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July, 2016:

Why a new third runway at the airport will offer little benefit to Hong Kong

Kai Tak, Hong Kong’s first international airport, had a fearsome reputation. Nestled on the western side of Kowloon bay and just south of significant mountains, an approach to the South-Easterly runway was not for the faint-hearted and many airlines entrusted the task only to Captains.

Known to regular flyers as the ‘Kai Tak Heart Attack’, an instrument approach guided aircraft directly towards Lion’s Rock, the procedure demanding a 50 degree turn at low level to seemingly glide between residential towers and onto the tarmac. Another few minutes straight ahead and the cockpit would come alive with flashing lights and bleepers going off for imminent terrain contact.

Whilst an aircraft spotter’s dream, the location had very real limitations including no ability to land in low visibility in one direction. This necessitated a move to its current location, Chek Lap Kok, where a pair of parallel runways clear of obstructions and terrain allow the most limiting of approaches and in almost any weather condition.

But Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA), once considered as having ample capacity, has since become dwarfed by concrete monsters like Amsterdam Schiphol and Chicago O’Hare, where upwards of five runways allow more than one hundred aircraft to land every hour. Movements, which describe both take offs and landings, measure the pulse of high-performing airports. They indicate efficiency, capacity, and effects of delays, but are eventually limited by the fairly reasonable safety precaution that aircraft can only be packed so close together until they become a hazard. In most cases, this actually means 3 nautical miles on the final approach – which, although safe, leaves little room for mistakes or a myriad of real-world contingencies.

In 2008, the Airport Authority Hong Kong (AAHK) decided it was time to expand and commissioned a series of reports to draw up a ‘masterplan’ for the airport.

The UK’s National Air Traffic Services (NATS) was asked to investigate ways of further developing the airport. The two phases of reports made recommendations for Air Traffic Control (ATC) operational improvements and investigated airport designs. Starting with 16 options, these were eventually narrowed down to three possible ones, all of which represented variations on a third parallel runway. NATS identified that, staying with the current architecture, HKIA would be constrained to 68 movements per hour, but by adding a third runway this could increase overall movement capacity to over one hundred.

However, pinning down the exact financial benefit is tricky – measuring direct and even indirect revenue made by the airlines and airport business may be straightforward, but the subject soon becomes muddy when extrapolating value added by tourism, trade and business development.

An economic impact study commissioned by HKIA made the most complete assessment and found that the combined direct, indirect, and induced value-added impact of aviation-related businesses in Hong Kong and non-aviation businesses at HKIA was HK$77,587 million in 2008, equivalent to 4.6 percent of Hong Kong’s GDP. The study then modelled three scenarios including maintaining the status quo, optimisation of the two runway system and building of a third runway. The status quo remained competitive until 2015 whilst optimisation becomes constrained by projected demand in 2020. The third runway system was forecast to increase value-added by HK$167,472 million and maintain its present contribution to the GDP.


City states are uniquely bonded to aviation and none more so than Hong Kong, whose history has been so much augmented by air travel. Too often though, construction and bolstering infrastructure seem to be ready answers offered up a little too freely. There is no doubt that development of the airport would add to its capacity, but movements don’t necessarily represent the full picture.

Compared to even a couple of decades ago, modern aircraft are able to carry phenomenal numbers of passengers and cargo, yet the International Air Transport Association recently found that, in the year leading up to April, Asia-Pacific passenger aircraft were flying at an average load factor of 77.3% – that means more than a staggering fifth of seats are going empty. That’s not to mention that between 2am and 6am, an average of only 9 aircraft depart from HKIA every hour. If airlines, or more precisely, paying customers were prepared to put up with anti-social timings, then capacity between these hours could almost treble.

During daylight, a third runway may allow for more movements, but whether these could be utilised is another matter. Airspace around Hong Kong is unique in being restricted by Chinese airspace to the North, both in terms of space and its vulnerability to mainland delays and air traffic flow control.

In June, FlightStats reported that HKIA had placed 37th out of all ‘global-hub airports’ with 34% of all flights experiencing delays longer than 15 minutes. Many were attributable to knock-on delays from the mainland, circumstances which Hong Kong’s ATC can do very little about and which have the potential to choke an airport, especially if movements were to increase by another 50%. Airlines may choose to reroute and avoid Chinese airspace but, for many destinations, the cost implication would be severe.


Still, there is a bigger question concerning Hong Kong’s middle-distant future. The Greater Pearl River Delta region presently has five international airports: Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Macau, Shenzhen and Zhuhai. Last year more than 173 million passengers found themselves passing through one of these airports and even more can be expected as the area grows.

Over the next six years, rail and road infrastructure projects will begin unifying this area under the cunningly-named “Turn The Pearl River Delta Into One” scheme, creating a super-city 26 times the size of Greater London. In this context, it seems doubtful that, geographically speaking, Hong Kong would be a preferred port of entry for this super-city, making any expansion of its airport unnecessary.

Whatever the future holds for Hong Kong, there’s a general feeling amongst the aviation community that this extra runway will add little benefit. Delays in June averaged 62 minutes – without addressing the direct causes by relaxing Chinese airspace and making significant changes to the ATC environment, this runway will find itself redundant. Air travel was once indispensable to Hong Kong. It lubricated trade and pumped life into business, but its importance is proportional to the territory’s isolation.

Times have changed. If money must be pumped into construction, it would be better spent establishing stronger links to the mainland – where the future, for better or worse, must lie.

Six EU countries have already met their 2030 climate targets

Greece, Hungary, Croatia, Bulgaria, Portugal and Romania won’t be required to cut emissions in transport or farming for 15 years

Six EU member states do not need to cut greenhouse gas emissions from transport, waste, buildings and farming for 15 years.

That is the outcome of proposals for sharing efforts towards the bloc’s 2030 climate target, published on Wednesday.

The European Commission set targets for each country from a 2005 baseline, according to their relative wealth and capacity for making reductions. Many are grumbling the obligations are too onerous.

Yet Greece, Hungary, Croatia, Bulgaria, Portugal and Romania were already emitting less than their 2030 allocation in 2014, analysis shows.

“While some EU governments will argue that these targets are too stringent, the reality is they are very weak,” said Damien Morris of consultancy Futureproof.

“When you have China talking about peaking its emissions before 2030, it is only fair for EU countries to make absolute cuts.”

Analysis: Damien Morris

Analysis: Damien Morris

Member states fought fiercely to minimise their obligations towards the 2020 target, but as Climate Home reported, the EU passed its 2020 emissions target six years early.

Part of that can be attributed to an economic slowdown since the 2008 financial crisis. Clean energy and efficiency policies made an impact too, putting most countries on track to easily meet their contribution.

“It makes the bust-up on effort share back in 2009 seem like wasted effort in retrospect,” said Jonathan Gaventa, director at London-based think tank E3G.

Today, some countries are concerned they could be asked to increase their contribution if and when the UK leaves the bloc. The European Commission was silent on this point.

Analysts at Thompson Reuters Point Carbon calculate each would need to make an extra 1.1% reduction if Britain’s share were to be redistributed evenly, or 2% if only rich countries do more.

Debates on the impact of Brexit will look like “a storm in a tea-cup” in 10 years’ time, added Gaventa.

The fact that six countries are already overshooting their 2030 targets underlines this.

With the exception of Greece, they were not required to make absolute emissions cuts under the 2020 package. They did so anyway. How? Why? And can we expect that trend to continue or reverse?

Let’s look at each, in order of how much they are permitted to grow emissions by 2030.

Greece (14%)

Hit by a debt crisis and economic downturn since 2008, climate policy has not been top of the agenda for Greece. Its falling emissions reflect belt-tightening more than low carbon investment.

Still, it has a number of energy efficiency initiatives that have played a part. And if financial woes have closed down polluting industries, it does not follow that reintroducing them is the best route to prosperity.

EU-wide fuel standards are likely to clean up road transport irrespective of national policies. The islands have an incentive to embrace clean energy to reduce reliance on diesel imports.

Hungary (12%)

The first EU country to ratify the Paris Agreement, Hungary is adopting a climate-friendly stance under president Janos Ader.

Its economy has modernised considerably since the Soviet era, with brown industries giving way to higher tech export sectors.

An adviser to President Ader told Climate Home public concern about climate change was increasing and Hungary is not likely to regress, whatever its official target.

Croatia (8%)

As with Greece, a six-year recession played a large part in Croatia’s emission slump, hitting industry. The country made some gestures towards green policy in its bid for EU membership, clinched in 2013.

Its direction now is uncertain. An election is coming up in September, after the five-month-old coalition government collapsed.

In a win for environmental campaigners, a planned 500MW coal plant has been shelved. State-owned utility HEP last week opened its first solar-powered electric vehicle charging point.

Recycling rates are low but increasing, while there is untapped potential for energy efficiency.

Bulgaria (7%)

The official line is that Bulgaria will struggle to meet its targets, according to former environment minister Julian Popov. He disagrees.

It has the worst energy efficiency rating in the EU, he told Climate Home – and therefore plenty of room for improvement.

A programme to renovate crumbling Communist-era pre-fab buildings is working, said Popov. “There is no reason to expect some kind of energy intensive reindustrialisation of the country.”

Romania (3%)

Neighbouring Romania has a similar profile. Home to the EU’s largest onshore windfarm, it is cleaning up a coal-heavy electricity generation mix.

With the lowest car ownership rate in the EU, however, it could see increased demand push up transport emissions.

Portugal (2%)

It made headlines in May for running on 100% renewable power for four days in a row. Portugal is quietly forging ahead with clean energy, even as its economy stutters.

Indirectly, abundant clean power can help decarbonise transport and other sectors counted in the effort sharing decision. Portugal has more than 1,000 electric vehicle charging stations across 30 municipalities and aims to get 10% of energy used for transport from renewable sources by 2020.

“The expectations of economic recovery should not contradict a low carbon trajectory,” Francisco Ferreira of Porto-based NGO Zero told Climate Home.

“There are measures planned, specifically in transport sector, that will enable Portugal to take a pathway more consistent with the Paris Agreement.”

Who’s ruining ‘one country, two systems’?

Beijing has made it clear that it doesn’t want advocates of Hong Kong independence to run in the upcoming Legislative Council elections.

In a recent speech, Zhang Xiaoming, director of the Liaison Office of the central government in Hong Kong, asked if allowing independence advocates to run in the Legco polls or become members of the legislature is in line with the “one country, two systems” principle that governs China’s rule over the territory.

He said: “If Hong Kong independence advocates are allowed to turn the run-up to the Legco election into a process of proactive promotion of independence, or even allow them to enter Legco gloriously, does this comply with the ‘one country, two systems’ principle, the Basic Law and the principle of the rule of law?

“Which direction would it take Hong Kong society toward? Is this a blessing or a curse for the city? This is not just a legal matter, but also a matter of right and wrong, bottom line and principle, and a matter that concerns the city’s direction of development.

“Everyone who is genuinely concerned about Hong Kong’s well-being should think deeply and be alert about this.”

His remarks came on the heels of a new requirement by the Electoral Affairs Commission for Legco candidates to sign a declaration of allegiance to the Basic Law and the Hong Kong SAR government, particularly its provision that the territory is under Chinese sovereignty.

By its very action of meddling in the political affairs of Hong Kong, Beijing is violating the “one China, two systems” principle.

While promoting the policy to show to the world that it is giving the territory a high degree of autonomy, Beijing has continued to play a leading role in the city’s political affairs.

It has been building its relationship with local organizations and communities to boost its influence in the grassroots.

While appearing to be a benevolent parent or guidance counsellor to the government, Beijing has virtually become the ruling party of Hong Kong.

It has been calling the shots since 1997. It has been dictating to Hong Kong officials what policies to pursue, what projects to undertake, and even who should be voted into office.

Under existing Hong Kong laws, any Hong Kong resident with sufficient nomination should be qualified to run as a candidate in any election.

There are no laws requiring candidates to pledge their allegiance to Beijing.

As such, any requirement that election candidates must pledge their loyalty to Beijing is an infusion of Chinese norms into Hong Kong’s political environment.

In fact, the Basic Law is meant to protect Hong Kong from direct intervention from China.

Article 22 states: “No department of the Central People’s Government and any province, autonomous region, or municipality directly under the Central Government may interfere in the affairs which the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region administers on its own in accordance with this Law.”

Of course, Hong Kong people respect Zhang’s right to speak out on the current political situation in Hong Kong.

But considering that he is the most senior official of the Chinese government in Hong Kong, he should be circumspect about the impact of his remarks, and see to it that they don’t raise doubts about Beijing’s implementation of the “one country, two systems” principle.

Beijing officials should understand that the emergence of individuals and groups advocating independence or self-determination resulted from their own failure to allow Hong Kong people to choose their own leaders through genuine universal suffrage.

These individuals and groups are presenting the concept of independence as an option to Hong Kong people, which is in line with the freedom of expression that they are supposed to continue to enjoy despite the change of sovereignty in 1997.

It is a principle that is being presented by certain candidates to the electorate, and whether that principle is acceptable to the people will depend on the results of the election.

These candidates should not be maligned and accused of pushing Hong Kong to disaster. It’s up to the Hong Kong people to discuss and determine whether the principles and concepts they advocate are acceptable or not.

In short, let the people decide.

In February, an independence advocate, Edward Leung of Hong Kong Indigenous, secured 15 percent of the votes in the Legco by-election.

That’s a strong showing, and it reflects the people’s growing disenchantment with the way Beijing has been meddling in the affairs of Hong Kong.

They are attracted to the concept of independence because Beijing, through its loyalists in the SAR government, has failed to maintain a high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong as promised under the Basic Law.

They think that after the 1997 handover, Hong Kong has remained under colonial rule, but the masters this time come from China.

Despite its promise, Beijing has failed to respect the uniqueness of Hong Kong and has been making efforts to turn it into a Chinese city.

The current SAR administration’s focus on participating in the Belt and Road initiative is but one example of this policy to integrate Hong Kong into China’s economic system, denying the territory the right to explore its options and build its own economic model.

But no matter how determined Beijing is in condemning pro-independence candidates and preventing them from winning seats in the legislature, the idea that they are fighting for will continue to grow unless the conditions that allowed it to germinate remain in place.

More runways are only the start: race to reclaim land in the Pearl River Delta is worrying

Johnny Wei says for a start, Hong Kong officials must work with their Shenzhen counterparts to coordinate plans for airport expansion in both cities, so as to minimise pressure on the marine environment

Hong Kong is not alone in wanting a three-runway system. Its neighbour Shenzhen is now preparing for an airport expansion, and this is posing a challenge for our cross-border coordination in at least one key aspect – the environment.

After several years of turnover growth, the Shenzhen Airport Group has just completed its second and last round of consultation for an environmental impact assessment for reclamation of 439 hectares of land, for the purpose of building a third runway. This reclamation is smaller in scale than the one proposed by Hong Kong for its own third runway (650 hectares). Regardless, the two reclamation projects are too close – only 32km apart – and are likely to threaten the habitat of the Chinese white dolphins, as well as compromise the water quality and long-term carrying capacity of the Pearl River Delta estuary.

As close observers of marine construction projects and their cumulative impact, we are alarmed by this unprecedented estuary-wide “reclamation contest”. Shenzhen airport’s ambition accounts for only a quarter of the near-term reclamation, or equivalent to a mere 8 per cent of the sea-to-land conversion blueprint of the special economic zone. Other cities including Zhuhai ( 珠海 ), Huizhou (惠州) and Guangzhou all have their own greedy plan of “asking for land” from the waters.

We’re not even counting the massive reclamation for the bridge connecting Hong Kong with Zhuhai and Macau, or the 350 hectares reserved for Macau’s new town development.

The question is: where is the limit of reclamation?

Several procedures must be completed before Shenzhen airport can break ground for its expansion. These include disclosure of the environmental impact assessment report, a public hearing, submission for state-level approval and an assessment of social stability risk.

We don’t know how long these proceedings will take, nor how much of Hongkongers’ concerns will be taken into account. There’s a good chance Shenzhen’s third-runway construction will overlap with Hong Kong’s, and this will exert greater pressure on seawater quality.

We don’t deny an airport plays a significant role for a city. The question is: where is the limit of reclamation and who may be qualified to set it?

A lack of coordinated environmental planning has long plagued the Pearl River Delta. The ties between the Hong Kong and Guangdong governments are mostly limited to economic collaboration, with little effort spent on cross-border environmental improvement.

We urge Hong Kong’s Environmental Protection Department to establish a communication channel with the Shenzhen Oceanic Administration and its Human Settlements and Environment Commission to obtain information on the anticipated expansion period of Shenzhen airport and its study of cumulative impacts. The two governments must work out a schedule that can protect the environment.

Pollution has no respect for borders, as shown by the recent rubbish surge in Lantau waters

Hong Kong should share with the Shenzhen authorities the lessons it learned about the negative impact of reclamation, and the use of its Protection of the Harbour Ordinance in limiting damage. Hong Kong went on a reclamation spree in the 1980s and 1990s. Shenzhen, where housing prices are at historical highs, now intends to boost its land supply in a similar approach but has little knowledge about the long-term costly payback.

Hong Kong must not shirk its regional responsibilities and must take part in delta initiatives such as the strategic environmental impact assessment inaugurated by China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection last October. The assessment, led by Beijing with the involvement of Guangdong, was created to evaluate the overall carrying capacity of our delta and develop planning strategies for estuary conservation and pollution control.

Pollution has no respect for borders, as shown by the recent rubbish surge in Lantau waters. Unless it takes the initiative with the mainland, Hong Kong has no hope of improving its environmental quality.

Johnny Wei is co-founder of the CrossBorder Environment Concern Association

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Methane Pollution Is About To See A Serious Cut From This Stinky Source

Last Friday, the EPA announced new rules that will cut landfills’ methane emissions by one third.

The latest regulation is an update to rules last updated over 20 years ago. They are expected to reduce methane emissions by around 334,000 tons a year in 2025. That is equivalent to reducing 8.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

Methane is a greenhouse gas with a global warming potential over 25 times that of carbon dioxide, according to the EPA. But over a 20 year period, it can be 86 times more potent. Methane is the second-most common greenhouse gas emitted by human activities, and nearly 20 percent of those emissions come from landfills.

The methane regulations update the New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) and, in a separate action, revise the Emissions Guidelines from 1996. These actions further implement President Obama’s Climate Action Plan and its “Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions.”

“The final NSPS and emission guidelines continue to cover MSW Landfill emissions (commonly known as landfill gas) as the regulated or designated pollutant,” the EPA told ThinkProgress in an email. “Non-methane organic compounds (NMOC) are measured as a surrogate for the listed pollutant.”

The EPA finalized details dealing with landfill gas treatment, owner and operator compliance, startup, shutdown, and malfunction issues.

Under the NSPS rule, new landfills — after July 17, 2014 — will have to install a gas collection control system if NMOCs exceed 34 metric tons per year. That number is one third less than the previous threshold of 50.

The control system may either route it to a non-enclosed flare, an enclosed combustion device, or a treatment system which can ultimately sell the methane as a source of energy. An estimated 128 landfills will be subjected to this rule, and of these, 115 will be required to install the controls in 2025. The remaining 13 will report their emissions.

The threshold also applies to landfills existing prior to July 17, 2014. An estimated 1,014 active existing landfills will be affected, with 731 controlling landfill gas in 2025. However, this is only 93 more than under the previous rules. Another 77 will be required to report their emissions, and over 200 landfills are either closed or expected to close within 13 months after the rule is published in the Federal Register.

The net cost of the emission guidelines — or the costs after subtracting the benefits — will be around $54 million in 2025. The climate benefits outweigh the total costs by a factor of eight. For every dollar spent to comply with guidelines, the expected benefit is over eight dollars. That adds up to $444 million in 2025.

The benefits from the rule that affects new landfills will be over 10 dollars for every dollar spent to comply. The costs are an estimated $6 million in 2025, while the benefits are $68.3 million.

Between both new rules, the EPA expects a total benefit of $512 million.

The climate benefits that were included in the calculations include human health impacts, property damages from flood risk, and the value of ecosystem services, and others, according to the final rules fact sheet.

The Obama administration has been ramping up its efforts to reduce methane emissions. In May, the EPA finalized new methane regulations for the oil and gas industry. Since then, North Dakota filed a lawsuit against the EPA over the rule.

Food waste is partly to blame for the methane pollution from landfills. The EPA’s rule noted that there is not enough information on how the regulations would affect how much waste is diverted to recycling, waste-to-energy facilities, or composting. While lowering methane emissions has clear climate benefits, avoiding wasted food and other organics would also contribute to reducing methane emissions. Around 40 percent of food grown in the United States ends up wasted.

“EPA acknowledged alternative approaches (such as diversion, composting, recycling, and waste-to-energy) at proposal and in its final rules as well as the Regulatory Impact Analysis (and other supplemental documents) for these actions,” the EPA added in an email to ThinkProgress. “EPA does not believe that its final actions preclude these activities.”

“Further the final rules specifically acknowledge that the use of alternative approaches, such as diversion, may increase as a result of the agency’s allowance of a site-specific approach to determining gas collection and control system installation.”

In addition to efforts to decrease methane emissions, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and EPA announced last September a goal to reduce food waste by 50 percent by 2030.

Sydney Pereira is an intern with ThinkProgress.

Yawning gap between the legislature Hong Kong needs, and the one it has

Alice Wu says with the current Legco session now ended, we should look closely at the gap between members’ vows at the start of the year and their actual, woeful performance

Some Hong Kong lawmakers have a knack for turning lawmaking into a practice so alien that we feel completely discombobulated. Now that the legislative term has ended and we’ll be electing people to the sixth Legislative Council in six weeks, it’s time to revisit what legislatures are supposed to do.

A legislature is a deliberative assembly with the authority to make laws. And it is serious business, although some of our lawmakers do not seem to understand why their office carries the “honourable” prefix. The man at the centre of the filibuster on the medical reform bill, the “Honourable” Leung Ka-lau, a medical doctor, has proudly admitted many a time that lawmaking is just his “part-time job”. Surely, the dignity of the legislature is tarnished not only by flying objects; it is attitudes like this – that Legco business is not worth more than perfunctory attention – that is damaging. With his abysmal attendance record, one wonders why the good doctor even bothered to show up at all, or why he ran for the seat in the first place.

The medical reform fiasco certainly made sure that the current term didn’t go out with a bang, and unfortunately, it exemplifies what the council has become. Too little deliberation goes on at this deliberative assembly. Or perhaps our lawmakers do not think talking to reach agreement is their duty. They much prefer to talk to stall. And judging by the time spent on filibustering this year, which has been reported to be twice as long as last year, our lawmakers really love the sound of their voices.

When the September polls come around, voters should consider the discrepancy between some lawmakers’ vow at the beginning of the legislative year to use moderation when it comes to filibustering, and the reality. Filibustering that lasted twice as long is no moderation.

Another legislative “fetish” they seem to have developed is their love for roll-calling, or maybe it’s the sound of the quorum bells ringing. If people have compared them to unruly schoolchildren in the past, then I guess some of them have grown to love this identity. Perhaps the next Legislative Council would consider having members wear school uniforms to meetings. Cosplay may not be unparliamentary.

It’s almost unfathomable today that 20 years ago, “foul grass grows out of a foul ditch” was ruled offensive language inappropriate for use in the chamber. Indeed, times have changed. One lawmaker – also on the list of legislators with poor attendance – used the very little time he spends inside the chamber to showcase his obnoxiousness.

Among the things he will be remembered for is the Cantonese term that literally means “stumbling on the street” but is often translated as “drop dead”. Thanks to him, the term made it into Legco’s official record for expressions ruled unparliamentary. A total class act.

The Legco Public Accounts Committee has recently expressed “grave concern” over the HK$172 million in lost government revenue that the government has not been able to collect in rates and rents. It is certainly a matter that deserves public concern, but lest they forget, a lawmaker did actually call for Hongkongers to not pay their rates and government rents as a legitimate form of protest. Technically, a member of the council encouraged this sort of behaviour, but now the council expresses “grave concern”?

HK$172 million is not chump change, but neither is the HK$771.3 million spent on running the legislature for 2015-16. By this paper’s latest count (July 8), lawmakers have so far spent 108 hours on quorum counts for the 2015-16 legislative year alone. It is disgusting that our lawmakers spent as much time counting heads as firefighters did in fighting the deadly Ngau Tau Kok inferno.

If we consider the homeless shelter that the council recently rejected, we would see that it’s not simply delaying tactics that our lawmakers love. The project has been on the table for almost four years, and plans have been revised to address issues lawmakers had initially objected to. It was endorsed by the public works subcommittee before it was sabotaged.

Our legislators like to say they act for “the people”. As “the people”, it is time that we hold them to account.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA


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British gallery owner Mark Peaker makes an art out of Hong Kong’s idling engine law enforcement


Avid letter writer to the Post tells why he shows no mercy when it comes to drivers who leave their engines running

Former banker and now art gallery owner Mark Peaker attributes the success of both his careers to his jovial nature.

But there’s one group of people to whom the British-born Hongkonger shows no mercy – the city’s perennial engine idlers.

“It’s my biggest bugbear about Hong Kong – these belligerent drivers who clog up the roads and won’t turn their engines off,” Peaker, who owns gallery 3812 in Sai Ying Pun, says.

“It has caused a lot of ill will in Hong Kong but it would be such an easy problem to fix.”

As an avid letter writer to the South China Morning Post, “Mark Peaker from The Peak” is noted for his regular commentary and complaints on discourteous road etiquette, which remains unchanged despite a bill being introduced in 2011 penalising those who idle their engines.

A community man who has called the city home for more than 12 years, Peaker canvasses almost daily for better enforcement of the Motor Vehicle Idling Ordinance over the habit that is not only a nuisance to those navigating the tight streets, but also makes Hong Kong smog levels all the worse.

“When you first arrive in Hong Kong, you’re not part of the community and you don’t really get invested in this sort of thing but then you adapt to your environment,” he said.


Peaker said he struggles to understand why enforcement on the matter is so limp. He has acquired a certain degree of notoriety among officers for his querying their enforcement tactics, adding with an air of exasperation that they do not seem to approach the matter as assertively as they ought to.

“I saw an officer being yelled at by a driver who was idling his engine, and I went up to him and said, ‘Why can’t you get this guy to turn his engine off?’,” he says, describing how the officer gave the shrill response: “Because he won’t listen to me.”

Born in Cambridge to a diplomat father and stay-at-home mother, Peaker was brought up in well-to-do west London. He moved to Hong Kong at a time when he felt his career as a banker was coming to a close.

A man of good taste and a natural networker, he found himself drawn to the art world, deciding more than seven years ago to set up a gallery of contemporary art alongside his partner, art aficionado Calvin Hoi.

He says what drew him to the city – the diversity, the hustle and bustle, the cityscapes and energy – are qualities that have him still very much in love with Hong Kong, despite its problems.

“Hong Kong has always fascinated me, I’m an urban dweller at heart – and this place has a lot to offer everyone,” he says, describing how he also enjoys hosting ¬acting classes for students as part of his community work with NGO Shakespeare for all, alongside sketching workshops in a separate pro bono project.

“There are so many positives, it’s such a vibrant place, and sometimes we lose sight of that,” he adds.

Idling law has had ‘zero effect’ on pollution level

Peaker is not alone in his crusade against the scourge of idling engines across Hong Kong. Since 2006, 8,337 complaints about idling engines have been made to the Environmental Protection Department, the body tasked with penalising offending drivers.

Despite this, only 201 fines have been issued by the department since the Motor Vehicle Idling Ordinance came into operation in 2011. The number of fines amounts to just 4.4 per cent of complaints made since that year.

And at HK$320 a pop, many consider the fines to be ineffective deterrents.

“The fine is ridiculous, and the belligerent attitude of the drivers means a lot of the time police don’t even enforce the rules,” Peaker said.

But he thinks the Hongkongers who deserve the blame for the lines of chugging engines across the city are the well-to-do who require their drivers to wait endlessly for them to appear.

“They have this self-belief that they’re so important they’re above the law,” Peaker said, describing how on several occasions he had seen drivers ignore inspectors and police officers asking them to turn off their engines.

“I have emailed Central Police Station, CEOs, [my local council representative] Joseph Chan, as well as directly emailing companies whose drivers abuse the law and numerous schools where [students’] drivers park illegally, idling their engines waiting to pick up on their morning runs.”

He describes an email flow that spans years.

Environmental campaigner at Clear the Air, James Middleton, agrees that the ordinance can hardly be described as a success. He said it had had “zero” effect on pollution levels.
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Youth group highlight waste at the climate talks: the YOUNGO Zero Waste Working Group

This blog is a guest post from the Zero Waste Working Group within the YOUNGO (the Youth NGO constituency under the UNFCCC). They were present in Paris during the COP21 Climate Negotiations and have committed to advocating for zero waste as a climate change solution. You can get in touch with them by contacting Zero Waste Europe, or through their Facebook group.

It is argued that the “Waste” sector accounts only for a limited part of the GHG (greenhouse gases) emissions on a global level, yet it can be easily verified that the potential contribution of waste prevention and management to climate change mitigation could be much more remarkable than initially expected. In addition, considering the principles of circular economy, it is clear that resources should be continually cycling through the system, allowing us to build an exit strategy from landfills and incineration. In the light of these conclusions, a group of committed young people decided to be the voice of the Zero Waste movement at the UNFCCC climate talks by creating a Zero Waste Working Group within YOUNGO, the Youth NGO constituency under the UNFCCC, which includes youth organisations acting on climate from all over the world.

The YOUNGO Zero Waste working group was born at COP21 in Paris, and it is composed of young people living in three continents (Europe, America, Oceania) who share the same drive for spreading the good practices for a zero waste world. The purpose of our group is to create a global network of young people who believe that Zero Waste is not only possible, but necessary. Therefore, we are looking to spread this message and simultaneously working on projects, policy and research that lead us towards a Zero Waste planet. Furthermore, we want to act as a platform where young people can share knowledge and expertise on the connection between climate change and waste management and how it can be used as a mitigation tool in accordance with the outcome of the Paris Agreement.

Before the COP21, the vast majority of Parties had sent their INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) to the UNFCCC Secretariat. INDCs include the mitigation efforts which countries want to focus on in order to decrease their GHG emissions. As a first step, we drafted a policy statement to be handed over to Delegates. It summarises our policy recommendations:

Include waste management as an integral part of climate mitigation policy
Waste policies should manage waste in the higher tiers of the waste management hierarchy (i.e. recycling or above)
Discontinue support for all forms of “renewable” energy generated from residual waste
Implement circular economy and product stewardship incentives
Recognize the numerous and significant co-benefits of a zero waste policy

In fact, our work is mainly focused on individual countries (possibly through INDCs, industry and government lobbying) and Delegates. We want to highlight the positive correlation between Zero Waste and the emissions reduction through waste minimisation, making it really tangible. Currently, we are working on diverse strategies, and the support of Zero Waste Europe, as well as of GAIA, would be an asset for us. We have the potential to build up a wide youth network in all of these regards, working on actionable and unifying initiatives.

Our first next steps will be to search through INDCs for specific mentions of waste/Zero Waste as climate change mitigation tool to create a list of countries who are moving forward on this issue. Moreover, a table divided into different categories will be created (Zero Waste as most preferred – waste-to-energy/landfill as least preferred) with a sort of rank for countries. The final idea would be to approach these countries at COP22 in Marrakech (Morocco) or at intercessionals accordingly to their “performance”. Another point is the running of campaigns that may include some focus on incineration and cradle-to-cradle ideas. We will also continue to use the YOUNGO Zero Waste Facebook group to keep ourselves posted as we nail down our plans and to share information. Lastly, it is utmost important proposing to the UN to make conferences like COP zero waste – perhaps through lobbying activities with either the Secretariat or the COP22 Moroccan Presidency; it is noteworthy, however, that efforts in this direction have already been made previously for the organisation of the COP21 in Paris and at the last intersessional in Bonn which both incorporated zero waste aspects into their events (APA1/SB44).

There will be space to get in direct contact with the COY12 (Conference of Youth, 12th edition) organisers to probe their willingness in this regard, as we will be likely to attend in mid-July the Mediterranean Youth Climate Forum in Tangier, Morocco. Making the COY12 a zero waste event will give continuity to what has been done in Paris for the COY11, which was the first COY to adopt a zero waste plan, with the collaboration of Zero Waste France.

In conclusion, the Zero Waste working group is eager to increase its network within the climate and waste community, trying to create new avenues that would not have otherwise accomplished. We welcome any contribution and would be keen to set up collaborations with other associations or simply individuals who share this common cause with the same drive and motivation.

You know where to find us and we are looking forward to hearing from all of you!

Air pollution causes wrinkles and premature ageing, new research shows

Toxic fumes may be the primary cause of skin ageing in polluted cities such as London, New York and Beijing, scientists say

Air pollution is prematurely ageing the faces of city dwellers by accelerating wrinkles and age spots, according to emerging scientific research.

The effects of toxic fumes on skin are being seen in both western cities, such as London and New York, as well as in more visibly polluted Asian cities and in some cases may be the primary cause of ageing. The pollution is also being linked to worsening skin conditions such as eczema and hives.

The scientific discoveries are now driving the world’s biggest cosmetics companies to search for solutions, including medicine-like compounds that directly block the biological damage. But doctors warn that some common skin care routines, such as scrubs, make the damage from air pollution even worse.

Poisonous air is already known to cause millions of early deaths from lung and heart diseases and has been linked to diabetes and mental health problems. But perhaps its most visible impact, the damage caused to skin, is just beginning to be understood.

“With traffic pollution emerging as the single most toxic substance for skin, the dream of perfect skin is over for those living and working in traffic-polluted areas unless they take steps to protect their skin right now,” said Dr Mervyn Patterson, a cosmetic doctor at Woodford Medical clinics in the UK.

“Unless people do more they will end up wearing the pollution on their faces in 10 years’ time. It is definitely something people now need to take seriously.”

Prof Jean Krutmann, director at the Leibniz Research Institute for Environmental Medicine in Germany, said: “UV [damage from the sun] was really the topic in skin protection for the last 20-30 years. Now I think air pollution has the potential to keep us busy for the next few decades.”

Air pollution in urban areas, much of which comes from traffic, includes tiny particles called PMs, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and chemicals such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). “What is very clear is that PMs are a problem for skin,” said Krutmann, whose work has shown PMs increase age spots and wrinkles.

But one of the his newest studies showed NO2 also increases ageing. They studied people in both Germany and China and discovered that age spots on their cheeks increased by 25% with a relatively small increase in pollution, 10 microgrammes of NO2 per cubic metre. Many parts of the UK have illegally high levels of NO2, with London breaking its annual limit in the first week of 2016, with levels reaching over 200 microgrammes of NO2 per cubic metre.

Krutmann said other factors, such as UV exposure, nutrition and smoking contribute to ageing: “But what we can say is that, at least for the pigment spots on the cheeks, it seems air pollution is the major driver.”

“It is not a problem that is limited to China or India – we have it in Paris, in London, wherever you have larger urban agglomerations you have it,” he said. “In Europe everywhere is so densely populated and the particles are being distributed by the wind, so it is very difficult to escape from the problem.”

The accelerated skin ageing was seen in relatively young people and Patterson said: “If you are seeing these changes in middle age, these are worrying trends.”

Other recent research is summed up in a review paper in the journal Frontiers in Environmental Science, which concluded: “Prolonged or repetitive exposure to high levels of these [air] pollutants may have profound negative effects on the skin.”

Understanding exactly how air pollution causes the skin damage is at an early stage, according to Krutmann: “We are just now dipping into the mechanisms.” But many of the pollutants are known to pass easily through the skin and cause a variety of impacts.

“These agents have a very irritating effect and once they get into the skin, they activate multiple pathways of inflammation,” said Patterson. “Some pathways ignite the melanocytes, which create far too much pigment and end up giving you unwanted sun spots.”

“Other pathways ignite messengers that make blood vessels grow, that’s what results in increased redness and potentially rosacea,” he said. “Also, if you damage skin, it goes into repair mode and excites enzymes which re-adsorb damaged collagen. When you have too much chronic inflammation, these enzymes remove more collagen than your skin can create. This produces skin laxity and that’s where fine lines and wrinkles come in.”

Dr Debra Jaliman, a skin expert based in New York City, says her patients are now worrying about the impact of air pollution on their skin, which she said can cause darkening of the skin and acne-like eruptions, as well as ageing.

“At the moment, there are not many products for prevention [of air pollution damage], however it may be a trend in the coming years as it becomes a much bigger issue,” she said.

Major beauty companies have begun their own research and are launching the first products formulated to battle skin damage from toxic air. Dr Frauke Neuser, senior scientist for Olay, a Procter and Gamble brand, has run studies showing significantly lower skin hydration in people living in polluted areas and lab studies showing that diesel fumes and PMs cause inflammation in skin cells.

Her team then screened for ingredients that could counteract some of the damaging effects. “We found niacinamide – vitamin B3 – to be particularly effective,” she said. “We have recently increased its level in several products by as much as 40%.”

Frauke’s work has also shown direct correlations between spikes in PM air pollution in Beijing and an increase in hospital visits by people with skin conditions including hives. “This indicates that not only skin ageing but also skin health are affected by air pollution,” she said.

L’Oreal, another cosmetics giant, published a medical study in 2015 showing that eczema and hives were more common in people in Mexico exposed to higher levels of air pollution, a conclusion supported by separate research in Canada. “The next step is to understand more deeply the environment-induced damages, in order to develop skin ageing prevention routines and products,” said Dr Steve Shiel, scientific director at L’Oreal.

Clinique, a big makeup brand, has already launched a sonic face cleansing brush it claims better removes pollution. “This [air pollution] is not going to go away. This is not a problem that is easily fixed,” said Janet Pardo at Clinique.

However, researchers are now working on medicine-like compounds that block the damage from air pollution from occurring in the first place. Krutmann’s lab helped Symrise, one of the world’s biggest suppliers of cosmetics ingredients, identify one, though the lab has no commercial stake in the product, which is called SymUrban.

“We found one molecule that can do the job,” he said, and it is now being registered as cosmetic ingredient. “In a few years from now I expect we will see cosmetic products that can specifically protect against skin ageing from air pollution.”

Patterson said it is possible for people to give themselves some protection now. “You don’t have to sit back passively and put up with it. You can take sensible, easy steps that will make a difference.”

“If your skin is really healthy, it is quite a good barrier,” he said, explaining that the top layer is like a roof – flattened cells like tiles separated by protective lipids.

“Certain skin care products are very disruptive to the surface of the skin,” he warned. “So a darling of the industry is retinoids, but these have a very profound negative effect on barrier function. Another darling of the industry is glycolic acid, but it is also very disruptive to the external skin barrier. People think these are good skin care, making the skin look smoother, but they are not helpful for the overall health of the skin barrier.”

Patterson is also dismissive of face scrubs: “The skin is trying its damnedest to make this wonderful defence mechanism and what do women and men do? They scrub the hell out of it. It just doesn’t make sense.” He said products that help repair the skin barrier, by delivering the pre-cursor lipids the cells need, are beneficial, as are ones that tackle inflammation.

“You can also put on a very nice physical shield in the form of good quality mineral makeup,” he said. “That produces an effect like a protective mesh and probably has some trapping effect, protecting against the initial penetration of particles. But you also need always to try to remove that shield in the evening, washing the slate clean every night.”

Tide of trash swamping Hong Kong beaches is a ticking time bomb

Blatant ignorance of what happens to the tonnes of garbage generated by the city every day is appalling

Over 15 years of having the good fortune to live on a beach up in Clearwater Bay, I have earned the honourable but embarrassing title of “Lap Sap Du” – or Lap Sap Dodwell in English.

I am a bit of a laughing stock among the clan villagers living nearby, as I clamber most weekends, bedraggled and sweaty, over the shoreline below my house gathering the week’s accumulated rubbish. They would respect me if I were gathering clams, or wading at sunset with a torch to snatch mesmerised squid. But dragging rubbish up the jetty from the beach is clearly seen as the height of expatriate eccentricity.

So I was bemused but gratified to see photos this week of our chief executive and several other ministers scurrying under the blazing summer sun to clear rubbish from the Shui Hau mangroves in south Lantau. Lap sap on our beaches may suddenly have become news because of the huge surge of rubbish washing up on Hong Kong beaches in the past three weeks – in particular because of the obvious pleasure of some to blame yet another social and environmental crime on the Mainland – but for Lap Sap Du it has been an infuriating constant for the past 15 years.

What perplexes me most is not the fact that lap sap keeps washing up. I suspect that used to happen millennia ago, and will be happening another millennium from now.

Nor is it that so much plastic waste ends up in the water. That again seems inevitable, since plastics are so light, and float so readily. No. What infuriates me most is the gormless ignorance of so many in Hong Kong who appear to be wantonly clueless about what happens to our waste.

Back in 2003, some Chinese neighbours gathered a large mountain of leaves on the jetty in front of my house after an energy-sapping day of chopping overgrown trees.

They then set light to the mountain, and wandered off leaving it smouldering into the sunset. Inevitably, the tide washed in, doused the fire, and swilled the loose par-burned leaves into the water. Today, 13 years later, those leaves still swill back and forth from the beach to the jetty. They have not decomposed. They have not gone anywhere.

Lesson 1: once rubbish washes into your beach, it is going to stay there for far longer than you can dare to imagine.

My village neighbours were not lacking energy, nor lacking concern to keep the village trim. But in spite of perhaps 150 years living on the sea-edge overlooking that beach, they had failed to recognise that waste dumped into the water stays in the water. It seems that still today they believe that the ocean is an infinitely huge dumping ground
where lap sap can be swallowed and forgotten.

Lap Sap Du quickly learned that certain times were worse than others. The first black rain of the year always washed all sorts of awful things down the river and into the bay. As the normally-pristine water turned opaque, you knew this was not a healthy time for an evening swim. I face north east, straight into the teeth of any summer typhoon, and these will drive in large volumes of unwelcome debris, as will any unusually strong tides. So news that the massive rainfall in the Pearl River Delta in recent weeks had splayed thousands of tonnes of miscellaneous waste across our beaches comes as no surprise. Perhaps more surprising is the sense of public shock.

This flurry of lap sap controversy has taught me several things. First, even though the daily arrival of large amounts of plastic and other waste drives me crazy, I realise that up in Clearwater Bay I am extraordinarily lucky. The Sai Kung area accounts for just 4.9 per cent of all the marine and shoreline waste soiling Hong Kong beaches. As we face the Pacific, with prevailing winds from the ocean for much of the year, our shores are comparatively clean. Far more challenging is to live in the south and west of Hong Kong, where the Pearl River delivers lap sap in huge volumes.

Tuen Mun and Tsuen Wan account for almost half of Hong Kong’s shoreline waste, and Lantau, Lamma, Cheung Chau and other smaller islands nearby account for a further 26 per cent.

Second, it is arguable that things are getting better in Hong Kong rather than worse. Marine waste collected has amounted to a steady 15,000 tonnes a year for most of the past decade. Since the creation in November 2012 of the Government’s Interdepartmental Working Group on Clean Shorelines, much has been done to study causes, and find ways of reducing the problem. No surprises, but the Marine Refuse Study completed in summer last year examined 27 “priority” beaches and found that 95 per cent of our shoreline waste originates locally (however much some have been tempted to blame China for the recent invasion); 80 per cent of the waste starts on land rather than originating from boats or marine activity; and 70 per cent of the waste is plastics.

On one of the worst beaches (bemusingly called Lap Sap Wan near Shek O) the working group has undertaken a pilot clean-up. It took three months (the beach could not be reached by land, so everything had to be removed by boat), but before-and-after photos suggest an encouraging transformation.

Interestingly, active lobbyists for clearing our beaches are equivocal about the priority given to clean-ups. More important to attack the sources of pollution than struggle to mitigate the effects, they correctly argue. They see the appalling fetid entanglements along popular beaches as effective advertisements encouraging better behaviour.

Despite this, Clean Shorelines’ emphasis over the past year has been on publicity in schools, and on well-publicised clean-ups.

For me, the fact that beaches in the south and west are by far the most problematic means that I up in the far north east in Clearwater Bay cannot expect help any time soon. Lap Sap Du is going to remain a sweaty figure of fun for perhaps years to come.

David Dodwell is executive director of the Hong Kong-APEC Trade Policy Group

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