Clear The Air News Blog Rotating Header Image

July 21st, 2015:

Hong Kong surgeon and lawmaker most absent for Legco committee meetings

Leung Ka-lau attended just 15pc of Finance Committee meetings, citing scheduling conflicts with his medical obligations and filibustering.

Lawmaker and surgeon, Leung Ka-lau. Photo: May Tse

Lawmaker and surgeon, Leung Ka-lau. Photo: May Tse

Medical sector representative Dr Leung Ka-lau attended just 15 per cent of the Legislative Council’s Finance Committee meetings last year, sparking concerns about whether he can strike a balance between his work as a doctor and a lawmaker. The surgeon and pro-establishment legislator also topped the no-show chart for Legco’s House Committee meetings, alongside Democrat Albert Ho Chun-yan with a 34 per cent attendance rate. He was also the third least active member at regular Wednesday Legco meetings, attending 82 per cent of them.

The Post obtained Legco statistics which showed the attendance rates of all lawmakers at the three major bodies – the full council, the House Committee and the Finance Committee – in the legislative year that ended last week. Leung said he was usually busy meeting patients when he was absent, adding his sessions at Alice Ho Miu Ling Nethersole Hospital in Tai Po every Friday always overran, forcing him to skip House and Finance Committee meetings in the afternoon.

unnamed (16)

But Leung, the only pro-establishment lawmaker who voted against the Beijing-inspired model for political reform in Hong Kong last month, said he had no plan to rearrange his schedule to boost his attendance in the coming year. “I believe my voters would understand me,” he said. “They know that the Finance Committee is not functioning normally right now … There weren’t that many Finance Committee meetings before.”

Several filibusters – usually initiated by radical pan-democrats – were staged in the Finance Committee last year to fight controversial government funding applications for initiatives such as landfill expansion and the creation of an innovation and technology bureau. Last week, 14 extra Finance Committee sessions were held ahead of the summer recess so lawmakers could scrutinise outstanding funding requests, including one for the new bureau. The filibusters also affected overall turnout in the Finance Committee. Only 45 per cent of lawmakers showed up at a meeting held on July 17. Indeed, no lawmakers – including committee chairman Tommy Cheung Yu-yan – managed to attend all sessions held over the past year.

Leung was not the only lawmaker who cited filibusters as the key reason to skip meetings. Outgoing lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah did the same. He came second last on the Finance Committee’s no-show list. “Requiring me to sit here all day to see lawmakers filibuster – sorry, I cannot do it,” said Tong.

The senior counsel and former Civic Party member, who attended 88 per cent of council meetings, also said he had spent most of his time last year looking for a way out for political reform and had therefore devoted less time to legislative matters. Meanwhile, rural power broker Lau Wong-fat, who was the least active Legco member in the previous session, continued to have a poor attendance record.

He attended 79 per cent of council meetings, slightly more than the Labour Party’s Peter Cheung Kwok-che, who was the least active member with an attendance rate of 74 per cent. However, Cheung took two months of leave from November after he was diagnosed with gastric malignant lymphoma.

Lau, the city’s oldest lawmaker at the age of 78, admitted it was his health that prompted him to skip meetings.

Meanwhile, pro-establishment lawmaker Chan Kin-por, representing the insurance constituency, had the best attendance record. He showed up at every full council and House Committee meeting and missed just two finance sessions. Chinese University political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung said lawmakers had a duty to attend meetings, and noted that it was a global trend to regard legislative work as a full-time job.

Megacities must address climate change, Stanford Nobel laureate says

Nobel laureates, from left, standing: George Smoot, Peter Doherty, W.E. Moerner, Brian Schmidt; and seated, James Mirrlees, join memorandum team leader Penny Sackett in Hong Kong on April 25. (PIK/Asia Society)

Stanford chemist W.E. Moerner suggests that the world’s largest cities should take steps to reduce the impacts of global warming.

By Mark Shwartz

For W.E. Moerner, winning the 2014 Nobel Prize in chemistry has been a life-changing experience. Moerner, the Harry S. Mosher Professor of Chemistry at Stanford University, won the prestigious award on Oct. 8.

Since then, he has accepted numerous invitations to conferences around the world. Few have had as much impact on him as the Nobel Laureates’ Symposium on Global Sustainability held last April in Hong Kong. Moerner was among seven Nobel laureates invited to participate in the three-day symposium, which focused on how big cities – or “megacities” – particularly the booming metropolises of Asia, can address global climate change. Urban areas account for about 80 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, according to symposium organizers.

On April 25, the laureates signed a memorandum urging megacities in China and elsewhere to take a leadership role in combating climate change. On July 3, Moerner, Stanford physicist Steven Chu and other Nobel laureates signed a separate declaration on global warming. Both documents urged support for an upcoming United Nations conference on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In the following interview, Moerner discusses how these efforts could influence delegates at that crucial U.N. conference.

The memorandum you signed in Hong Kong calls on megacities to take the lead in curbing global climate change. That’s an intriguing approach to a problem that affects the whole planet.

Megacities can deal with problems like climate change faster than large nation-states can, in part because it’s a local problem they know they have to address. There are a lot of megacities in the world today and more are expected in the future.

Why was the symposium held in Hong Kong?

Part of the reason is that Hong Kong is one of those megacities with an amazingly dense population that depends on remote sources of water and power. One of their biggest problems is air conditioning. Imagine millions of single air conditioners in millions of apartments. A central air-conditioning system would certainly be more efficient.

Another big challenge comes from shipping, a major contributor of airborne particulates. The Hong Kong government recently decided to require that incoming ships and boats switch to more efficient green fuels that reduce pollution. That’s already required in California.

The memorandum pays particular attention to places like refugee camps and informal settlements that are becoming large, unsustainable cities.

That’s exactly right. The cities of tomorrow are forming right now. These informal settlements obviously have needs for basic services – power, water, sanitation. But little thought is given to global sustainability in terms of how power is used, how heat is generated, how sanitation is provided or how food is cooked. We are simply urging people to recognize this problem and support the sustainable development of these settlements as they grow.

You also urge support for the United Nations-led effort to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

Our memorandum will be presented to key stakeholders at the 2015 U.N. Conference of the Parties, COP 21, the group that’s meeting in Paris in December to try once again to see if an international agreement can be reached to limit the average global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius.

The memorandum says, “For our part, we will use our passion and skills to support efforts to limit and manage climate change.” What does that mean for you?

First, it means trying to make people aware of the memorandum. I’ve been invited to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. I also give a lot of lectures. This is an important issue that I would like to address in whatever way is appropriate.

Does your own research involve energy or climate change?

Our lab has received funding from the Department of Energy to study important proteins and enzymes involved in energy storage, conversion and capture. For example, we’re looking at the behavior of photosynthetic antenna proteins in microorganisms and plants. These proteins absorb sunlight and then transfer that energy to the reaction center where photosynthesis occurs. Knowing how the proteins work at the single-molecular level could be useful information for designing artificial photosynthetic systems.

You clearly have a passion for sustainable energy, from your basic research to the global scale.

That’s one of the nice aspects about the symposium on sustainability. It allowed me to learn more about the bigger picture, how these things connect together on a much larger scale. It’s complementary to the laboratory work we do that’s very fundamental.

Does it seem like people are more willing to listen to you now that you’re a Nobel laureate?

In fact that is true, whether it’s right or wrong, good or bad. It’s one of those amazing things about the Nobel Prize: People listen to you more, so there is an opportunity to have more impact. It’s an important responsibility.

Are you optimistic that the problem of climate change can be solved?

There is so much intellectual creativity being directed toward this problem now – inventing new ways of making batteries, collecting energy and so forth.

But it’s important that people not deny the science. I don’t appreciate those who take a cafeteria-style approach to science: I’ll take a few things but I won’t take others, because I don’t like those results. About 97 percent of scientists believe that human-caused climate change is real. There are 3 percent who don’t, and some people focus on the 3 percent.

Predictions about climate change are based on probabilities. Rather than attacking this approach as a lack of knowledge, it should be understood that we’re simply trying to be careful about what we know.

We’ve already changed the world in one way by causing CO2 to increase a lot. We can change it in another way by reducing the rate of growth of CO2. I’m hoping that this will be realized in enough time for us to make significant changes and limit the effects of climate change. We prefer to be optimistic whenever possible