8 December 2014
The Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo wants to ban diesel cars and the pollution they bring from the streets of the French capital. But not long ago, diesel engines were thought to be environmentally friendly. What could have gone wrong?
Opinion on diesel cars has swung widely over the years.
Diesel is a more efficient fuel than petrol, but in the past diesel engines were often noisy and dirty.
Then, with growing concerns over climate change, car manufacturers were urged to produce cleaner, quieter diesel cars to capitalise on their extra fuel efficiency.
The cars were fitted with a trap to catch the particles of smoke associated with the fuel. Several governments rewarded the manufacturing improvements by incentivising the purchase and use of diesel cars.
But the policy has backfired.
Going into reverse
First, there have been problems with the particle traps – some drivers have removed them because they sometimes don’t work properly unless the car is driven hot.
Second, the diesels are still producing nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which irritates the lungs of people with breathing problems. Diesels make several times more NO2 than petrol cars.
Now, in order to meet European air pollution laws, politicians are being forced into an embarrassing U-turn, telling drivers that they’ve decided they don’t much like diesels after all.
MPs in the UK have mooted a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, while the mayor of Paris has called for a ban.
Several European nations are currently in breach of EU clean air laws.
The EU’s NO2 limit was exceeded at 301 sites in 2012, including seven in London. The concentration on Marylebone Road was more than double the limit.
Districts in Athens, Berlin, Brussels, Madrid, Paris, and Rome are also exceeded the ceiling.
Not just carbon: Key pollutants for human health
- Particulate matter (PM): Can cause or aggravate cardiovascular and lung diseases, heart attacks and arrhythmias. Can cause cancer. May lead to atherosclerosis, adverse birth outcomes and childhood respiratory disease. The outcome can be premature death.
- Ozone (O3): Can decrease lung function and aggravate asthma and other lung diseases. Can also lead to premature death.
- Nitrogen oxides (NO2): Exposure to NO2 is associated with increased deaths from heart and lung disease, and respiratory illness.
- Polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), in particular benzo a-pyrene (BaP): Carcinogenic.
Politicians are now scurrying to persuade the courts that they are obeying an EU demand to clean up the air as soon as possible.
The Paris mayor said at the weekend that she wanted the city to become ‘semi-pedestrianised’, with a ban on diesel cars in the city centre and some neighbourhoods given entirely to residents’ cars, delivery vehicles and emergency vehicles.
“I want diesel cars out of Paris by 2020,” she said.
Ms Hidalgo hopes that her plan will improve the quality of the air in a city where, on average, people live six or seven months less than those who are not exposed to the same levels of pollution.
Adding electric vans and putting limits on tourist buses would also help lessen the public health risk, she said.
Bikes are expected to become the favoured form of transport, with cycle lanes doubled by 2020 in a $141m (£90m) plan.
The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson has promised to halve pollution, spending around $516m (£330m) to bring 2,400 hybrid buses, zero-emission taxis and 10,000 street trees. The announcement came weeks after he was forced to accept that Oxford Street has some of the highest levels of NO2 in the world.
Central London will also have an ‘Ultra Low Emission Zone’ in 2020. Mr Johnson has previously faced criticism from health and environment lobby groups complaining that he was dragging his feet in meeting EU targets.
The UK government says it is responding to EU demands by bringing forward new plans. Labour say the government has ignored the issue – they demand low-emissions zones in all of the UK’s major cities.
According to the European Environment Agency, air pollution is the top environmental risk factor for premature death in Europe; it increases the incidence of a wide range of diseases.
Particulate matter (PM) and ground-level ozone (O3) are the most harmful pollutants.
Vehicles are by no means the only source of pollutants – some industries are major polluters too, and shipping in some places. But the politicians who run Europe’s biggest cities have protested that they cannot control pollution from industry elsewhere that drifts into their area.
With so many nations failing to meet pollution laws, the EU is under pressure to relax air standards.
13 December, 2014
Environment officials had another victory yesterday, securing funding for an extension to the Ta Kwu Ling landfill and a study into expanding the Tuen Mun tip.
The Legislative Council’s Finance Committee approved the controversial HK$7.5 billion plan to expand the New Territories landfill, which officials had said would reach capacity by 2017.
Lawmakers will vote on a proposal to build a HK$19.2 billion incinerator on an artificial island near Shek Kwu Chau on Friday.
Officials can now proceed with the expansion plan for Ta Kwu Ling, which will add 70 hectares to the landfill and capacity for another 19 million cubic metres of waste. The building work is expected to be tendered out by the end of the year, and the extension should open by 2018.
Last week, lawmakers approved funding for the HK$2.1 billion expansion of the Tseung Kwan O tip, triggering outrage from residents who said they were considering legal action.
Both of the landfill projects had been delayed for over six weeks by filibustering.
Support from the pro-establishment camp was crucial for the Ta Kwu Ling project, which was passed by 34 votes in favour to 19 against. Pan-democrats continued their non-cooperation campaign by tabling amendments, at least 40 of which were put forward for debate – most of them from People Power’s Albert Chan Wai-yip. All were rejected.
Some HK$38 million in funding for a feasibility study into the Tuen Mun landfill expansion was also passed yesterday, with 27 lawmakers for it and 16 against.
Officials had tried to quell opposition to the plan by shrinking the proposed expansion by 20 hectares to 180 hectares.
Lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung tabled a motion that independent health checks be carried out on Tuen Mun residents before work began. But it was rejected, along with dozens more.
The many social, environmental and economic benefits that would result from robust resource policies have been recognised by both the European Union and the governments of its member states. For example, by boosting re-use and repair of products, jobs are created while the impacts from mineral and metal extraction, incineration and landfill are avoided. But ambitions for encouraging re-use and repair, and the broader vision of a more resource-efficient and lowerconsuming Europe, appear to be at risk of being abandoned by policy-makers.
This briefing documents a series of community-led projects that are helping Europe to reduce its resource use and waste, and makes policy recommendations that would enable these best-practices to become the norm. The case studies show that it is often local, under-resourced communities, guided by principles of sustainability, that are at the forefront of improving resource use and waste prevention.
Without adequate political and financial support however, these activities will remain a scattered minority, and often risk fizzling out due to a lack of resources or infrastructure. The EU and its member states have strong policy options at their disposal to encourage such projects, boosting economies in a way that has clear social and environmental co-benefits. The policy recommendations in this briefing are designed to bridge the gap between Europe’s unfulfilled policy goals and the lower-consuming and resource-efficient Europe that the EU can – and must – become.
17 December, 2014
Hong Kong’s pollution levels are creeping back to “normal” following the clearance of the final occupied zone in Causeway Bay, as calls for pedestrians to reclaim the city centre resonated among protesters eager to continue voicing their discontent.
The air quality in all three previously occupied zones of the city – Admiralty, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok – has already declined since the roads that had been car-free for over 70 days returned to normal. They were cleared of the tents and barriers of the so-called Umbrella Movement.
The Clean Air Network recorded increases in PM 2.5 ranging from about 40 per cent in Mong Kok to over 80 per cent in Admiralty and Central.
Hong Kong’s general air quality is below the standards set by the World Health Organisation – prompting green groups to call for pedestrian zones in the densely packed city centre.
The Occupy Movement “provided the perfect scenario of showing the potential results of creating pedestrian zones” said Kwong Sum-yin, CEO of Clean Air Network. “It flipped people’s understanding of roads: they should not be for cars but for people as well,” she said. “We need not ‘return to normal’ with congested roads and filthy air.”
A plea for the city not to return to normal also appeared on a giant banner hung up on Victoria Peak, sporting the wording “Don’t forget the original goal” – in reference to protesters’ ongoing push for universal suffrage
The yellow sign, measuring six metres long by a metre wide and attached to the cliff by several cables, is the fourth to have been put up by Occupy supporters over the last couple of months.
Last Saturday, a banner of similarly large proportions – measuring six metres by two metres – was hung from Devil’s Peak, near Kowloon, bearing a message that called for Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to resign.
Environment groups like Clean Air Network have long called for pedestrianisation of densely-packed Hong Kong, where daily traffic jams are par for the course.
The group, which compared PM 2.5 levels before and after the clearance, recommends pedestrian zones in Des Voeux Road Central – a bustling street that is flanked by buildings on both sides, creating a “canyon-like” effect that traps emissions from vehicles.
“Now, with exceptionally positive results from the unplanned ‘pedestrianised-like zone’ the government cannot afford to turn a blind eye to this opportunity,” Kwong said.
Speaking at a summit on child health in Hong Kong in October, Professor Ruth Etzel of the World Health Organisation said that reducing air pollution should be top priority for local policymakers, warning that children are far more likely to develop illnesses as a result of poor air quality than adults.
“Hong Kong is in an artificial valley of skyscrapers, so the air settles and makes it very bad for children walking the streets,” she said, warning that their weaker immune systems meant that exposure to harmful particles could lead to lung problems later on in life.
Additional reporting by Vivienne Chow
DEC. 14, 2014
LIMA, Peru — Shortly before 2 a.m. on Sunday, after more than 36 straight hours of negotiations, top officials from nearly 200 nations agreed to the first deal committing every country in the world to reducing the fossil fuel emissions that cause global warming.
In its structure, the deal represents a breakthrough in the two-decade effort to forge a significant global pact to fight climate change. The Lima Accord, as it is known, is the first time that all nations — rich and poor — have agreed to cut back on the burning oil, gas and coal.
But the driving force behind the new deal was not the threat of sanctions or other legal consequences. It was global peer pressure. And over the coming months, it will start to become evident whether the scrutiny of the rest of the world is enough to pressure world leaders to push through new global warming laws from New Delhi to Moscow or if, as a political force, international reproach is impotent.
The strength of the accord — the fact that it includes pledges by every country to put forward a plan to reduce emissions at home — is also its greatest weakness. In order to get every country to agree to the deal, including the United States, the world’s largest historic carbon polluter, the Lima Accord does not include legally binding requirements that countries cut their emissions by any particular amount.
Instead, each nation will agree to enact domestic laws to reduce carbon emissions and put forth a plan by March 31 laying out how much each one will cut after 2020 and what domestic policies it will pass to achieve the cuts.
Top Australian and Chinese experts have teamed up to tackle the global problem of air pollution.
Queensland University of Technology (QUT) is a driving force behind a new transnational research centre that is investigating the science of, and solutions to, all forms of air pollution.
The Australia-China Centre for Air Quality Science and Management was launched on Friday December 5 at Beijing’s Chinese Research Academy for Environmental Sciences (CRAES).
Among its founding directors is QUT’s Professor Lidia Morawska, an internationally renowned pollution expert with the Institute for Future Environments (IFE) and Institute for Health and Biomedical Innovation, who said air pollution was a large, complex and borderless problem.
“It already does immense damage to people and the environment, and that damage is expected to intensify as the populations, economies and cities of China and other developing countries expand over the coming decades,” she said.
“Pollutants from vehicles, factories and power plants, as well as airborne dust from deserts and exposed soil, cause or contribute to many health problems, especially cardiovascular and respiratory diseases as well as cancer.
“The health bill from these problems is significant for every country. In Australia, the cost equates to 9.4% of the country’s GDP, with about $5 billion of this spent on respiratory diseases alone.”
QUT has a strong air pollution research program through its World Health Organization-designated International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health. Led by Professor Morawska, the laboratory has contributed to all WHO global policy documents on this topic since 1996.
In addition, the QUT Biofuels Engine Research Facility plays a key role in examining the impact of new bio-based hydrocarbon fuels on emissions. Much of this work at QUT is led by Professor Zoran Ristovski who collaborates closely with Chinese colleagues in Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong.
Professor Morawska said the new Australia-China collaboration would expand this research effort and enhance its impact on the real world, particularly in the Western Pacific region.
“There’s so much we still need to learn about the causes and effects of air pollution,” she said.
“We will study its different origins and scales and how it affects human health and the environment; we will develop new technologies and techniques to better monitor, prevent and mitigate air pollution.
“We’ll be participating in national and international policy discussions about air pollution to help governments find the most efficient and effective ways to control it.
“The centre will also nurture the next generation of Australian and Chinese scientists, developing the people and knowledge the world needs this century to beat the problem of air pollution.”
The centre is the culmination of years of discussions and collaborations between QUT and more than twenty universities and government agencies in Australia and China.
Executive Director of the IFE Professor Ian Mackinnon, who played a key role in planning the new centre, said the scale of the problem – more evident in China but equally of concern in many Western Pacific countries – demanded a massive international and interdisciplinary response from researchers and governments.
“The only way to address these problems effectively is through collaboration – between researchers from different disciplines and different countries and between universities, governments and industry,” he said.
“We need physicists, chemists, statisticians and modellers working with doctors, engineers and urban planners – and all of them talking to politicians and public servants.”
About the Australia-China Centre for Air Quality Science and Management
The inaugural directors are: Professor Lidia Morawska, QUT; Professor Fahe Chai, CRAES; Professor Chris Chao , Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. QUT’s Associate Professor Xiang-Yu (Janet) Hou, Director of Research Development in North Asia, also played a key role in planning and establishing the new centre.
Numerous other supporting organisations have been involved in setting the strategic direction of the Centre including: the World Health Organisation; the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection; Clean Air Asia; and the Queensland Department of Industry, Science, Innovation, Technology and the Arts.
The following organisations and government departments were represented at the centre’s December 5 launch: QUT; Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences; Shanghai Academy of Environmental Sciences; Tsinghua University; Peking University; East China University of Science and Technology; Fudan University; Hong Kong University; Hong Kong University of Science and Technology; Hong Kong Polytechnic University; Hong Kong City University; CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research; The University of Sydney; The University of New South Wales.
About the QUT Institute for Future Environments
QUT’s IFE brings together researchers and students from across the fields of science, engineering, law, business, education and the creative industries to study our natural, built and virtual environments. The IFE’s mission is to generate knowledge, technology and practices that make our world more sustainable, secure and resilient.
04 December, 2014
Given the controversy surrounding the proposed Shek Kwu Chau incinerator and extensions to the landfills, you would think a proposal that involved zero waste, zero pollution and zero waste to landfill would be of interest to the government and the public at large.
Zero Waste Smart City Resources Association says it can do this by the end of 2018 and is today sending copies of the proposal it sent to the government to the district councils and legislative councillors. Furthermore, Zero Waste chief executive Peter Reid says his company’s proposals would obviate the need to extend the landfills since there would be no waste left to send.
At the same time there would be no waste for the mega incinerator, organic waste treatment plants, hazardous waste incinerator, or even the sewage sludge incinerator.
The approach views “waste” as a resource, much of which can be recycled on a commercial basis. The government’s approach assumes waste is useless and is proposing to incinerate it, a process which produces up to a third by weight in toxic waste which has to be sent to landfill.
The zero-waste scheme envisages that the waste will be sorted within Hong Kong’s 18 districts using advanced proven digital waste separation technologies and waste applications at no charge to households. The food and green waste would also be dealt with at district level using anaerobic digestion plants, which would produce fertiliser and fish food. Recyclables would also be extracted at this stage. The remaining waste after this would be sent to a plasma vapourisation closed-cycle combined power and heat plant to be built at the Tai Po Industrial estate or the Science and Technology Park.
This would produce syngas to be used in the production of electricity or fed into the gas network. Reid believes his proposal can achieve a 12.5 per cent net return on investment. This stands in stark contrast to the government proposals which will cost about HK$60 billion to build and operate.
3 Dec 2014
Can 50km of concrete, steel and tarmac bring greater integration within the Pearl River Delta region, revive Hong Kong’s flagging economy and spur the city on to greater financial heights? That’s the question most people have asked about the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, which is scheduled for a grand opening in 2016. After all, advocates for the project have for many years now championed the structure as an economic saviour, a tourism booster and the most effective connection in the Pearl River Delta region.
Earlier this month, the government announced that it is seeking an additional $5billion in funding for an artificial island off eastern Lantau, which would form part of the bridge’s road network. That’s on top of the $83b that Hong Kong is already contributing to the $132.9b project. And, with this news, comes more speculation. Indeed, there’s now a greater need to reflect on whether the benefits of the bridge will ultimately outweigh the costs, especially as the money is coming from public coffers.
There’s also a need to look at whether Hong Kong as a city is set to get the best out of this colossal piece of infrastructure. It’s only fair to examine whether or not the newbridge will fail as a white elephant or herald the start of a beautiful relationship between the three cities that it links together.
Supporters of the project cite the economic benefits alongside the expected increase in tourists and the revitalisation of the city’s property market as positive reasons for the bridge’s existence. Anti-bridge proponents focus more on the potential environmental damage, saying that it’s simply a vanity project. While both sides rant on, though, it’s ultimately the rising cost of the whole project that has provoked fresh debate in the past few weeks. “There’s certainly no economic justification in building a bridge,” says Bob McKercher, professor of tourism management at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. “When you look at the numbers, it’s a complete white elephant. It will never pay for itself. And, right now, the traffic flow will only ever go one way – and that’s from Hong Kong to Zhuhai and Macau. There just isn’t enough of a population to have traffic flowing the other way. And the only real beneficiaries of the bridge will perhaps be Disney, the airport and Ngong Ping. I can’t see anybody else in Hong Kong benefitting from it.”
In response to claims that the bridge will boost Hong Kong’s tourism industry, McKercher explains: “People in Zhuhai are not going to come to Hong Kong because they can get everything they need from Macau. The studies that I’ve looked at indicate that there was a huge demand initially, but other studies have indicated that the bridge would never pay for itself. To me, this is just another unnecessary piece of infrastructure that has been justified by the god of tourism, by people who just don’t understand tourism.”
Critics have also pointed out the bridge’s contribution to air pollution and destruction of marine habitats, particularly in relation to the endangered pink dolphins living within the vicinity of the construction site. “The Environmental Impact Assessment only took into account the issue of piledriving for underwater noise reports,” says Gary Stokes, director of non-profit organisation Sea Shepherd Asia. “What they didn’t do is to consider the terrible everyday ongoing construction noise. Dolphins communicate and navigate through sound, so in human terms it’d be like being constantly blinded by a big, strong light. They wouldn’t be able to find their way around.”
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Many pro-bridgers have a brighter perspective. Stephen Townsend, director of urban design at architectural firm Gensler Asia, proposes a more holistic view when it comes to the bridge’s pros and cons beyond Hong Kong. “I think that real estate prices are going to skyrocket in Zhuhai because of the bridge, like in Shenzhen 20 years ago,” he says. “It brings services and spontaneous informal access directly from Hong Kong that we didn’t have before. Now I can have a house in Zhuhai at a third of the price and three times the space, and actually work in Hong Kong.”
Townsend continues: “I think the developers who own shopping centres in Hong Kong are going to be very happy once that bridge opens. And if you own property on Lantau Island, I think you’re also going to be happy that there’s now a marketplace that has direct access to the property market. I think the emphasis for growth in Hong Kong, considering the population will grow another two million in the next 15 years, will be around the Lantau, Tuen Mun and Sheung Wan areas. And a lot of that will depend on that connection to provide a balance of services, people and industry going back
“The bridge is beneficial in terms of trade, logistics and tourism by facilitating people and goods movements in the region,” says Allen Ha, chairman of the Lantau Development Alliance. “It will also be beneficial for our airport in terms of connectivity with the rest of the world. But, right now, if we just build the bridge, the tourists may still just go and stay at the traditional places [like Tsim Sha Tsui]. Our proposal then is to increase our receiving capacity in Lantau by building new hotels, which can help alleviate some of the tourist overflow in Hong Kong. Ultimately, we’re looking at a bigger area than Macau, Zhuhai and Hong Kong. We’re talking about the population in the whole Pearl River Delta, and allowing people to travel to a new place within an hour.” The Highways Department has also informed Time Out that ‘the journey time between Hong Kong International Airport and Zhuhai will be reduced from its current four hours or so to about 45 minutes’.
Despite all the conflicting viewpoints, the failure to integrate a rail link option as a form of public transportation is being viewed by both pro and anti-bridgers as a major oversight. “While [a rail link] would have probably raised the cost of the bridge considerably, it would have been fortuitous to have one, even if it just went to the immigration island between Zhuhai and Macau,” says Townsend. McKercher goes even further on the subject: “In light of concerns over air pollution, why the hell
are they building a bridge to put in more vehicular traffic? Why didn’t they also include a rail link to move people efficiently from border to border?”
Whether or not the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge brings any or all of its predicted benefits remains to be seen. And whether it affects the environment as much as some expect it to also hangs in the balance. But either way, the city is paying for it right now in hard cash. Like a car on the hard shoulder of the bridge, there’s no turning back. “It’s too late – we’re already building it,” says Townsend. “We can’t fight it. As a community, of course we can complain about it all we can. But I think we now need to figure out how we can make it work and how we can protect the areas of Hong Kong that we love from overspeculation and overexploitation.”