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October 11th, 2013:

SCMP Editorial: Decide quickly on waste charging

Waste charging has long been recognised as an effective way to tackle the mounting rubbish crisis in Hong Kong. Regrettably, it has been all talk and little action over the years. Meanwhile, our waste has grown by 80 per cent over the past three decades, even though the population expanded by just one-third during that period. With 9,000 tonnes of refuse dumped every day, our landfills are fast filling up. Unless decisive action is taken, and soon, the situation is not sustainable.

Yet another public consultation has been released by the government. The focus, thankfully, is no longer on yes or no, but how. The political will shown is to be welcomed, as are the details for discussion. They will pave the way for sustainable living for our future generations. It is in everyone’s long-term interest to study the proposals carefully and make the right choice today.

The suggestion of charging a family of three HK$30 to HK$74 per month does not seem unreasonable. Whatever the charge, it must be sufficient to bring about behavioural change yet be affordable to low-income earners. The idea of a waiver to reward the least wasteful households also is worth exploring.

The task goes beyond agreeing how much to charge. How to levy it is a bigger challenge. The options set out in the paper have their pros and cons. For instance, a household-based levy can provide a better incentive to reduce waste, though illegal dumping may be a problem. Charging on a per-building basis makes enforcement easier, but lessens the incentive to reduce waste. The community and the government will have to work together to make the right choice. The objective – encouraging less wasteful habits – must override administrative convenience, or the charge will merely be a levy to boost the public coffers.

No waste reduction strategy is complete without recycling. The consultation document acknowledges that separating recyclables is one of the ways to make a difference. The goal of reducing municipal solid waste by 40 per cent by 2022 hinges on recycling efforts starting now. It is essential that the government steps up efforts on this front.

No one likes to be charged for getting rid of what they don’t need. But a wasteful society like Hong Kong has no way out but along this road. The quicker we move, the better.


6 Oct 2013

Sludge Treatment in Hong Kong

In the late 90’s, the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) began to conduct studies into improving sludge treatment in Hong Kong, and they sped up progress in 2009 when it became clear that landfill space for sludge was on the verge of exhaustion. The result was the approval of a project to build a sludge treatment plant in Tuen Mun, and it would involve incineration in order to reduce the volume of the waste. Despite suggestions for the recycling of incineration ash, it seems that the ash will still be returned to landfills.

The location plan for the sludge treatment plant in Tuen Mun

The 2009 proposal can be found here.

Officials’ comments on preliminary ICAO aircraft emissions agreement

SCMP, AFP (Montreal):

A first-ever global deal on curbing the airline industry’s rising carbon emissions was agreed on Friday, the International Civil Aviation Organization said, though hammering out the details could take years.

The full agreement is not scheduled to take effect until 2020 but the most contentious issues have been resolved, officials said, as the ICAO’s full assembly met behind closed doors in Montreal.

The deal “is an historic milestone for air transport and for the role of multilateralism in addressing global climate challenges,” ICAO Council President Roberto Kobeh Gonzalez said in a statement.

Air transport “now becomes the only major industry sector to have a multilateral global market-based mechanism agreement in place to help govern future greenhouse gas emissions,” he added.

Leading up to the vote, China and India had joined the United States and Russia in balking at a European Union push for a carbon levy on flights within three years.

But at midday, after some 1,400 delegates representing 170 member states voted on the executive committee’s resolution, officials said the plan had been passed and details of the accord would follow.

“The good news is (in) having concluded a general agreement that includes China and India,” said a diplomat involved in the negotiations.

Aviation accounts for around three per cent of global CO2 emissions but the ICAO forecasts that by 2050 emissions will have risen between four and six times the levels they were in 2010.

Last year, the EU suspended its CO2 Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) for intercontinental flights, after facing a storm of criticism.

Under the EU’s ill-fated arrangement, airlines flying in EU airspace were required to buy pollution credits to cover 15 per cent of their CO2 emissions for the entire flight, wherever it originated.

Several nations rejected the scheme that threatened to tip into a trade war.

The ICAO resolution “is a strong message to Europe after it lost three votes on its proposals,” a negotiator said.

According to a draft text of the agreement submitted for consideration at the ICAO meeting, countries must agree by 2016 on a global market-based mechanism and reject all regional schemes, according to the negotiator.

The measure is to be accompanied by a series of technical and operational steps to reduce emissions, said a European Commission statement.

Specific proposals under consideration for curbing CO2 emissions include a carbon tax and a carbon trading system.

The European Union would thus have to abandon its more ambitious ETS and adhere to the new global system for curbing greenhouse gases linked to global warming.

Even so, European Commission Vice President Siim Kallas praised Friday’s outcome.

“I am very pleased that after long and hard negotiations we finally have a global deal on aviation emissions,” Kallas said in a statement.

“This is good news for the traveling public, good news for the aviation industry, but most importantly it is very good news for the planet,” he said.

Furthermore, he added, the deal averts a “damaging conflict among trading partners.”

European Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard meanwhile congratulated the ICAO members.

“After so many years of talks the ICAO has finally agreed to the first-ever global deal to curb aviation emissions,” she said.

In addition to the mechanism for curbing emissions, the accord also calls for promoting the use of better alternative aviation fuels and fuel-saving navigation.

There is also an exemption clause that provides a “fair and equitable solution” for a number of countries facing “special circumstances or with limited capabilities,” said the EU.

SCMP Editorial: Time for action in battle to clear roads of polluting vehicles

A revised government plan for improving air quality by getting the 84,000 dirtiest, or pre-Euro IV commercial diesel vehicles off our roads is going to take a year longer – until 2020 – despite an increase of HK$3 billion, or more than 33 per cent, in the cost to taxpayers. Lawmakers, understandably, put up a fight for the original deadline of 2019, but Legco’s environmental affairs panel was right in the end to unanimously endorse the revised scheme.

Devised to help meet tougher air-quality objectives to take effect next year, the plan is cash-incentive-based and therefore depends ultimately on the co-operation of fleet and vehicle owners. The transport trades criticised the original terms, asking for more money, more flexibility and more time, while green groups wanted early implementation. The industry may be seen to have prevailed in the revised plan. But if it works the community will be the real winner in a battle against air pollution in which we badly lag international benchmarks.

The government originally proposed ex gratia payments ranging from 10 per cent to 30 per cent of a vehicle’s replacement cost, with retirement deadlines beginning in 2016 and ending in 2019 for Euro III vehicles. Raising the subsidies to a range of 27 to 33 per cent and extending retirement deadlines by a year will, hopefully, meet the concerns of some in the trade that the terms were harsh on livelihoods. This will raise the estimated cost from HK$8.7 billion to HK$11.7 billion.

In addition, the new approach will limit the service life of newly registered vehicles to 15 years. Officials say these measures and the retrofitting of 1,400 franchised buses with diesel emission controls should significantly reduce roadside pollution, including tiny airborne particles most harmful to health, towards the end of the decade. Given that more than 3,000 people are estimated to die prematurely each year because of bad air, we trust the government has struck the right balance of carrot and stick. For the sake of our health it is time for action, not more talk.

5 Oct 2013