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November, 2016:


For decades now, with cigarette sales having increased to more than six trillion in 2016, tobacco producers have refused to accept any significant responsibility for the serious, global environmental damage resulting from the production, use and disposal of tobacco products. It’s time for new regulations that hold the tobacco industry (TI) responsible for contaminating the environment, humans, and animals throughout tobacco’s lifecycle.

Tobacco leaf growing and processing involves heavy pesticide and petroleum-based fertilizer use, land degradation and deforestation. Added waste concerns arise from tobacco manufacturing, packaging, distribution and consumption. These concerns include production of greenhouse gases (C02 and methane), released by manufacturing, transport and smoking of tobacco products; environmental toxins found in secondhand smoke; newly described toxic residuals known as thirdhand smoke found attached to surfaces in homes and other enclosed environments where smoking has occurred; and post-consumption toxic tobacco product waste (TPW).

Given experience involving the pesticide, paint and pharmaceutical industries, among others, a strong case can be made for making the TI responsible for serious environmental problems throughout the tobacco product lifecycle. With butt waste being the most visible lifecycle harm, the TI clings to its long held view that smokers and local communities are responsible for post-consumer waste. The industry tries to bolster its image by funding some beach cleanups, Keep America Beautiful, and ash trays, .

These downstream actions are miniscule compared to the up-tofour billion butts polluting the globe annually. The tobacco industry has designed a product that is not only deadly when used as directed, but its cultivation, production, distribution, consumption, and post-consumption management also causes substantial and dangerous environmental contamination.

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is a policy principle that promotes environmental protection by extending the responsibilities of the producer across the products entire life cycle. As set out in a Swedish doctoral thesis on corporate responsibility by Thomas Lindhqvist in 2000, EPR addresses two core tenets that are highly applicable to tobacco:

1. Internalizing the environmental cost of products into the retail price; and
2. Shifting the economic burden of managing toxicity and other environmental harms associated with post-consumer waste from local governments and taxpayers to producers.

While EPR is put forward as a legislative approach, it asserts, in the context of tobacco, that the producer would be strictly liable for TPW.

There are several legal theories pertaining to liability, involving potential legal causes of action that could be applicable. Public nuisance may be the strongest approach, although product liability or hazardous waste laws could also successfully hold tobacco producers liable for TPW.

Raising awareness about the environmental consequences of tobacco use and the responsibility of the TI for those consequences will require media messaging, PR skills, donors to help advance our agenda, and actions by governments at national and subnational levels, in order to succeed. For the FCTC, the WHO is currently developing a Monograph on Tobacco and the Environment, with publication in 2017. The foundation for the Monograph is a scientific article co-authored by WHO, the Secretariat and other authors that appeared in the WHO Bulletin, December 2015, available at: More broadly, these and other initiatives will provide opportunities to motivate and collaborate with a diverse array of stakeholders in ways that will benefit environmental protection, as well as quality of human health, while increasing the cost of tobacco and reducing tobacco use.

By Clif Curtis, ASH US Consultant Advisor; President, Cigarette Butt Pollution Project;

Global community must unite against Trump to avoid climate catastrophe

9 November 2016
Climate Justice Info Service

Global community must unite against Trump to avoid climate catastrophe

As news of Donald Trump’s victory in the US Presidential Election reached Marrakech, civil society groups gathered at the COP22 United Nations annual climate change talks reacted:

“Whilst the election of a climate denier into the White House sends the wrong signal globally. The grassroots movements for climate justice – native american communities, people of color, working people – those that are at this moment defending water rights in Dakota, ending fossil fuel pollution, divesting from the fossil fuel industry, standing with communities who are losing their homes and livelihoods from extreme weather devastation to creating a renewable energy transformation – are the real beating heart of the movement for change. We will redouble our efforts, grow stronger and remain committed to stand with those on the frontline of climate injustice at home and abroad.. In the absence of leadership from our government, the international community must come together redouble their effort to prevent climate disaster,” said Jesse Bragg, from Boston-based Corporate Accountability International.

“For communities in the global south, the U.S. citizens’ choice to elect Donald Trump seems like a death sentence. Already we are suffering the effects of climate change after years of inaction by rich countries like the U.S., and with an unhinged climate change denier now in the White House, the relatively small progress made is under threat. The international community must not allow itself to be dragged into a race to the bottom. Other developed countries like Europe, Canada, Australia, and Japan must increase their pledges for pollution cuts and increase their financial support for our communities,” said Wilfred D’Costa from the Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development.

“The Paris Agreement was signed and ratified not by a President, but by the United States itself. One man alone, especially in the twenty-first century, should not strip the globe of the climate progress that it has made and should continue to make. As a matter of international law, and as a matter of human survival, the nations of the world can, must, and will hold the United States to its climate commitments. And it’s incumbent upon U.S. communities to unite and push forth progressive climate policies on a state and local level, where federal policy does not reign,” said
Jean Su from California-based Center for Biological Diversity.

“As a young woman and first-time voter I will not tolerate Trump’s denialism of the action needed for climate justice. Our country must undergo a systemic change and just transition away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy within my lifetime. The next four years are critical for getting on the right pathway, and the disastrous election of Trump serves as a solemn reminder of the path ahead of us. As young people and as climate justice movements we will be demanding real action on climate for the sake of our brothers and sisters around the world and for all future generations,” said Becky Chung from the youth network SustainUS.

“Africa is already burning. The election of Trump is a disaster for our continent. The United States, if it follows through on its new President’s rash words about withdrawing from the international climate regime, will become a pariah state in global efforts for climate action. This is a moment where the rest of the world must not waver and must redouble commitments to tackle dangerous climate change,” said Geoffrey Kamese from Friends of the Earth Africa.

Rise in atmospheric CO2 slowed by green vegetation

The growth in the amount of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere has been slowed by the increased ability of plants to soak up the gas.

A new study says that green vegetation has helped offset a large fraction of human related carbon emissions between 2002 and 2014.

Plants and trees have become more absorbent say the authors, because of so much extra CO2 in the atmosphere.

The slowdown, though, can’t keep pace with the overall scale of emissions.

Over the past 50 years, the amount of CO2 absorbed by the Earth’s oceans, plants and vegetation has doubled and these carbon sinks now account for about 45% of the gas emitted each year because of human activities.

Researchers now report that since the start of the 21st century there has been a significant change in the amount of carbon dioxide taken up by the plants and trees. The new analysis suggests that between 2002 and 2014 the amount of human caused CO2 remaining in the atmosphere declined by around 20%.

Reports earlier this year indicated that there has been an increase in the number of trees and plants growing on the Earth, the so-called greening of the planet. But the authors of this new study believe that this isn’t the main cause of the slowdown in the rise of CO2.

Image copyright BERKELEY LAB Image caption The black line is the observed growth rate and the beige line is the modelled rate. The blue line indicates no increasing trend between 2002 and 2014.

“There have been reports of the greening of the land surface but what we found was that was of secondary importance to the direct effect of CO2 fertilisation on the plants that are already there,” lead author Dr Trevor Keenan told BBC News.

“We have a huge amount of vegetation on the Earth and that was being fertilised by CO2 and taking in more CO2 as a result.”

Another important element in the story is the impact of a hiatus in global temperature increases on the behaviour of plants. Between 1998 and 2012 temperatures went up by less than in previous decades. This has impacted the respiration of vegetation.

“The soils and ecosystem are respiring so as temperatures increase they respire more, releasing more CO2 into the atmosphere,” said Dr Keenan.

“In the past decade or so there hasn’t been much of an increase in global temperatures, so that meant there wasn’t much of an increase in respiration and carbon release so that was fundamentally different in the past decade or so compared to previous periods.”

One consequence of a warming world that has been expected to increase was the number of droughts around the world. However, this new study suggests that, on a global scale, there has been little or no change in the prevalence of drought over recent decades.

Overall though the slowdown caused by vegetation hasn’t stemmed the total rise of carbon which has now passed the symbolically important level of 400 parts per million (ppm) in the atmosphere.

Image copyright SPL Image caption Green vegetation has limited the growth of CO2 in the atmosphere over the last decade

“This study highlights just how sensitive the natural environment is to a changing climate and how important it is to protect natural vegetation so it continues to absorb part of our carbon emissions,” said Prof Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre at the University of East Anglia, who wasn’t involved in the study.

“Fundamentally, though, the carbon sinks help but their help is not enough to stop the planet getting warmer – far from that – carbon emissions have to drop to almost zero to stop global warming.”

One of the big lessons from the new report is that land carbon sinks are not set in stone and do have the potential to change over time. If they could be managed properly, it might help some countries to cut their emissions and limit climate change.

The authors of the study say that the pause in the growth of atmospheric carbon will almost certainly be a temporary phenomenon. As temperatures rise, these green sinks could in fact become sources of CO2.

“Now we are seeing plants slow down the rate of climate change,” said Dr Keenan.

“But if we are not careful and we don’t do anything about climate change all that CO2 could be put back in the atmosphere later and that would really accelerate the rate of warming.

“It may be hitting the brakes right now but it can really punch the accelerator later.”

The study has been published in the journal Nature Communications

How a ‘green living’ Hong Kong family survives on HK$8,000 monthly

They farm their own vegetables, recycle wood for fire and have not used toilet paper in over a decade

Environmentalist Mok Ho-kwong and his wife spend their days in a small, rural house tucked between Fanling and Kam Tin. They tend their farmland, where they grow their own vegetables.

They cook their dinners using abandoned wood from garbage, and wash their hair with tea seed powder. They wash their clothes with baking soda in a nearby stream.

They haven’t used toilet paper in over a decade, choosing instead to use water for cleansing.

Called “Ye Yan” in Cantonese – which translates to “Wild Man” – by those who know him, 34-year-old Mok is an environmentalist who has embraced what he refers to as “green living” for almost a decade. Mok, his wife and their six-month-old baby strive to live their lives in the most sustainable way possible by reducing their energy  usage and waste. The house is sparse, with only a computer, a fridge, and some lights.

“Consumption does not mean happiness. Happiness actually comes from everywhere, and is not related to money or property,” says Mok, who works as a nature educator and activity instructor for self-launched social enterprise Natural Network, which promotes nature.

“We don’t need much money to live this way. We spend less than HK$8,000 per month.

We’re definitely happier,” adds Mok.

He was introduced to the concept by a teacher during his university years. Although he was always interested in environmental protection, the teacher inspired him to go beyond recycling and really embrace a more subsistent way of living in order to minimise his environmental impact.

Although he recognises that his lifestyle may seem extreme, there are many other ways people can live more sustainably, Mok says. He suggests buying second-hand, local  or handmade products from small shops rather than chains. Mok also recommends bringing your own containers to the market when purchasing food, or your own bags to cut down on using new ones.

“I would like to show other people that such a lifestyle is happy and enjoyable, and one they are able to follow,” Mok said.

“I encourage more people to live with less dependence on money, and to start a ‘green living’ lifestyle to save our environment.”

How many earths do we need, if the rest of the world consumed as much as Hong Kong?

Hongkongers consume so much that if everyone else in the world lived like us, we would need almost four Planet Earths to sustain us.

Hong Kong’s ecological footprint per capita, or the area required to sustain a person’s use of natural resources, has reached a historic high, according to a study by conservation body WWF, released last week. The city’s footprint is the second largest in Asia, behind Singapore, and 17thin the world.

About 3.9 earths would be needed to sustain humanity’s lifestyle if everyone consumed at the same rate as Hongkongers, the report said.


The city’s footprint grew to 6.7 global hectares (gha) per person this year from 5.4 gha in 2014, when we would have needed three Planet Earths if everyone in the world lived like Hongkongers. Global hectares measure the average productivity of land and sea areas.

Worldwide, the average footprint per capita is 2.8 gha and we would need 1.6 earths to support this rate, the study showed.

Allen To Wai-lun, assistant manager of WWF-Hong Kong’s Footprint Programme, said although there were minor changes to the study’s methodology, the results clearly show a trend of unsustainable consumption.

Daily consumption by individuals, households and businesses are responsible for 76 per cent of Hong Kong’s footprint – 57 per cent of which comprises consumption involving personal transport, food, clothing, electricity, gas and other fuels.

The largest portion is made up of local carbon dioxide emissions and the carbon embodied in the products we use, many of which are imported.

“We buy too much stuff. We don’t have a sense of connecting our consumption to the deteriorating environment,” To said. “Changing the lifestyles of people is not easy.

But to alleviate [this problem] we need to consume less, and consume wisely.”

According to To, the city’s growing footprint can be attributed to fast fashion trends and meat consumption. The trend of readily available clothing at cheaper prices increased our cotton consumption, causing us to use more cropland, he said.

Added to that, increased meat consumption, particularly beef, has also led to more greenhouse gas emissions and contributed to climate change. The city also imports seafood from over 170 territories worldwide, ranking second in Asia and seventh globally in terms of per capita seafood consumption.

Ng Cho-nam, associate professor of geography at the University of Hong Kong, said cities usually had lower productivity due to lack of natural resources, and a high rate of consumption. This impacts their ecological footprint. Although countries like Australia consume lots of resources, their net deficit is small because they also produce a lot, according to Ng.

“When comparing a city with a country, then the city will have a bigger deficit as cities are the biggest places for consumption,” Ng said.

“We rely heavily on consuming imported goods. We enjoy cheap stuff, and then we export the pollution. We also have a huge number of tourists, [which] are top consumers,” Ng added.

In recent years, overexploitation, pollution, habitat loss and other consequences of unsustainable consumption has led to the deterioration of wildlife, fisheries and natural environments, as well as increased carbon accumulation in the atmosphere, WWF said.

Global wildlife populations could decline by more than two-thirds by 2020 compared to 1970 levels, WWF’s Living Planet Report 2016 showed. Between 1970 and 2012, populations of fish, mammals, reptiles, birds and amphibians decreased by 58 per cent.

Local wildlife populations have also deteriorated. Numbers of the Hong Kong grouper have declined by 63 per cent in two decades, and the fish is now an endangered species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List – an inventory of the conservation status of species. Another fish, the golden threadfin bream, has decreased by 30 per cent in 10 years, while the three-striped box turtle is now critically endangered.

“Hong Kong certainly plays a role in wildlife trading through legal and illegal means [through the] consumption of shark fins, some coral reef fish, pets, reptiles, corals and more,” Ng said. “There are lots of wild birds being traded in Hong Kong, as well as animals whose body parts are used for traditional Chinese medicine like tigers and rhinos.”

In February, the Consumer Council released a report showing that 75 per cent of Hongkongers are prepared to pay more for sustainable products. But the government had yet to take adequate action, activist groups said. Now, the city’s Council for Sustainable Development is also conducting a public consultation that ends on November 15, seeking views on how to make our consumption more sustainable.

According to Ng, since the government is one of Hong Kong’s biggest consumers, it should include more products such as building materials under its green purchasing policy, to ensure that it takes the lead in sustainable consumption. More stringent labelling systems for green products would also allow consumers to make informed decisions, he added.

Allen To from WWF-Hong Kong said the government should provide incentives for consumers and businesses to trade and consume in a more sustainable manner. The city could take up green credit systems that are now being used in countries like South Korea, where consumers can receive points and other rewards when buying green products. They can then use the rewards to purchase other sustainable items or take public transport, he said.

Edwin Lau Che-fung, executive director of eco-friendly charity Green Earth, echoed the sentiments and urged the government to implement legislation to increase sustainability and reduce waste levels – such as more producer responsibility schemes requiring manufacturers, distributors and retailers to share the duty of collecting, recycling, treating and disposing products.

“There is still a lot of room for our government to take aggressive action towards lowering the ecological footprint for the whole of Hong Kong,” Lau said. “We are currently using the resources that we are borrowing from our future generations.”


The ecological footprint refers to the total area required to sustain a person or community’s use of natural resources and shows their impact on the environment.


• Cropland for producing food and fibre, including oil crops and rubber
• Grazing land for raising livestock
• Fishing grounds for marine and inland water ecosystems to generate primary production, which supports seafood catch and aquaculture
• Forest for providing fuel wood, timber products and pulp
• Built-up land or biologically productive areas for infrastructure
• Forests as primary ecosystems for long-term storage or sequestration of carbon to slow or reverse the build-up of CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere


• Daily consumption of seafood and meat
• Daily consumption of timber and paper products
• Carbon dioxide emissions including those resulting from the trade of goods

Source: WWF-Hong Kong



On average, some monitored animal species declined by 58 per cent between 1970 and 2012 as a result of unsustainable agriculture, mining, fisheries and other human activities. The population sizes of vertebrate species dropped by more than half in just over 40 years, with an average annual decline of 2 per cent.


As of 2000, 45.8 per cent of the world’s temperate grasslands and 48.5 per cent of the world’s tropical and subtropical dry broadleaf forest habitats have been converted for human use.


Freshwater habitats have been damaged by pollution, dams, invasive aquatic species and unsustainable water extractions. Freshwater accounts for only 0.01 per cent of the world’s water, but it is home to nearly 10 per cent of the world’s known species.


Between 1970 and 2012, marine life experienced an overall decline of 36 per cent. Overfishing is the most common threat to fish populations, and 31 per cent of global fish stocks are overfished.


Three-quarters of the world’s coral reefs are now threatened and facing large-scale extinction as a result of mass bleaching and acidification. Although reefs cover less than 0.1 per cent of the ocean, they support over 25 per cent of all marine fish species. Threats to reefs include greenhouse gases, pollution, overfishing and coastal development.


Changes in temperature can confound signals for seasonal events such as reproduction and migration, causing them to occur at the wrong time. Some species will also have to adapt by shifting their migration range in search of suitable climate.

Source: Living Planet Report 2016 by WWF-Hong Kong in collaboration with the Zoological Society of London and Global Footprint Network

Historic climate deal goes into force in fight versus global warming

A worldwide pact to battle global warming entered into force Friday, just a week before nations reassemble to discuss how to make good on their promises to cut planet-warming greenhouse gases.

Dubbed the Paris Agreement, it is the first-ever deal binding all the world’s nations, rich and poor, to a commitment to cap global warming caused mainly by the burning of coal, oil and gas.

“A historic day for the planet,” said the office of President Francois Hollande of France, host to the 2015 negotiations that yielded the breakthrough pact.

“Humanity will look back on November 4, 2016, as the day that countries of the world shut the door on inevitable climate disaster,” UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa and Moroccan Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar said in a joint statement.

Mezouar will preside over the UN meeting opening in Marrakesh on Monday.

“It is also a moment to look ahead with sober assessment and renewed will over the task ahead,” they said.

This meant drastically and urgently cutting emissions, which requires political commitment and considerable financial investment.

The urgency was brought home by a UN report on Thursday which warned that emissions trends were steering the world towards climate “tragedy”.

By 2030, said the UN Environment Programme, annual emissions will be 12 to 14 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) higher than the desired level of 42 billion tonnes.

The 2014 level was about 52.7 billion tonnes.

The year 2016 is on track to be the hottest year on record, and carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere passed an ominous milestone in 2015.

Lit up in green, the Eiffel Tower in Paris proclaimed: “Accord de Paris, c’est fait!” (Paris Agreement, it’s a done deal!) — to hail the entry into force of the pact meant to stop the rot.

The historic agreement was finally endorsed in the French capital last December, after years of complex and divisive negotiations, but the ratification was reached with record speed.

At least 55 parties to the UN’s climate convention (UNFCCC), responsible for at least 55 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, had to ratify it for it to take effect.

It passed the threshold last month, and by Friday it had been ratified by 97 of the 197 UNFCCC parties, representing 67.5 per cent of emissions, according to France’s environment minister Segolene Royal, outgoing president of the UN talks.

“It is a magnificent day, concluding years of hard work,” Royal told journalists in Paris.

“We must maintain this extraordinary momentum by encouraging countries to continue ratifying the deal, and by moving full steam ahead with our preparations to put it into action across the world,” Europe’s climate commissioner Miguel Canete said in a statement.

A major doubt looms over the process, however, as diplomats gear up for 11 days of talks in Morocco to discuss way of putting the agreement’s political undertakings into practise.

US Republican nominee Donald Trump has threatened to “cancel” Washington’s participation in the agreement if he is elected president on November 8.

“I refuse to think along these lines,” Royal said, when asked about a possible US withdrawal under Trump. “The Paris agreement prohibits any exit for a period of three years, plus a year-long notice period, so there will be four stable years,” she said.

The pact undertakes to limit global warming to “well below” two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-Industrial Revolution levels, and to strive for 1.5 C.

Countries submitted voluntary, non-binding carbon-cutting goals towards this goal.

According to the International Energy Agency, implementing the pledges would require investments of US$13.5 trillion in efficient and low-carbon and energy technology to 2030 — almost 40 per cent of total energy sector spending.

“The timetable is pressing because globally, greenhouse gas emissions which drive climate change and its impacts are not falling,” said Espinosa and Mezouar.
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A China Bothered by Pollution Grabs Global Green Bond Lead

China is extending its dominance of the global market for green bonds, just as the Paris Agreement on climate change takes effect this week.

The world’s most-populous nation accounted for $21.9 billion of the $61.1 billion in global green bond sales this year, data compiled by Bloomberg show. China, which in 2015 sold less than $1 billion of the debt whose proceeds are earmarked for environmental projects, is accelerating regulation to channel funds toward reducing pollution, Moody’s Investors Service said in a report last week.

“When you live in Hong Kong or China, pollution is there, it bothers you,” said Vincent Duhamel, head of Asia in Hong Kong at Lombard Odier Darier Hentsch & Cie.

“There’s been a number of family offices here in Hong Kong that once Dad has given away the controls and the kids take over they go for a much more impact-investing viewpoint.”

Lombard Odier estimates that within three years green bonds will account for 20 percent of the $700 billion annual investment needed under the Paris Agreement on climate change, which takes effect Nov. 4. China issued new measures to boost investment in green industries on Aug. 31 before President Xi Jinping opened the Group of 20 meeting in Hangzhou in September with five-year environmental goals that would help make China “a beautiful country with blue sky, green vegetation and clear rivers.”


“Concerns over rising levels of pollution in China and Hong Kong have raised awareness of the consequences of China’s growth story that started a few decades ago,” said Magdalene Teo, head of fixed income research Asia, at Bank Julius Baer & Co. in Singapore. “A growing number of investors worldwide including Chinese investors are interested in combining their investment objectives with environmentally sustainable investments.”

Green industries are facing teething troubles. Shanghai Chaori Solar Energy Science & Technology Co. was the first company to default on onshore bonds in 2014 amid solar panel overcapacity. Asian clean-power investment slumped 41 percent to $70.1 billion in the first nine months as governments curbed subsidies, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Authorities are struggling to integrate this year’s 13 percent jump in production from such plants into grids, it said.

“China is playing somewhat of a catch-up game,” said Daniel Shurey, a New York-based BNEF analyst. “A lot of the proceeds have been used for refinancing. We have seen a slowdown in investment in renewable energy which suggests refinancing won’t be as big next year.”

Bank of China Ltd. may price three-year green covered dollar bonds, underpinned by “qualifying green” domestic notes, as early as today at about 115 basis points over Treasuries, a person familiar said. While Chinese issuers often simply state proceeds will be used for activities on the domestic Green Finance Committee’s endorsed-projects list, the notes’ annual progress reports will help “build awareness” of responsible investing, Shurey said.

“While there are some investors who are attracted to green bonds because of the eco-friendly nature of the investment, the vast majority of Asian clients invest because of the specific return potential, name recognition and credit fundamentals,” said Todd Schubert, head of fixed-income research at Bank of Singapore, the private banking unit of Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp.


Issuers can be confident of demand. Developer Modern Land China Co. plans a yuan green note after selling $350 million of similar dollar notes with a 7 percent coupon on Oct. 14. When MTR Corp., owner of Hong Kong’s mass transit system, raised $600 million selling 10-year green bonds on Oct. 25 it got orders for $1.4 billion.

“Green bonds are quite new in Asia and largely promoted by the Chinese government,” Ben Sy, head of fixed income, currencies and commodities at the private banking arm of JPMorgan Chase & Co. in Hong Kong. “Some institutional investors may have social responsibility mandates but I don’t see the awareness on the individual client level yet.”

High court rules UK government plans to tackle air pollution are illegal

Court rules for second time in 18 months that the government is not doing enough to combat the national air pollution crisis

The government’s plan for tackling the UK’s air pollution crisis has been judged illegally poor at the high court, marking the second time in 18 months that ministers have lost in court on the issue.

The defeat is a humiliation for ministers who by law must cut the illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide suffered by dozens of towns and cities in the “shortest possible time”.

Legal NGO ClientEarth, which brought the case, argued that current plans ignore many measures that could help achieve this, placing too much weight on costs. On Wednesday Mr Justice Garnham agreed. He also said ministers knew that over-optimistic pollution modelling was being used, based on flawed lab tests of diesel vehicles rather than actual emissions on the road.

The government said it would not appeal against the decision and agreed in court to discuss with ClientEarth a new timetable for more realistic pollution modelling and the steps needed to bring pollution levels down to legal levels. The parties will return to court in a week but if agreement cannot be reached, the judge could impose a timetable upon the government.

Air pollution causes 50,000 early deaths and £27.5bn in costs every year, according to the government’s own estimates, and was called a “public health emergency” by MPs in April.

James Thornton, CEO of ClientEarth, said: “The time for legal action is over. I challenge Theresa May to take immediate action now to deal with illegal levels of pollution and prevent tens of thousands of additional early deaths in the UK. The high court has ruled that more urgent action must be taken. Britain is watching and waiting, prime minister.”

He said the increased action required would very likely include bigger and tougher clean air zones in more cities and other measure such as scrappage schemes for the dirtiest vehicles: “The government will have to be tougher on diesel.”

The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who took part in the case against the government, said: “Today’s ruling lays the blame at the door of the government for its complacency in failing to tackle the problem quickly and credibly. In so doing they have let down millions of people the length and breadth of the country.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “Improving air quality is a priority for this government and we are determined to cut harmful emissions. Our plans have always followed the best available evidence – we have always been clear that we are ready to update them if necessary. Whilst our huge investment in green transport initiatives and plans to introduce clean air zones [in six cities] around the country will help tackle this problem, we accept the court’s judgment. We will now carefully consider this ruling, and our next steps, in detail.”

ClientEarth defeated the government on the same issue at the supreme court in April 2015. Ministers were then ordered to draw up a new action plan, but now that new plan has also been found to be illegal.

Documents revealed during the latest case showed the Treasury had blocked plans to charge diesel cars to enter towns and cities blighted by air pollution, concerned about the political impact of angering motorists. Both the environment and transport departments recommended changes to vehicle excise duty rates to encourage the purchase of low-pollution vehicles, but the Treasury also rejected that idea.

Documents further showed that the government’s plan to bring air pollution down to legal levels by 2020 for some cities and 2025 for London had been chosen because that was the date ministers thought they would face European commission fines, not which they considered “as soon as possible”.

There had been a draft government plan for 16 low emission zones, which polluting vehicles are charged to enter, in cities outside London but the number was cut to just five on cost grounds.

All these proposals will now be revisited. Thornton said a national network of clean air zones needed to be in place by 2018. “If you put in clean air zones, it works overnight.”

Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, said: “We urgently need a new clean air act that restricts the most polluting vehicles from our urban areas and protects everyone’s lung health – air pollution affects all of us.”

Sam Hall, at conservative thinktank Bright Blue, said there should be more power and funding devolved to local authorities to enable all English cities to set up clean air zones and more support for electric cars.

Keith Taylor, Green party MEP, said: “The failure highlighted by the judge today is as much moral as it is legal: ministers have displayed an extremely concerning attitude of indifference towards their duty to safeguard the health of British citizens.

Hong Kong doesn’t need a vast new town rising from the seas off Lantau

Tom Yam says the government’s vision for the East Lantau Metropolis rests on flimsy rationale, amid a lack of political will to secure targeted land elsewhere from vested interests

No sane investor commits to a project to be completed in 30 years with no data supporting the need for it, no estimate of the capital required, and no cost-benefit and risk

Unless it is the Hong Kong government, using taxpayer money, to build what it calls the “East Lantau Metropolis”.

This metropolis takes pride of place in the Development Bureau and Planning Department’s study, “Hong Kong 2030+: Towards a Planning Vision and Strategy Transcending 2030”, due to be presented to the Legislative Council’s development panel on November 8.

According to this “planning vision”, the East Lantau Metropolis will be created by reclaiming land around two islands east of Lantau and connecting them to Mui Wo in south Lantau. On these 1,000 hectares will rise housing for 400,000 to 700,000 people, and a business district, with essential infrastructure such as utilities, telecommunications, schools and clinics. Bridges or tunnels and railways totalling 29km will link this vast new town with the rest of Lantau, Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.

Clearly, the metropolis will be the most expensive infrastructure project in Hong Kong’s history, probably costing as much as the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, the high-speed railway to Guangzhou and the third runway combined. Yet the government has not explained why the project is necessary, other than the anodyne rationale  of “strategic long-term growth”.

Chief Executive Leung Chunying mooted the concept of the East Lantau Metropolis in his January 2014 policy address.

Just three months later, his government requested HK$227 million for a feasibility study on reclaiming land for the metropolis. After barely 90 minutes of discussion at Legco’s development panel, the request was approved by 10-3 votes, thanks to progovernment legislators.

Since then, four requests to conduct an analysis of the need for such a metropolis in the context of population growth and housing supply have been rejected.

The Development Bureau now claims the East Lantau Metropolis is justified by its recently announced Hong Kong 2030+ study. Curiously, the study began in 2015, a year
after funding was requested for the metropolis.

According to the government’s own figures on population and housing, this metropolis is bound to become the mother of all white elephants. The Census and Statistics Department projects Hong Kong’s population, now 7.3 million, to peak at 8.22 million in 2043, then fall to 7.81 million in 2064. The number of households, 2.43 million in 2014, is projected to peak at 2.93 million in 2044 and drop to 2.91 million in 2049. So, just as the East Lantau Metropolis is completed in the 2040s – adding capacity for up to 700,000 people and 260,000 housing units (at 2.7 occupants per household) – Hong Kong’s population and housing needs will be declining.

The fact is the government would achieve its housing targets without building a behemoth in the sea. It has targeted enough existing land for housing, but lacks the political will to secure that land from vested interests. Hong Kong has 2.67 million housing units now, and the government plans to add 460,000 new units in the next decade, for a total of 3.13 million units. This will meet the peak requirement of 2.93 million households in 2044, after which the number of households will decrease.

The Hong Kong 2030+ study acknowledges that with the East Lantau Metropolis, Hong Kong will have the capacity for 9 million-plus residents, whereas the population will peak at 8.22 million. It disingenuously suggests the extra capacity will mean more space for everyone. As many as 700,000 residents on the metropolis’ 1,000 hectares
means a population density of 70,000 per sq km – far denser than Hong Kong’s most congested district, Kwun Tong, which now has 57,250 residents per sq km. Even at  the lowest estimate of 400,000 residents, the metropolis will be 2½ times more congested than Wan Chai’s 15,000 residents per sq km.

The 2030+ study offers another flimsy rationale: the extra capacity allows flexibility in case of an unforeseen 10 per cent rise in population (despite forecasts in the past 15 years predicting a declining trend).

That means the East Lantau Metropolis will be the costliest contingency plan in the world: hundreds of billions spent to provide for an unlikely 10 per cent increase in population. A smarter contingency plan would be to add capacity incrementally around planned development areas in the northern New Territories.

Like any sales pitch, “Hong Kong 2030+” brims with buzzwords – “smart liveable low-carbon”, “synergy effects”, “smart mobility-transport information platform”, and so on. But any serious investor subjecting the East Lantau Metropolis to even a rudimentary business case analysis would consign it to the recycling bin.

No wonder development chief Paul Chan Mo-po is trying to rush this immense project through with little public scrutiny. However, in May, he gave a private showing of a detailed model of the metropolis to Zhang Dejiang, China’s third-ranking state leader and top official in charge of Hong Kong affairs.

Showing Zhang the model, while hiding it from the public, makes it evident that the public consultation on “Hong Kong 2030+”, including the East Lantau Metropolis, is a pro forma exercise. The decision has been made, and public input will not change the outcome.

Tom Yam is a Hong Kong-based management consultant. He holds a doctorate in electrical engineering and an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania