a catch-all description of anything that requires imagination), and, of course, there is always the trump card of declaring the scheme impractical because it involves a lot of work.

By coincidence, on the day Mr Yim revealed his plan, an alliance of non-governmental organisations launched an appeal to the Town Planning Board to impose a height restriction on the latest official plan for destroying the historic Central Police Station complex which is now in the hands of that well-known conservation body, the Jockey Club.

It’s the same old story – the government is full of ideas for destroying Hong Kong’s heritage and ominously challenged when it comes to building anything new that is less than ghastly. Anyone doubting bureaucrats’ love of the ugly and absurd need only glance at the Central Library in Causeway Bay.

Meanwhile, a growing number of citizens have decided enough is enough; the destruction of Hong Kong’s heritage in the name of progress has gone too far, and they are arguing that the government should no longer try measuring progress by the amount of concrete poured but should look at ways of improving the environment on a human scale.

Mr Yim’s plan provides an ingenious way of better utilising the precious few green spaces in the middle of the city, even though it should be noted that there are probably more concrete than green areas in both the Victoria and Hong Kong parks. This plan would not create anything resembling a natural green habitat but it would cleverly carve something special out of the scarce green areas.

Why, then, is it close to certain that the bureaucrats (and their good friends in the property development
community) will oppose a scheme of this kind? It is not that the bureaucrats are necessarily full of bad intentions or that they are simply too lazy to work on a scheme that requires more effort. Such an assertion is unfair, particularly to some of those in the bureaucracy who are genuinely trying to create a better environment.

However, institutionally, the bureaucracy is inclined to avoid plans for transforming the existing infrastructure. Instead, bureaucrats love grand plans that involve knocking things down and building something grand anew. They see such schemes as their legacy projects and even dare to hope that one will eventually bear their name. If anyone deserves recognition for a great idea, it is Mr Yim but, alas, he is not a bureaucrat.

Stephen Vines is a Hong Kong-based journalist and entrepreneur