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November 30th, 2015:

Paris climate summit: Any deal reached on carbon emissions simply won’t be good enough

Kevin Rafferty says despite high expectations, whatever the final outcome of the UN conference, it is unlikely to be sufficient to stop dangerous global warming

There is good news and bad news from the circus of world leaders meeting in Paris for the next two weeks to try to save the planet and all of us on it from rising temperatures that will make life on earth unbearable.

The good news is that there is increasing hot air about a global agreement to reduce carbon emissions to try to slow global warming. The bad news is that any deal will not be enough.

The world is still divided into squabbling, often bitterly nationalistic countries, whose immediate or short-term interests are opposed to any global ideals

It is not merely a question of too little, too late: there are substantial unresolved scientific, economic, political and moral issues at stake, which require a global solution, but the world is still divided into squabbling, often bitterly nationalistic countries, whose immediate or short-term interests are opposed to any global ideals.

The meeting is starting on Monday in Paris [2]. Finally, except in US Republican circles, which are trying to silence scientists from scaring people with hard facts, the message is getting through that the world can’t go on living if we chuck carbon dio­xide and other pollutants into the atmosphere.

This year will be the hottest on record, according to the World Meteorological Organisation, and the world is on course to reach the significant milestone of 1 degree Celsius above the pre-industrial era.

In spite of the gloom, some scientists optimistically believe that “Science Superman” will ride to the rescue in the nick of time. Rapid development of electric cars could transform transport by replacing polluting cars, lorries and buses with clean green energy.

The cost of renewable energies, like solar power, is coming down, giving hope that in the foreseeable future, renewable non-polluting energy may replace the power plants that spew poison into the atmosphere. If transport and energy production go green, surely there is hope for humanity!?

The world’s governments have finally woken up to the dangers and opportunities of climate change. More than 180 of the 196 parties which have gathered in Paris, representing 97.8 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, have submitted pledges to reduce their carbon emissions, known as the “intended nationally determined contributions”, or INDCs.

“Green Planet” has become a buzz phrase. Big Western, Chinese and Japanese companies are salivating at the prospect of US$90 trillion in energy infrastructure business over the next 15 years. Optimists assert that if leaders in Paris signal they are serious about a green earth, business will deliver.

Such is the momentum that Timmons Roberts of the Brookings Institution declared that “2015 has been an unexpectedly positive year for climate change efforts, as the long-floundering UN process has finally begun to deliver some of what is needed”.

Roberts conceded that it’s not enough: “What do the INDCs add up to? Not enough reductions, unfortunately.” The world is still headed to 3.5 degrees Celsius, 3.1 degrees, or 2.7 degrees of warming above pre-industrial levels, “depending on the assumptions one uses in projections”, he said.

INDCs are indicators, not binding. John Kerry, the US secretary of state, has ruled out any agreement signed and sealed, knowing that a formal deal would have to be passed in the US Senate, where the Republicans would kill it. Still to be resolved is who will pay for cuts in developing countries’ emissions. With 45,000 delegates, lobbyists, media and other hangers-on in Paris, any agreement will be a baby step forward.

The US could and should be named and shamed for acting with no thought for the consequences of its selfishness, especially on poor and vulnerable countries.

So should other major polluters. China recently revealed that it was burning 17 per cent more coal than previously disclosed. The increase in carbon dioxide involved is more than Germany’s annual emissions from fossil fuels. It was also unhealthily appropriate that, on the eve of the Paris talks, Beijing issued a warning of high smog levels.

India, third in carbon dioxide emissions with 2.4 billion tonnes (behind China and the US), is on track to be at least the second biggest emitter by 2030 or even the biggest without dramatic measures.

The Paris pledges are in terms of emissions per unit of gross domestic product growth, so a rapidly growing country could meet its pledges and still increase total emissions.

India has been aggressive in what chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian calls resistance to “the West’s carbon imperialism”. This accuses the West of hypocrisy in pumping mega tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere over the past 250 years to put the planet at risk, and then trying to handicap today’s rapidly developing countries because of their heavy reliance on coal.

Chinese and Indians would be dicing with disaster for themselves and the planet if they ape wasteful Western ways, even if they don’t go the greedy hog into meat diets, with meat requiring far more resources to produce than vegetables.

Chinese and Indians would be dicing with disaster for themselves and for the planet if they ape wasteful Western ways

Let’s not forget a dishonourable mention for Japan, which pledged 1.3 trillion yen (HK$82 billion) a year to help developing countries fight global warming (and help its own companies to good business). Environment minister Tamayo Marukawa last week declared that coal technology exports “remain a priority” for Japan: surely she understands that clean coal is an oxymoron.

Maverick economist Bjorn Lomborg suggests that all the huffing and puffing in Paris is indeed a lot of hot air. If all the INDC promises are fully met by 2030 and then extended for 70 years, he claims, “the entirety of the Paris promises will reduce global temperatures by just 0.17 degrees Celsius”. Lomborg advocates pouring money into renewable energy, though it is doubtful whether it will yield big enough benefits worldwide before it is too late.

Many scientists have cast doubt on optimistic computer models suggesting that the temperature rise can be restricted to 2 degrees. Some claim that the only way to go is massive geoengineering, such as mirrors to deflect the sun or other large-scale interventions in the earth’s natural systems to counteract climate change. But such measures could be costly and might set off dangerous chain reactions.

The problem is that greenhouses gases are already swirling in the atmosphere. Temperatures a couple of degrees higher may not seem much, and have led to warped jokes about Greenland as the world’s farming leader and permanent sun tans for the rest of humanity.

Even a 2-degree temperature increase will trigger rising sea levels, engulfing Pacific island countries and invading Bangladesh and cities like Miami, New York, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Mumbai. Deserts will grow and millions of hectares of fertile farmland will disappear.

One basic problem that Paris exemplifies is that we are one earth, and damage to a small corner of the planet comes to haunt us all, but leadership is narrow, national and selfish. Another is that the much revered market solution does not come with any guarantees about caring for our common home.

The biggest problem for the broken leadership of the earth is that the time for action was the day before yesterday, but the way that leaders are talking, they might reach a workable agreement the day after the tomorrow that never comes.

Kevin Rafferty is a journalist and commentator, former professor at Osaka University, and author of a briefing book for delegates at the 2008 UN climate change conference in Poznan


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Bad air days: three Hong Kong districts rank worst for air pollution

Green group says residents of Tuen Mun, Kwun Tong and Tung Chung suffer most; it also highlights dangers from higher levels of ozone

Those who live and work in Tuen Mun, Kwun Tong and Tung Chung spent more hours exposed to bad air in the first 11 months of the year than anywhere else in the city, according to a green group’s preliminary analysis.

On average, the duration of bad air days recorded by the Air Quality Health Index was longer than what was recorded on the previous air pollution index, which was in effect between 2000 and 2013. Kwun Tong recorded the longest consecutive amount of time with “serious” air pollution – the highest level possible – at 48 hours.


[1]In terms of recording “high” readings or above, Tuen Mun and Tung Chung ranked first and third for the second consecutive year, based on monitoring stations in those districts. They clocked 395 and 334 hours respectively. Kwun Tong was second with 344 hours, ousting Yuen Long, which came second last year.

The government says a reading of “high” on the new index means that children, elderly people and those with heart or respiratory illnesses should reduce physical exertion and outdoor activities, and they should stay indoors if a “serious” alert is in place.

Cheng Luk-ki, head of scientific research at non-profit group Green Power, said ozone pollution – a hazardous secondary pollutant formed by volatile organic compounds reacting with nitrogen oxides – was most severe in western parts of the city.

In a separate analysis of Environmental Protection Department data between 1999 and last year, the group identified a link between warmer weather and ozone formation.

By plotting daily maximum ozone concentrations against maximum daily air temperatures, Cheng calculated that a one-degree rise in temperature would lead to an increase in ozone by 17.4 micrograms per cubic metre in Tung Chung and 13.2mcg in Yuen Long district.

Cheng said the situation was likely to worsen. “The Observatory projected a rise in average temperatures somewhere between 1.3 to 5.8 degrees over the next century from last year’s levels,” he said. “This would correspond to an increase in ozone concentrations of 19.9 to 88.7mcg.”

Additional emission sources in the region – such as the planned third runway at the airport, the Hong Kong-Zhuhai Macau bridge, new boundary-crossing facilities and waste incinerators – would add to ozone pollution, he said.

Based on figures cited in a 1998 departmental report, the group said health care costs would soar by at least HK$988 million per year for the rest of the century – just from ozone.

Green Power CEO Dr Man Chi-sum said environmental impact assessments for new projects and towns still lacked the updated index parameters to account for ozone. “People actually live in these new towns,” he said. “How can they still not look at ozone or the current index in compiling impact assessments?”

An EPD spokesman said days with high pollution at the ambient air stations cited usually coincided with high ozone in the entire Pearl River Delta region, weak north or northwesterly winds and lots of sunshine.

He also said because ozone was a secondary pollutant, it did not have to be included in environmental impact assessments.

The department said it would continue to cooperate with Guangdong to reduce pollution.

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Riot Police Fire Tear Gas at Incinerator Protesters in Guangdong

Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have fired tear gas at protesters angry over plans to build a waste incinerator plant near their homes amid violent clashes that continued on Monday, local residents said.

Around 1,000 police in full riot gear were dispatched on Sunday to Jinzao township near the coastal city of Shantou in the east of Guangdong after residents of several dozen villages began a mass protest at the planned plant.

“There were protests again today,” a local resident surnamed Cai told RFA on Monday. “We went to the government offices in Jinzao [township], starting at 7.00 or 8.00 a.m.”

“Everyone is against this; there isn’t a single person here who agrees with the plan to build a waste plant, otherwise we wouldn’t be causing trouble,” she said.

“Things got pretty serious in Village No. 11, which is in the mountains … right where they were planning to build the waste incinerator plant,” Cai said.

Protesters on Monday threw rocks and stones at riot police, smashing police vehicles, a second local resident told RFA.

“There were a lot of people here in the morning, throwing stones and suchlike,” the resident, who gave only a surname, Liu, said.

“Yesterday there were a lot of police vehicles here, and they drove into the mountains, police and riot police,” she said. “They had buses and everything.”

Dozens injured

Photos of the protest posted to social media showed a dark-green police truck with a cannon-like object on its roof, as well as spent canisters picked up by local residents with the markings “CS-1 gas.”

Local residents tweeted that the police had fired tear gas canisters in an “offensive” on the villages near the planned site.

Dozens of people were injured and an unknown number detained, according to tweets from the scene.

“All the businesses in our village have closed, and nobody is working in the fields or on the mountains,” one tweet said. “It’s the mulberry harvest, but there are no trucks here to buy it.”

“Some people can’t get out of their homes, and there are drones in the sky above shooting footage of people’s movements,” the tweet said.

“The students have been boycotting class for a week already now.”

‘Nobody agreed’

Local officials moved ahead with the planned project without the consent of local people, in a dispute that has dragged on for nearly two years, villagers said.

“They said it was all signed and agreed [with us] but nobody agreed to anything at all,” a third resident told RFA. “They are making it up … nobody agreed to their building this.”

An official who answered the phone at the Jinzao township government offices on Monday said all was now quiet in the area.

“The situation has calmed down now; it’s all quiet,” the official said. “The police dealt with the situation, so you should talk to them.”

Some 20,000 local residents, who staged a mass demonstration last January, remain totally opposed to the project, which they fear will damage their health and pollute local soil and water supplies.

A growing movement

More than three decades of breakneck economic growth have left Guangdong with a seriously degraded environment, causing a fast-maturing environmental movement to emerge among the region’s middle classes and farming communities alike.

Previous attempts to build similar plants elsewhere in the province have drawn widespread criticism over local government access to the huge potential profits linked to waste disposal projects.

Last year, authorities in Guangdong’s Puzhai township said they would cancel plans to build a waste-incineration plant there following angry protests and violent clashes between demonstrators and police.

Reported by Ka Pa and Wei Ling for RFA’s Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

Plea to ground the third runway plan

The Civic Party is urging the Airport Authority to delay construction of the third runway because of a labor shortage and insufficient raw materials that have beset major projects such as the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge.

The Civic Party is urging the Airport Authority to delay construction of the third runway because of a labor shortage and insufficient raw materials that have beset major projects such as the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge.
Legislator Kwok Ka-ki said the construction of the third runway might go over the budget as has the bridge project and the Liantang Boundary Control Point, which have cited both reasons for the delay.

The authority estimates that the runway will cost HK$141.5 billion.

On that, Kwok said: “With reference to other overbudget infrastructure projects, we estimate the cost of the third runway will increase by 20 percent, or an additional HK$28 billion.”

Since the authority is not expected to sign the deal with contractors until next year, he said, there is time for government officials to reconsider the schedule and to suspend it for now.

Kwok also said there are many other problems that have not been resolved including the so-called “sky wall” a requirement by the People’s Liberation Army Air Force for aircraft departing from Hong Kong to be at an altitude of more than 15,700 feet before entering mainland airspace.

“Why did the government give the green light to building the third runway when it knows the cost has been increasing?” Kwok said.

Hung Wing-tat, an associate professor in the department of civil and environmental engineering at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said that in 2009 the government estimated there would be 40,000 vehicles using the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, but the number is likely to be less due to economic slowdown.

Last week, the Highways Department revealed that completion of the bridge has been put back a year until the end of 2017.

Hung also said the government should have estimated the possible labor shortage and a lack of materials during the project planning stages and it should not now be used as the main excuse for a delay in the construction.

He also criticized officials for a delay in implementing the boundary crossing agreement.

Kwok said he will question the Three- Runway System Advisory Committee in the Legislative Council tomorrow.

In a statement on Saturday, Secretary for Transport and Housing Anthony Cheung Bing- leung said the Joint Works Committee of the Three Governments will be making a final call on completing the bridge and its opening.