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March 6th, 2009:

Unstable Weather Sparks Earliest Storm Alert

Cheung Chi-fai – Updated on Mar 06, 2009 – SCMP

A collision between warm air and a mass of cold air from the north resulted in the earliest yet rainstorm warning yesterday.

The Observatory issued amber rainstorm signals twice after a thunderstorm brewed across the border, moved down to Hong Kong and abruptly transformed the weather from soggy and cloudy into rainy and windy.

The rainstorm signals lasted from 2pm to 3pm and from 4.10pm to 5.10pm and brought about 30mm of rain in northwest New Territories, where gusts reached 90km/h.

The wind blew a cargo container from a stack of cargo boxes at a storage site in Yuen Long. It crashed to the ground next to a truck but no one was injured. Firemen rescued six construction workers who were trapped in a crane that had broken down under the wind. One worker suffered a minor hand injury.

The Observatory forecast that the weather would remain unstable today, with occasional heavy rain and thunderstorms. The temperature is expected to fall to as low as 15 degrees Celsius.

Chan Chik-cheung, senior scientific officer at the Observatory, said the rainstorm warning was the earliest they had issued since the warning system was introduced in 1998. The previous record was set on March 23, 2002. Mr Chan said such collisions were common during the transition from winter to spring.

“We had warmer than usual weather in February, and when the cold air meets the warm air it creates a strong convection of air currents so that warm air is forced upwards quickly and rainstorms are formed.”

He said the weather developed so quickly that staff had no idea the second storm was forming when they cancelled the first warning.

Johnny Chan Chung-leung, director of the Guy Carpenter Asia-Pacific Climate Impact Centre at City University, suspected that winters in Asia had changed in recent years.

He said it seemed that over the past few years, a cold month in winter was often followed by a warm month and then a cold month again.

But more studies were required to find out if this happened to be a long-term trend.

“The frequency of changes has increased, though it is hard to tell now if it is related to global warming or it is just a pattern of regional climate shift,” Mr Chan said.

Progress On Green Goals ‘Not Enough’

Shi Jiangtao in Beijing – Updated on Mar 06, 2009 – SCMP

Government advisers and green campaigners expressed dismay at the lack of progress in tackling the mainland’s worsening environment, despite Beijing’s renewed pledges to combat climate change and pollution problems.

Premier Wen Jiabao said yesterday that severe pollution and high energy use remained big challenges despite the government’s costly campaign to repair the environment.

Speaking at the opening of the National People’s Congress, he vowed Beijing would “unswervingly” push the anti-pollution drive and address climate change.

But his renewed promises failed to cheer mainland environmentalists, who said the damage was a lot worse than Mr Wen has said and were unhappy with the government’s inability to reverse the situation.

They said Mr Wen had talked little about the grave situation in dealing with global warming, and the speech was short of pledges to do more to help make the international climate change campaign a success.

According to Mr Wen, Beijing reported progress in curbing the emission of major pollutants and promoting energy efficiency last year, the second time since 2006.

Energy use per unit of gross domestic product was cut by 4.59 per cent. Emissions of acid rain-causing sulfur dioxide and chemical oxygen demand (COD), two keys in measuring water pollution, fell by 5.95 per cent and 4.42 per cent respectively.

Beijing set ambitious targets three years ago as part of a five-year plan to cut energy consumption by 20 per cent and the aforementioned pollutants by 10 per cent by next year.

Referring to a major achievement in protecting the environment, Mr Wen said energy use per unit of GDP had dropped by 10 per cent over the past three years compared with the 2005 figure, while COD and sulfur dioxide emissions had been cut by 6.6 per cent and nearly 9 per cent.

“We will implement the … plan for addressing climate change and become better able to respond to it,” he said.

Zhang Weiqing, a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, said the mainland’s overall environment had been deteriorating despite progress in some areas, which was far from enough to reverse the deterioration. “People are worried that it continues to get worse despite officials claiming otherwise,” he said yesterday. “Officials are still obsessed with development, but what’s the point … if the environment we live in is completely ruined?”

Environmentalists said the addiction to coal and policy priority on maintaining high growth would make it much more difficult to meet the pollution control targets on time.