“when the Irish were faced with new environmental taxes, they quickly shifted to greener fuels and cars and began recycling with fervor. Automakers like Mercedes found ways to make powerful cars with an emissions rating as low as tinier Nissans. With less trash, landfills closed. And as fossil fuels became more costly, renewable energy sources became more competitive, allowing Ireland’s wind power industry to thrive. ”
Carbon Taxes Make Ireland Even Greener
Derek Speirs for The New York Times
Environmental Taxes in Ireland: Taxes on garbage and fossil fuels are part of Ireland’s novel strategy to shrink its debt.
DUBLIN — Over the last three years, with its economy in tatters, Ireland embraced a novel strategy to help reduce its staggering deficit: charging households and businesses for the environmental damage they cause.
The government imposed taxes on most of the fossil fuels used by homes, offices, vehicles and farms, based on each fuel’s carbon dioxide emissions, a move that immediately drove up prices for oil, natural gas and kerosene. Household trash is weighed at the curb, and residents are billed for anything that is not being recycled.
The Irish now pay purchase taxes on new cars and yearly registration fees that rise steeply in proportion to the vehicle’s emissions.
Environmentally and economically, the new taxes have delivered results. Long one of Europe’s highest per-capita producers of greenhouse gases, with levels nearing those of the United States, Ireland has seen its emissions drop more than 15 percent since 2008.
Although much of that decline can be attributed to a recession, changes in behavior also played a major role, experts say, noting that the country’s emissions dropped 6.7 percent in 2011 even as the economy grew slightly.
“We are not saints like those Scandinavians — we were lapping up fossil fuels, buying bigger cars and homes, very American,” said Eamon Ryan, who was Ireland’s energy minister from 2007 to 2011. “We just set up a price signal that raised significant revenue and changed behavior. Now, we’re smashing through the environmental targets we set for ourselves.”
By contrast, carbon taxes are viewed as politically toxic in the United States. Republican leaders in Congress have pledged to block any proposal for such a tax, and President Obama has not advocated one, although the idea has drawn support from economists of varying ideologies.
Yet when the Irish were faced with new environmental taxes, they quickly shifted to greener fuels and cars and began recycling with fervor. Automakers like Mercedes found ways to make powerful cars with an emissions rating as low as tinier Nissans. With less trash, landfills closed. And as fossil fuels became more costly, renewable energy sources became more competitive, allowing Ireland’s wind power industry to thrive.
Even more significantly, revenue from environmental taxes has played a crucial role in helping Ireland reduce a daunting deficit by several billion euros each year.
The three-year-old carbon tax has raised nearly one billion euros ($1.3 billion) over all, including 400 million euros in 2012. That provided the Irish government with 25 percent of the 1.6 billion euros in new tax revenue it needed to narrow its budget gap this year and avert a rise in income tax rates.
The International Monetary Fund, which oversees the rescue plan, recently suggested that Ireland should “expand the well-designed carbon tax” and its automobile taxes to generate even more money.
Although first proposed by the Green Party, the environmental taxes enjoy the support of all major political parties “because it puts a lot of money on the table,” said Frank Convery, an economist at University College Dublin. The bailout plan for 2013 requires Ireland to embrace a mix of new tax revenues and spending cuts.
Not everyone is happy. The prices of basic commodities like gasoline and heating oil have risen 5 to 10 percent. This is particularly hard on the poor, although the government has provided subsidies for low-income families to better insulate homes, for example. And industries complain that the higher prices have made it harder for them to compete outside Ireland.
“Prices just keep going up, and a lot of people think it’s a scam,” said Imelda Lyons, 45, as she filled her car at a gas station here. “You call it a carbon tax, but what good is being done with it to help the environment?”
The coalition government that enacted the taxes was voted out of office last year. “Just imagine President Obama saying in the debate, ‘I’ve got this great idea, but it’s going to increase your gasoline price,’ ” said Mr. Ryan, who lost his seat in the last election and now leads the Green Party. “People didn’t exactly cheer us on.”
A recent report estimated that a modest carbon tax in the United States that increased incrementally over time could generate about $1.25 trillion in revenue from 2012 to 2022, reducing the 10-year deficit by 50 percent, based on projections from the Congressional Budget Office.
“I think most economists — on the right and the left — think a carbon tax is a good idea,” said Aparna Mathur, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative research group that held a daylong seminar on carbon taxes in November. Some economists estimate that a carbon tax could raise $400 billion annually in the United States, she said. But the issue remains a nonstarter in the American political arena. even though Gilbert Metcalf, the Obama administration’s deputy assistant Treasury secretary for environment and energy, long promoted carbon taxes as a Tufts University economist.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative advocacy group, has even filed a Freedom of Information suit seeking the release of Treasury Department e-mails containing the word “carbon” to make sure that nothing is in the works. Like many other economists, Dr. Metcalf has argued that carbon taxation is preferable to government regulation or cap-and-trade systems because it sets a straightforward price on greenhouse gas emissions and is relatively hard to evade.
Although carbon taxes in some ways disproportionately affect the poor — who are less able to buy new, more efficient cars, for example — such taxes do heavily penalize the wealthy, who consume far more. As with “sin taxes” on cigarettes, the taxes also alleviate some of the societal costs of pollution.
For several years, the European Commission has encouraged debt-ridden members of the European Union to embrace environmental taxes, saying that its economists have concluded they have “a less detrimental macroeconomic impact” than new income taxes or corporate taxes.
“Europeans don’t like taxes either,” said Connie Hedegaard, the European commissioner for climate action. “But this is good for the environment, and also good for our competitiveness.”
Some of Europe’s strongest economies, like Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands, have taxed carbon dioxide emissions since the early 1990s, and Japan and Australia have introduced them more recently.
Ireland took the plunge after its economy collapsed in 2008 as a result of loose credit policies that created a real estate bubble; in one year, tax revenues fell 25 percent. With a huge bailout in 2010 by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, Ireland’s deficit soared to 11.9 percent of its gross domestic product, or over 30 percent with all loans factored in.
The environmental taxes work in concert with austerity measures like reduced welfare payments and higher fees for health care that are expected to save 2.2 billion euros this year. The carbon tax is levied on fossil fuels when they enter the country and is then passed on to consumers at the point of purchase. The automobile sales tax, which ranges from 14 to 36 percent of a car’s market price depending on its emissions, is simply folded into the sticker price.
That sent manufacturers racing to reduce emissions. Automakers like Mercedes and Volvo began making cars with high-efficiency diesel engines that shut off rather than idle when they stop, for example. “For manufacturers it’s all, ‘How low you can get?’ ” said Donal Duggan, a brand manager at an MSL showroom near central Dublin.
Other emissions taxes on cars, including the annual car registration fee, or road tax, are billed directly to customers, potentially adding thousands to annual operating costs. Ninety percent of new car sales last year were in the two lowest-emission tiers.
The taxes on garbage had an immediate impact. In Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County in southeastern Dublin, each home’s “black bin” for garbage headed to the landfill is weighed at pickup to calculate quarterly charges. Green bins for recyclables are emptied free of charge.
“There was a big furor initially, but now everything I throw out, I think, ‘How could I recycle this?’ ” said Tara Brown, a mother of three.
Of course, new environmental taxes bring new pain. Gas, always expensive in Europe, sells here for about $8 a gallon, around 20 percent more than in 2009 because of tightening market supplies and the new tax.
Still, Dr. Convery, the economist, is encouraging the government to raise carbon tax rates for 2013, declaring, “You don’t want to waste a good crisis to do what we should be doing anyway.”
Submitted by admin on Dec 28th 2012, 12:00am
Comment›Insight & Opinion
We do not need environmental and health experts to remind us that the quality of the air we breathe has a direct impact on public heath. For a small but populous city like Hong Kong, the importance of clean air cannot be overstated. Over the years, the public has been repeatedly assured by successive governments that officials are sparing no efforts in fighting air pollution. Despite research and reforms, however, our air quality still leaves a lot to be desired.
It remains to be seen whether the recent remarks made by the new team represent a breath of fresh air in the city’s strategy to combat pollution. In response to the Audit Commission’s criticism that air quality objectives have never been fully achieved over the past 25 years, deputy environment chief Christine Loh Kung-wai said previous governments had been too passive in updating the standards. But the new government was confident of achieving more stringent targets, which will be in place by 2014, she said.
Whether the problems have been given due attention and priority in the past is open to debate. Arguably, there is always room to do more. With the benefit of hindsight, many would probably agree that a lot more could have been done. It is hardly surprising to see incumbents attributing policy failures of their predecessors to a lack of political will. But when they criticise and vow to do better, public expectations are also raised accordingly. Failing to deliver will open themselves to similar attack in due course.
It takes more than rhetoric to convince the people that clean air is not an elusive goal. That Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is to deliver a comprehensive strategy in his policy address next month should be welcome news. Loh rightly pointed out that a more holistic approach is needed to reduce air pollution. Phasing out polluting diesel vehicles and upgrading the bus fleet are not enough. Elsewhere, strategies such as electronic road pricing have long been proved an effective tool to ease congestion and reduce road emissions. Loh seems to share the view, though she would not be drawn on whether the measure, first raised in 1982 but shelved because of a lack of consensus, would be back on the agenda.
The job of cleaning up the air falls squarely on Leung’s shoulders now. He needs to demonstrate stronger political will and, above all, the ability to deliver.
Clear the Air says: This is what they need in Central, Causeway Bay and Mongkok with only hybrid , electric or Euro VI buses plying the busy routes like Nathan Road and other designated Clean Air Zones.
Only then will we start to see lower roadside pollution in those areas.
Smooth ride for bus station despite a few bumps
The first working day at the new bus transit station in Tuen Mun went off smoothly – although a few passengers did board the wrong vehicle.
Friday, December 28, 2012
The first working day at the new bus transit station in Tuen Mun went off smoothly – although a few passengers did board the wrong vehicle.
The Siu Lam station was officially opened on Boxing Day and most of the passengers then were enjoying a holiday.
“The bus transit is still at a preliminary stage and the Transport Department will decide whether to remove some of the routes after getting feedback,” said acting transport commissioner Caroline Yip Lai-ching, adding that more than 100 passengers used the facility yesterday.
Kowloon Motor Bus deputy managing director Evan Auyang said commuters generally found the service more convenient than the MTR.
However, some passengers said they were confused and want better signs to direct them to the correct buses.
For instance, KMB Route 61M, which originally went to Lai King, now uses the facility as the final stop. This confused some passengers who wondered how they could reach their destinations.
Another bus transit towards Tuen Mun town is under construction and is expected to open in the second half of next year.
Submitted by admin on Dec 28th 2012, 12:00am
First study on microscopic airborne particles greeted with indifference by public and media, amid heavy focus on party’s new leadership
Mainland environmental officials must have breathed an ironic sigh of relief this month when some of the worst air pollution readings of the year in most cities went largely unnoticed, barely prompting any public discussion.
Unlike the nationwide outcry over worsening smog problems a year ago, most mainlanders appear to have had their eyes glued to the palace intrigues and power struggles exposed in the months leading up to the Communist Party’s generational leadership transition last month.
Even more worryingly from an environmental perspective, some deeply troubling recent revelations about the risks of breathing the dirty air in mainland cities attracted little attention from the media or the public.
The study by mainland scientists offered some clues about just how dangerous it is to live in areas with too much air pollution.
Nearly 2,600 people were expected to die prematurely in Beijing this year due to pollution from smog-causing fine particles, known as PM2.5, while the death toll in Shanghai was expected to top 3,300.
It was the first time that mainland pollution experts had singled out PM2.5 – microscopic airborne particles less than 2.5 microns in diameter – from among dozens of health-threatening pollutants.
The World Health Organisation says PM2.5, roughly a 28th of the diameter of a human hair, poses a far more serious health hazard than bigger particles such as PM10 – with a diameter of 10 microns – and many other pollutants because fine particles can be absorbed deep into the bloodstream and cause lung cancer and other deadly diseases.
Although the study, jointly released last week by Peking University’s school of public health and Greenpeace East Asia, has shed some much needed light on a vitally important public health issue, it is worth noting that it is far from comprehensive enough to paint a full picture of the health risks posed by PM2.5 pollution.
Air pollution expert Pan Xiaochuan said the scope and accuracy of the study had been significantly restricted due to a lack of adequate data – access to which is tightly controlled by the government.
“We have long been prepared for this kind of study, but we simply don’t have access to sufficient and credible data, which is the single most important reason that we lag behind many other countries in finding out the links between air pollution and public health,” Pan said. He and Greenpeace campaigner Zhou Rong , who both helped draft the report, were candid about the limitations of the study, which did not include statistics about deadly, chronic diseases caused by long-term exposure to PM2.5, or those about the accumulated health costs.
It remains unclear if those statistics are readily available at all, with many experts saying the mainland authorities have yet to approve any studies of the long-term health effects of living with poor air quality.
But why is that? Are mainland leaders unaware of the danger of air pollution?
That’s certainly not the case, with top leaders inside the secretive Zhongnanhai compound in central Beijing turning on air purifiers to cope with smog problems just days after the 2008 Olympics.
And it is no secret that air pollution kills people. Citing a World Bank report, Achim Steiner, former head of the UN Environment Programme, said during the Beijing Olympics that there were more than 200,000 premature deaths on the mainland each year as a result of air pollution, with the cost of pollution estimated at US$100 billion a year.
Some experts said the mainland authorities had suppressed the World Bank report.
Although Beijing has included PM2.5 in pollution parameters and allowed limited access to real-time PM2.5 monitoring data after coming under public pressure, it still lacks the sincerity to face the bleak reality and continues to play hide and seek on this issue.
Several mainland experts complain that the authorities have grown more sensitive about air pollution studies. The government used to tolerate some pilot research projects.
One, unveiled in 2006, found that about 358,000 residents of 600 mainland cities died prematurely in 2004 from breathing polluted air, with an estimated health cost of 152.7 billion yuan.
Another leading pollution scientist, who asked not to be named, said the government, including the environment ministry, now “simply refuse to do any research regarding the health effects of air pollution”.
“They don’t want to do it and they won’t allow academic research to go ahead,” the scientist said. “They don’t give a damn about the environment.”
Source URL (retrieved on Dec 28th 2012, 9:43am): http://www.scmp.com/news/china/article/1113804/worst-air-pollution-results-year-china-barely-noticed-public
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
EPA Finalizes Clean Air Standards for Industrial Boilers, Incinerators and Cement Kilns
Updated rules provide extensive public health protections, cut costs of compliance
The final adjustments to the standards are based on an extensive analysis of data and input from states, environmental groups, industry, lawmakers and the public. As a result of information gathered through this review, including significant dialogue and meetings with public health groups, industry, and the public, the final rule dramatically cuts the cost of implementation by individual boilers that EPA proposed in 2010. At the same time, these rules will continue to deliver significant public health benefits. EPA estimates that for every dollar spent to reduce these pollutants, the public will see $13 to $29 in health benefits, including fewer instances of asthma, heart attacks, as well as premature deaths.
Today’s rules set numerical emission limits for less than one percent of boilers – those that emit the majority of pollution from this sector. For these high emitting boilers and incinerators, typically operating at refineries, chemical plants and other industrial facilities, EPA is establishing more targeted emissions limits that protect public health and provide industry with practical, cost-effective options to meet the standards.
EPA has also finalized revisions to the Non-Hazardous Secondary Materials Rule to provide clarity on what types of secondary materials are considered non-waste fuels and provide greater flexibility in rule implementation. This final rule classifies a number of secondary materials as categorical non-wastes when used as a fuel and allows for operators to request that EPA identify specific materials through rulemaking as a categorical non-waste fuel.
Particle pollution and other harmful pollutants released by boilers and incinerators can lead to adverse health effects including cancer, heart disease, aggravated asthma and premature death. In addition, toxic pollutants such as mercury and lead that will be reduced by this rule are linked to developmental disabilities in children. These standards will avoid up to 8,100 premature deaths, prevent 5,100 heart attacks and avert 52,000 asthma attacks per year in 2015.
In a separate EPA action today, to meet a court deadline, the agency issued final amendments to the 2010 clean air standards for the cement manufacturing industry. The final amendments maintain the significant emission reductions from the 2010 standards, while providing industry additional time to implement the revised rules. More information: http://www.epa.gov/airquality/cement
More detailed information on the final standards for boilers and incinerators: www.epa.gov/airquality/combustion
HK shares air pollution concerns with WHO
The Hong Kong government has raised concerns about air pollution with the World Health Organization in Geneva.
The WHO’s director-general, Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun, says she was contacted in October by a senior government official with responsibility for “environmental health.”
Chan — who served as the territory’s director of health before joining the WHO — did not identify the official, but told an Asia Society lunch that they had discussed what could be done to improve local air quality, RTHK reports.
Submitted by admin on Dec 19th 2012, 12:00am
Shi Jiangtao firstname.lastname@example.org
A study reveals that the health risks posed by microscopic air pollutants have been grossly understated, with huge economic consequences
The health risks of microscopic air pollutants have been grossly underestimated on the mainland, with nearly 8,600 premature deaths expected this year in four major cities, a study has revealed.
And premature deaths are “just a tiny fraction” of the adverse health impacts of tiny airborne particles, less than 2.5 microns in diameter, known as fine particle matter 2.5 (PM2.5).
The startling findings were included in a report by Greenpeace East Asia and Peking University’s school of public health which, for the first time, focused on PM2.5 health hazards in urban areas.
Environmentalists have hailed the study, released yesterday, as ground-breaking, with data linking poor air quality to deadly diseases.
Noting that the World Bank once put the number of premature deaths on the mainland as a result of air pollution at more than 200,000, Professor Pan Xiaochuan, of Peking University, said the study focused on a single pollutant and had not taken into account the long-term health impact of PM2.5, which could be far more dangerous.
The study’s estimation of combined economic losses caused by premature deaths, put at 6.8 billion yuan (HK$8.34 billion), was also likely to be far lower than the real figure owing to limited access to official statistics, he added.
Fine particles have long been known to pose greater health risks than more than a dozen other air pollutants. They damage lung tissue and the cardiovascular system, cause lung cancer and other deadly diseases, and lead to a higher mortality rate.
Based on official mortality figures in 2010 and limited PM2.5 monitoring data in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Xian, mostly from environment-related research institutes, the study showed a more than 10 per cent rise in premature deaths caused by PM2.5 pollution in the four cities over the past two years.
More than two-thirds of the 8,572 premature deaths this year caused by the microscopic pollutant occurred in Beijing and Shanghai. Although Beijing’s air pollution problem was worse, Shanghai saw the most deaths linked to PM2.5 – 3,317.
Pan said the study, which used internationally accepted mathematical methods, closely resembled the trends found in many other countries.
“People living in less polluted areas appear to be more sensitive to poor air quality and more prone to pollution-induced diseases,” he said yesterday.
Pan and Greenpeace campaigner Zhou Rong, both of whom helped draft the report, said their estimated death tolls may be far lower than the real figures because of a lack of transparency on air pollution and health data.
“We’ve tried to find more pollution readings and statistics about deadly, chronic diseases caused by long-term exposure to PM2.5, but we have made little progress,” Zhou said.
Previous research, partly sponsored by the government and released in 2006, showed that about 358,000 residents in 600 mainland cities died prematurely in 2004 from breathing polluted air, with an estimated health cost of 152.7 billion yuan.
Although the central government has included PM2.5 in pollution parameters and unveiled a timetable for the mandatory release of PM2.5 monitoring data, Zhou said it was too little, too late.
“PM2.5 is putting public health at high risk every day, but worse still, if we follow the current official plans [on tackling air pollution] we would need to wait another 20 years to meet the national standard, which remains too risky compared to the WHO guidelines,” Zhou said. “Who can afford to wait?”
The report said premature deaths would be cut by at least 81 per cent and economic losses at the four cities alone could be reduced by 5.5 billion yuan if stricter World Health Organisation standards were adopted.
Source URL (retrieved on Dec 19th 2012, 6:27am): http://www.scmp.com/news/china/article/1107751/pm25-air-pollutants-causing-more-deaths-estimated-study-says