Clear The Air News Blog Rotating Header Image

Questions over two-day delay on notice of palm oil spill that left 11 Hong Kong beaches closed

Smelly, congealed clumps from spill in mainland waters mar island beauty spots in Hong Kong

http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2105625/hong-kong-beaches-closed-after-mystery-oil-washes

Environmental experts have questioned why it took two days for mainland authorities to inform Hong Kong about a ship collision and palm oil spill that left nearly a dozen local beaches closed to the public at the weekend.

The accident took place on Thursday, but mainland authorities only reported the incident on Saturday. Affected Hong Kong residents learned of the spill on Sunday when beaches were closed.

“A notification mechanism [in place] should in theory state [the problem] as soon as possible but it’s hard to define how many days that is,” said Dr Tsang Po-keung, an associate professor of science and environmental studies at the Education University of Hong Kong and a member of the government’s Advisory Council on the Environment.

“For some marine life, two days could be too late.”

Residents of Lamma and Lantau islands noticed congealed palm oil washed up on several beaches in the area on Sunday after it spilled into the sea when two boats crashed in mainland waters.

A similar substance was also spotted in Victoria Harbour.

Hung Shing Yeh Beach and Lo So Shing Beach on Lamma Island, as well as Lantau Island’s Pui O Beach and Tong Fuk Beach were all affected. So were both Upper and Lower Cheung Sha Beach.

Beaches at Repulse Bay, Middle Bay, South Bay, St Stephen’s Beach and Chung Hom Kok were also shut.

The Leisure and Cultural Services Department hoisted the red flag at all 11 beaches, warning people not to go in the water. Parts of Cheung Chau were also reportedly affected.

closed-beaches

Tsang said the notification mechanism should be modified to specify how many days authorities should be given to report such incidents.

“This time they may think it’s fine because it’s just palm oil, but what if next time it is gasoline?” he said.

City University chair professor of biology Paul Lam Kwan-sing said the spill did not amount to an environmental disaster but was “not a good thing”.

“Palm oil is a crystallised liquid … which will slowly be decomposed by micro-organisms. The problem is that it is a real eyesore for beachgoers,” he said.

He agreed that the notification mechanism needed to be faster and information flow more transparent.

“Both sides [Guangdong and Hong Kong] should work it out, establish a hotline and specify exactly under what circumstances the mechanism should be activated,” he said.

A spokesman for the Leisure and Cultural Services Department said the beach closures came after “white, oily” substances were found in the waters and “a white granular substance” washed up on beaches.

“Beach staff immediately deployed oil-absorbent felts and strips to prevent the spread of the oil, and the relevant government departments have been notified to clean up the oil and monitor the water quality of the affected beaches,” the spokesman said.

A Marine Department spokesman confirmed two ships had collided somewhere in the Pearl River estuary, in mainland waters, on Thursday and said that had caused some of the vessel’s cargo, palm oil, to leak into the sea.

Lamma resident Sheila McClelland spotted the oil clumps floating in the water and lying on the beach as she was on her way to work and said she noticed a “faintly chemical odour” as she inspected the solid lumps.

“I pressed it with my foot and it was solid. It was a bit like play dough but not as nice,” she said. “I’ve lived here for a couple of decades and I’ve seen many forms of pollution and unpleasant stuff from oil, syringes and of course the [2012] pellet spill. But nothing like this.”

In July 2012, seven containers fell from cargo ship Yong Xin Jie 1 when Typhoon Vicente hit the city. Six were loaded with 150 tonnes of plastic pellets, which washed up on Hong Kong beaches, sparking concern for marine life.

Lamma resident Stanley Chan Kam-wai, a conservation manager for the Eco-Education and Resources Centre, said cleaning up Sunday’s spill could be “as difficult as, if not more difficult than, cleaning up the mess” from the 2012 incident.

“Some of the oil is starting to congeal so once you press on it, it just disintegrates into powder like snow,” he said. “I’m very concerned about how the government will clean this up.”

He said by late afternoon on Sunday the smell was starting to turn rancid like the odours in alleyways behind fried snack shops.

The concern, he said, was that while most government beaches were being cleaned, the oil on non-government-run beaches would be left to rot.

Other Lamma residents on Sunday posted pictures of the substance on Facebook.

“At first glance it looked like blocks of styrofoam or cooked rice,” said one long-time Lamma resident, who spotted the stuff on Power Station Beach on Sunday morning. “It had a sort of bubbly consistency. It was along the high-tide line covering, I’d say, about two-thirds of the beach. [I’ve]never seen it before.”

Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil from the fruit pulp of oil palm trees. Because of its versatility and low cost, it is used in many food products from fried food and margarine to ice cream, as well as in consumer products such as lipstick, shampoo and detergent.

Gary Stokes of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society said palm oil could absorb toxins in the water, making it more hazardous than in its raw form.

“People think just because it’s palm oil it’s safe but in large, highly concentrated amounts, it can’t be good for anyone,” he said.

Stokes said children and beach-goers were seen playing with the oily clumps on the shore on Sunday. “Government public communications over these kinds of accidents have definitely got to be worked on. I know it’s the weekend, but that’s when most people visit the beach,” he said.

The Environmental Protection Department said it had sent a boat to help in the clean-up.

Spills from shipping are fairly common in Hong Kong.

Last May, a 50-metre-long slick was spotted floating off Tsing Yi following a collision between an oil tanker and a mainland-registered cargo vessel.

About 493 confirmed oil spills were recorded between 2005 and 2014, according to the Marine Department, 135 of which were caused by shipping accidents or refuelling.

The causes of the rest were unknown.

China to WTO: Scrap plastic imports banned by year-end

Clear the Air says: HKG Govt includes materials that arrive here from overseas countries, which are then re-exported to China, as ‘LOCAL RECYCLING’

In a previous China ‘OPERATION GREEN FENCE’ many containers of such import/re-export materials got stranded here and the ENB had to drastically republish its ‘local recycling rates’

Now we can see ‘OPERATION GREEN FENCE 11’ = ‘OPERATION NATIONAL SWORD 2017 ‘is imminent
https://resource-recycling.com/plastics/2017/02/15/china-announces-sword-crackdown-illegal-scrap-plastic-imports/

Let’s see how this China initiative affects Hong Kong’s ‘local recycling’ rates where the Government relies on 80 year old scavengers as its recycling policy, which is to ship what they gather to China and sell it.

http://www.epd.gov.hk/epd/english/environmentinhk/waste/guide_ref/stat_wt_type.html
http://www.epd.gov.hk/epd/english/environmentinhk/waste/guide_ref/stat_wt_cty.html

Hong Kong’s apathetic ENB has no PLAN A =source separation of waste and infrastructure to collect same, yet intends PLAN B =to charge for waste, without first enacting PLAN A, meaning recyclables will get tossed and charged for

We hope Christine LOH enjoys reuniting with the clean air of Santa Monica which has such recycling legislation, Green Bin free collection of food waste at kerb-side and a ZERO WASTE POLICY

https://www.smgov.net/Departments/PublicWorks/ContentRecycling.aspx?id=45134

Where is our ZERO WASTE Policy in Hong Kong ? well, it’s called an incinerator.

https://www.zerowasteeurope.eu/2013/09/the-story-of-capannori-a-zero-waste-champion/

https://www.zerowasteeurope.eu/about/principles-zw-europe/
http://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/live/waste-and-recycling
http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0734242X09337659?journalCode=wmra
http://www.prweb.com/releases/2017/05/prweb14358068.htm

———————————————————————————

http://www.plasticsnews.com/article/20170718/NEWS/170719892/china-to-wto-scrap-plastic-imports-banned-by-year-end
China told the World Trade Organization July 18 that it will ban imports of scrap plastics and other “foreign garbage” by the end of the year, officially taking a step that had been widely rumored in the industry.

The move drew quick criticism from a recycling industry trade group in the United States, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, which said it would be “devastating” to the global recycling industry and cost thousands of U.S. jobs.

ISRI said the ban would include most scrap plastics, including PET, PVC, polyethylene and polystyrene, as well as mixed papers and slag.

China’s government said it was taking the action to protect public health and the environment.

“We found that large amounts of dirty wastes or even hazardous wastes are mixed in the solid waste that can be used as raw materials,” China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection said in a notification to WTO.

“This polluted the environment seriously.”

“To protect China’s environmental interests and people’s health, we urgently adjust the imported solid waste list, and forbid the import of solid wastes that are highly polluted,” it said.

Washington-based ISRI said the move could cause severe economic harm in the United States.

“If implemented, a ban on scrap imports will result in the loss of tens of thousands of jobs and closure of many recycling businesses throughout the United States,” ISRI President Robin Weiner said in a statement.

ISRI immediately relayed its concerns to the U.S. Trade Representative and the U.S. Department of Commerce, and briefed U.S. officials ahead of the July 19 U.S.-China Comprehensive Economic Dialogue in Washington.

The association said one-third of the scrap recycled in the United States is exported, with China being the largest market. That includes
1.42 million tons (3.1 billion pounds) of scrap plastics, worth an estimated $495 million, out of $5.6 billion in scrap commodities exported from the United States to China last year, it said.

“Recycled materials are key inputs into the production of new, usable commodities for the use in value-add production,” ISRI said. “The trade in specification-grade commodities — metals, paper and plastics — between the United States and China is of critical importance to the health and success of the U.S. based recycling industry.”

The step had been rumored. ISRI leaders said at a mid-June news conference, after returning from a trip to China, that there were serious rumors of a ban on scrap imports, starting with plastics. That echoed earlier comments from Chinese plastics industry officials.

In a related development, a Chinese plastics recycling group said that a month-long crackdown on plastics recyclers that began July 1 had resulted in inspecting 888 factories by July 14. That’s about half of the 1,792 factories licensed to import waste plastics.

The China Scrap Plastics Association said in its July 17 announcement that Chinese media were reporting that 590 of those factories were found to have rule violations, with 349 put under investigation for those violations.

It said with 383 factories had their production suspended and 53 were closed, and that factories with violations could have their import permits suspended for one year.

China’s WTO filing said the import ban on plastics would apply to products with HS codes 3915100000, 3915200000, 3915300000, 3915901000 and 3915909000.

Air pollution is the ‘tobacco of the 21st century’, warn experts

Bad air is the source of ‘huge illness which is entirely preventable if we take the issue seriously’, IPPR researcher says

http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/air-pollution-tobacco-21-century-quality-breathing-health-problems-lungs-experts-ippr-a7846761.html

Air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels is the “tobacco of the 21st century”, an expert has warned after a report found some cities in northern England were breaching legal safety limits by up to 150 per cent.

It is estimated that the air we breathe causes about 40,000 premature deaths a year in Britain, mainly affecting children, elderly people and those with respiratory conditions.

The report, by the Institute for Public Policy Research North think tank, noted that all but two of 11 air quality reporting zones in the North exceeded legal limits for nitrogen dioxide, according to the Government’s own figures.

Some areas, including Merseyside and Teesside, were up to 150 per cent above the legal limit for the pollutant, which inflames the lining of the lung and reduces immunity to infections such as bronchitis.

Within the next few weeks, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is expected to publish its third attempt at an air quality plan designed to bring pollution to within legal safety limits.

Its previous attempts have been widely regarded as half-hearted at best with environmental group ClientEarth twice winning court orders forcing Ministers to produce a more effective plan.

Darren Baxter, a research with IPPR North, compared the debate over what to do about air pollution to the realisation that smoking was harmful to health about 50 years ago.

“This is the tobacco of the 21st century and every single preventable death is a failure of government action,” he said.

“Michael Gove [the Environment Secretary] must get a grip on this crisis which is killing literally thousands of children and adults a year.

“This is a huge illness which is entirely preventable if we take the issue seriously and take the sort of big actions that governments took on policy for smoking in the 1960s onwards when the public health effects became clear.

“So for this it means clean air zones, phasing out diesel and huge expansion in electric cars.”

Mr Baxter said that “too often” the focus of concern about air pollution had been on London.

“But the reality is that it’s poisoning thousands in our regional cities too,” he said.

“Michael Gove must show that the Government is not prepared to sit on its hands while up to 40,000 people are killed every year from dirty air.

“We need to see radical plans to ditch diesel, introduce incentives for electric cars and bring in Clean Air Zones in our major cities.”

The report called for an “explicit pledge” to phase out diesel cars and “formally investigate even more ambitious targets” after the publication of the Air Quality Plan.

A network of new clean air zones should be created to cover “all major urban areas in the UK”.

“The potential socio-economic and environmental gains from the realisation of a cleaner, more efficient transport system are enormous,” the report said.

But it warned the UK risked slipping behind other countries that are embracing cleaner forms of transport.

“There could be much to learn from abroad; other countries are beginning to overtake the UK in ushering in a new mobility system. Germany, in particular, is undergoing an explicit mobility transition (Verkehrswende); the UK could and should do the same,” the report said.

A Defra spokesperson said: “We are firmly committed to improving the UK’s air quality and cutting harmful emissions.

“That’s why we have committed more than £2bn since 2011 to increase the uptake of ultra-low emissions vehicles and support greener transport schemes, and set out how we will improve air quality through a new programme of Clean Air Zones.”

Mai Po Nature Reserve Infrastructure Upgrade Project

Download (PDF, 2.35MB)

Melting Greenland ice now source of 25% of sea level rise, researchers say

Ocean levels rose 50 percent faster in 2014 than in 1993, with meltwater from the Greenland ice sheet now supplying 25 percent of total sea level increase compared with just 5 percent 20 years earlier, researchers reported Monday.

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/06/27/world/science-health-world/melting-greenland-ice-now-source-25-sea-level-rise-researchers-say/#.WVWU6YiGOHs

The findings add to growing concern among scientists that the global watermark is climbing more rapidly than forecast only a few years ago, with potentially devastating consequences.

Hundreds of millions of people around the world live in low-lying deltas that are vulnerable, especially when rising seas are combined with land sinking due to depleted water tables, or a lack of ground-forming silt held back by dams.

Major coastal cities are also threatened, while some small island states are already laying plans for the day their drowning nations will no longer be livable.

“This result is important because the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)” — the U.N. science advisory body — “makes a very conservative projection of total sea level rise by the end of the century,” at 60 to 90 cm (24 to 35 inches), said Peter Wadhams, a professor of ocean physics at the University of Oxford who did not take part in the research.

That estimate, he added, assumes that the rate at which ocean levels rise will remain constant.

“Yet there is convincing evidence — including accelerating losses of mass from Greenland and Antarctica — that the rate is actually increasing, and increasing exponentially.”

Greenland alone contains enough frozen water to lift oceans by about 7 meters (23 feet), though experts disagree on the global warming threshold for irreversible melting, and how long that would take once set in motion.

“Most scientists now expect total rise to be well over a meter by the end of the century,” Wadhams said.

The new study, published in Nature Climate Change, reconciles for the first time two distinct measurements of sea level rise.

The first looked one-by-one at three contributions: ocean expansion due to warming, changes in the amount of water stored on land, and loss of land-based ice from glaciers and ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica.

The second was from satellite altimetry, which gauges heights on the Earth’s surface from space.

The technique measures the time taken by a radar pulse to travel from a satellite antenna to the surface, and then back to a satellite receiver.

Up to now, altimetry data showed little change in sea levels over the last two decades, even if other measurements left little doubt that oceans were measurably deepening.

“We corrected for a small but significant bias in the first decade of the satellite record,” co-author Xuebin Zhang, a professor at Qingdao National Laboratory of Marine Science and Technology in China’s Shandong Province, told AFP.

Overall, the pace of global average sea level rise went up from about 2.2 mm a year in 1993, to 3.3 mm a year two decades later.

In the early 1990s, they found, thermal expansion accounted for fully half of the added millimeters. Two decades later, that figure was only 30 percent.

Andrew Shepherd, director of the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling at the University of Leeds in England, urged caution in interpreting the results.

“Even with decades of measurements, it is hard to be sure whether there has been a steady acceleration in the rate of global sea level rise during the satellite era because the change is so small,” he said.

Disentangling single sources — such as the massive chunk of ice atop Greenland — is even harder.

But other researchers said the study should sound an alarm.

“This is a major warning about the dangers of a sea level rise that will continue for many centuries, even after global warming is stopped,” said Brian Hoskins, chair of the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London.

New study confirms the oceans are warming rapidly

Although there’s some uncertainty in the distribution among Earth’s ocean basins, there’s no question that the ocean is heating rapidly

As humans put ever more heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere, the Earth heats up. These are the basics of global warming. But where does the heat go? How much extra heat is there? And how accurate are our measurements? These are questions that climate scientists ask. If we can answer these questions, it will better help us prepare for a future with a very different climate. It will also better help us predict what that future climate will be.

The most important measurement of global warming is in the oceans. In fact, “global warming” is really “ocean warming.” If you are going to measure the changing climate of the oceans, you need to have many sensors spread out across the globe that take measurements from the ocean surface to the very depths of the waters. Importantly, you need to have measurements that span decades so a long-term trend can be established.

These difficulties are tackled by oceanographers, and a significant advancement was presented in a paper just published in the journal Climate Dynamics. That paper, which I was fortunate to be involved with, looked at three different ocean temperature measurements made by three different groups. We found that regardless of whose data was used or where the data was gathered, the oceans are warming.

709

In the paper, we describe perhaps the three most important factors that affect ocean-temperature accuracy. First, sensors can have biases (they can be “hot” or “cold”), and these biases can change over time. An example of biases was identified in the 1940s. Then, many ocean temperature measurements were made using buckets that gathered water from ships. Sensors put into the buckets would give the water temperature. Then, a new temperature sensing approach started to come online where temperatures were measured using ship hull-based sensors at engine intake ports. It turns out that bucket measurements are slightly cooler than measurements made using hull sensors, which are closer to the engine of the ship.

During World War II, the British Navy cut back on its measurements (using buckets) and the US Navy expanded its measurements (using hull sensors); consequently, a sharp warming in oceans was seen in the data. But this warming was an artifact of the change from buckets to hull sensors. After the war, when the British fleet re-expanded its bucket measurements, the ocean temperatures seemed to fall a bit. Again, this was an artifact from the data collection. Other such biases and artifacts arose throughout the years as oceanographers have updated measurement equipment. If you want the true rate of ocean temperature change, you have to remove these biases.

Another source of uncertainty is related to the fact that we just don’t have sensors at all ocean locations and at all times. Some sensors, which are dropped from cargo ships, are densely located along major shipping routes. Other sensors, dropped from research vessels, are also confined to specific locations across the globe.

Currently, we are heavily using the ARGO fleet, which contains approximately 3800 autonomous devices spread out more or less uniformly across the ocean, but these only entered service in 2005. Prior to that, temperatures measurements were not uniform in the oceans. As a consequence, scientists have to use what is called a “mapping” procedure to interpolate temperatures between temperature measurements. Sort of like filling in the gaps where no data exist. The mapping strategy used by scientists can affect the ocean temperature measurements.

Finally, temperatures are usually referenced to a baseline “climatology.” So, when we say temperatures have increased by 1 degree, it is important to say what the baseline climatology is. Have temperatures increased by 1 degree since the year 1990? Since the year 1970? Since 1900? The choice of baseline climatology really matters.

In the study, we looked at the different ways that three groups make decisions about mapping, bias, and climatology. We not only asked how much the oceans are warming, but how the warming differs for various areas (ocean basins) and various depths. We found that each ocean basin has warmed significantly. Despite this fact, there are some differences amongst the three groups. For instance, in the 300-700 meter oceans depths in the Pacific and Southern oceans, significant differences are exhibited amongst the tree groups. That said, the central fact is that regardless of how you measure, who does the measurements, when or where the measurements are taken, we are warming.

The lead author, Dr. Gonjgie Wang described the importance of the study this way:

Our study confirms again a robust global ocean warming since 1970. However, there is substantial uncertainty in decadal scale ocean heat redistribution, which explains the contradictory results related to the ocean heat changes during the “slowdown” of global warming in recent decade. Therefore, we recommend a comprehensive evaluation in the future for the existing ocean subsurface temperature datasets. Further, an improved ocean observation network is required to monitor the ocean change: extending the observations in the boundary currents systems and deep oceans (below 2000-m) besides maintaining the Argo network.

In plain English, it will be important that we keep high-quality temperature sensors positioned throughout the oceans so in the future we will be able to predict where our climate is headed. We say in science that a measurement not made is a measurement lost forever. And there are no more important measurements than of heating of the oceans.

Exposure to pollution in Hong Kong is worst in the home, study reveals

It’s not just on the city’s streets where we are at risk from dangerous PM2.5 particulates – three-quarters of daily personal exposure is indoors

http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2097540/exposure-pollution-hong-kong-worst-home-study

Your home may be your refuge in Hong Kong, but not from air pollution. It’s probably worse.

Exposure to PM2.5 particulates small enough to lodge deep in the lungs and most harmful to human health have been found to be just as high – or higher – inside people’s homes as they are outdoors or during the commute to work on an average weekday.

A two-year study by think tank Civic Exchange and City University, funded by investment bank Morgan Stanley, found that most urban dwellers are exposed to concentrations of PM2.5 during their daily commute that are almost always above average limits set by the World Health Organisation, and generally above readings at the nearest air quality monitoring station.

Breathe easier, Hong Kong is on course to hit global air pollution target

While the Environmental Protection Department’s 16 stations can monitor and assess ambient and roadside air quality across districts, the study fills a relatively wide gap in statistics on individual-level exposure to pollution in different “micro-environments”.

Co-author Dr Zhi Ning reported finding that people were exposed to air pollution risks not just outdoors but also indoors at home or the office.

“Your 24 hours are spent in different environments,” the City University air pollution expert said. “You may think that even if its very polluted outside, you are more safe inside. But it really depends on what that indoor environment is like.”

The researchers employed 73 volunteers who carried lunchbox-sized “personal exposure kits” fitted with sensors and GPS, 24 hours a day for a year around the city.

They found that most spent more than 85 per cent of each weekday indoors, which broke down to 42 per cent of the day at home, 34 per cent in the office, 4 per cent commuting and 11 per cent outdoors or in other indoor areas.

Homes were found to contribute 52 per cent of an individual’s personal exposure to PM2.5 compared with 13 per cent for offices, 4 per cent while commuting, 18 per cent outdoors and 14 per cent in other indoor areas.

The average PM2.5 concentration measured in homes – 42.5 micrograms per cubic metre – was three to four times lower than outdoors but slightly higher than while commuting and three times higher than in the office.

Factors for the PM2.5 build up in homes, Ning surmised, could range from cooking and the type of gas used to proximity to a construction site or smoking tobacco. And this was exacerbated by poor ventilation and dirty air filters. Offices tended to have better ventilation systems. Flats on lower floors were also exposed to more pollution.

But Ning found little correlation between personal exposure and district pollution. A person who spent more time in better ventilated indoor areas in heavily polluted Sham Shui Po, for example, could have a lower exposure to PM2.5 than the station reading and vice versa.

“Right now we only rely on [the department’s] data but they only provide a general, ballpark figure,” Civic Exchange research fellow and co-author Simon Ng Ka-wing said.

“It is important to know how much air pollution we are exposed to on a personal level. This would allow us to make better decisions as to when to go or not to go somewhere.”

The study recommended the government do more to promote better indoor air quality in homes and implement a comprehensive management programme.

A government spokesman said: “The EPD has been conducting promotional and educational activities, including exhibitions and seminars, to promote practices to achieve good indoor air quality.”

Additional reporting by Brian Wong

Trump has reheated debate with US withdrawal from Paris Agreement, former UN climate chief says

Speaking on sidelines of three-day World Sustainable Built Environment Conference in Hong Kong, Christiana Figueres insisted the global shift towards reducing carbon emissions would not be shaken.

The United Nations’ former climate chief has struck a defiant note against US President Donald Trump [1]’s pullout from the landmark Paris accord, insisting the global shift towards reducing carbon emissions will not be shaken.

In an interview with the Post, Christiana Figueres, who formerly headed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, even “thanked” Trump for effectively reinvigorating the discussion over global warming and making it headline news again. But she admitted it was sad to see the US give up its leading role.

“The announcement was a political message that Mr Trump wanted to give out, geared toward his political base,” said Figueres, who headed the negotiations leading to the Paris agreement in 2015 [3]

“Most of the US economy, most cities, states and corporations, will continue because they know its in their own interest.”

She was speaking on the sidelines of the three-day World Sustainable Built Environment Conference in Hong Kong on Monday, the city’s largest ever conference on sustainable buildings and urban development. Tackling climate change [4] in the face of rapid urbanisation is the key theme.

Trump’s politically-motivated gesture, Figueres said, would have limited impact on America, given that more than 175 US mayors, a growing number of states and more than 1,000 corporations had pledged to continue upholding commitments to the Paris Agreement.

“It is the White House which stepped out of [Paris], not the US economy,” she said. “That’s actually a sad statement to make as under normal conditions, a president should speak for the economy and the majority.”

Figueres brushed off Trump’s announcement as one riddled with inaccuracies, not least because there was no legal basis for it – no country can withdraw from the accord until three years after ratification – and his claims of bringing back coal industry jobs.

“It is not feasible and Mr Trump knows it,” she said, adding that most coal jobs had already been killed by cheap natural gas as a result of the recent shale revolution, and mining jobs had been taken over by mechanisation and automation.

“It will be increasingly difficult for other heads of state to take Mr Trump seriously,” she added, suggesting that Trump had undermined his country’s credibility.

Figueres said it would be inevitable that China – the world’s biggest carbon emitter – continued the charge as its leaders recognised decarbonisation was “good for their economy”.

Figueres, who now vice-chairs the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, said built-up environments contributed to one-fifth of global emissions. The conference was being held in Hong Kong as it was a gateway to Asia, she said.

“Asia marks whether the world is going to succeed in climate change actions or not.”

Tobacco To Fossil Fuels: Tracing the Roots of Trump’s Claims on Paris Climate Deal

To understand why President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the global Paris climate agreement, we might start by looking at the sources he relied on to justify his decision.

https://www.desmogblog.com/2017/06/01/tobacco-fossil-fuels-tracing-roots-trump-s-claims-paris-climate-deal

But we’re not going to start there, but we will end there.

Instead, let’s go back to the early 1990s. The tobacco industry was facing multiple bans on advertising its products in countries around the world.

So the tobacco industry took ownership of a study that reviewed a bunch of other studies about the claimed impacts of tobacco advertising on actual tobacco consumption.

In short, the study, handed to Phillip Morris International, concluded there was no real link between tobacco advertising and smoking levels. Studies that had found a link were probably flawed, the report claimed.

The reports, the letters, and the memos back and forth, are all buried away in the Tobacco Industry Documents Archive at the University of California – San Francisco.

Clearly, the report would help the tobacco industry to argue there was no need to regulate the advertising of its products, because that advertising didn’t make a difference to smoking levels one way or the other.

National Economic Research Associates

The company that carried out that tobacco study was National Economic Research Associates.

Why is this relevant to Donald Trump and his decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement?

When Trump spoke of the “onerous energy restrictions” he claimed the Paris deal placed on the United States, he cited figures from a report by the very same National Economic Research Associates (NERA).

According to the NERA study, the Paris agreement would cut coal and gas production, and “cost” America 2.7 million jobs.

Fossil Fuel Interests

Two groups, namely the American Council for Capital Formation (ACCF) and the U.S Chamber of Commerce, sponsored the NERA report (incidentally, a New York Times investigation described the chamber as Big Tobacco’s Staunch Friend in Washington, due to its advocacy for the industry).

NERA has also produced reports supporting the LNG industry and the coal industry.

The ACCF has, over the years, accepted funds from a string of major corporations and industry groups, including ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute and foundations linked to the billionaire petrochemical brothers Charles and David Koch.

As a fact check by the Associated Press on the part of Trump’s speech citing the NERA study published points out:

“The study makes worst-case assumptions that may inflate the cost of meeting U.S. targets under the Paris accord while largely ignoring the economic benefits to U.S. businesses from building and operating renewable energy projects.

Academic studies have found that increased environmental regulation doesn’t actually have much impact on employment. Jobs lost at polluting companies tend to be offset by new jobs in green technology.”

A separate team of economists and scientists has also checked the claims made in the NERA report, which has previously been cited by failed Republican Presidential candidate (and climate science denier) Ted Cruz. They come to similarly unflattering conclusions to the AP fact check.

So in the end, we have President Trump relying on a questionable report paid for by groups with a clear vested interest in undermining the Paris agreement.

Cigarette, Anyone?

When reporters were being briefed in the hours before Trump walked out to the White House Rose Garden, it was Trump’s energy aide Mike Catanzaro making the calls.

As DeSmog’s Steve Horn has pointed out, Catanzaro is a former fossil fuel and energy lobbyist with a history of attacking climate science.

He also spent time working with Senator James Inhofe – the Republican who claims global warming is the greatest hoax ever. Catanzaro is just one of a parade of former industry lobbyists now in top positions in the Trump administration.

The Paris climate deal, struck in late 2015, was rightly declared a historic moment.

No doubt too, Trump’s declaration that he will join Nicaragua and Syria outside the deal will also be seen as historic.

It was a decision to delay action to regulate an industry, based on tired old propaganda techniques and the self-serving analysis of a polluting industry under attack.

Cigarette, anyone?

The Guardian view on air pollution: playing politics with the nation’s health

The high court shouldn’t have been asked to decide on this. But it has rightly ruled against the government’s latest efforts to delay action on air quality

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/apr/27/the-guardian-view-on-air-pollution-playing-politics-with-the-nations-health

Thanks to this government’s intransigence about tackling air pollution, the battle to improve the quality of the air we breathe has played out not in the political arena, but in the courts. Time after time, the government has found itself on the wrong side of the law: first for its failure to meet legally binding European targets on harmful nitrogen dioxide emissions; then, for failing to produce an adequate plan to address these. Its latest delaying tactic has been to claim it could not meet this week’s court-imposed deadline for publishing a new draft plan, because of the “purdah” convention ruling out new government announcements in the run-up to an election.

And so it has fallen to judges yet again to take the government to task over its failure to act. Today’s ruling took apart the government’s case: its own purdah guidance sets out exemptions where public health is at risk. As the judge pointed out, why would it be better to have parties debating what ought to be in a draft air pollution plan, when it could be debating what is actually in it?

The government’s real motivations are political, not procedural. Having delayed taking meaningful action for seven years, it is clearly nervous about proposing any measures that hit drivers of diesel cars during an election campaign. Its political cowardice is astounding – and pointless. Public attitudes have shifted in recent years, and London’s Labour mayor, Sadiq Khan, has made tackling air pollution one of his top priorities. The government is unlikely to face opposition to tougher action from any of its mainstream political opponents, and is enjoying double-digit poll leads.

Yet it continues to shirk its responsibilities to the nation’s public health. Today’s air pollution may be less visible than the smogs that settled over our cities in the 1950s, but it is a deadly killer, responsible for upwards of 40,000 premature deaths per year. London breached its annual air pollution limit just five days into 2017, and legal limits were easily surpassed in the vast majority of local authorities. The effects are particularly pernicious for children whose lungs are still developing.

The human cost makes the government’s latest attempts to delay a disgrace. The two-month extension it was seeking for its final plan could have meant thousands of avoidable premature deaths, all in service of not wanting to jeopardise a marginal number of votes in an election that it is on course to win handsomely. It’s a sick calculus.

The good news is that air pollution is easier to tackle than other environmental and public health challenges. Unlike climate change, it is relatively localised: city-scale actions to address pollution levels can have a marked effect on their air quality. Much (though by no means all) of the problem comes down to emissions from diesel vehicles and, to a greater extent than in other areas of public health, consumers are highly responsive to financial incentives. The irony is that we know this because many have switched from petrol to diesel as a result of sweeteners introduced back when diesel was thought to be more environmentally friendly due to its lower carbon emissions.

But heavy lobbying from the car industry in Westminster and Brussels has staved off firm action. European emissions tests for diesel cars have been far easier to manipulate than in the US; as a result, 97% of modern diesel cars exceed the official limit for NOx pollution. Behind the scenes, the British government has tried to block tougher testing. It’s a familiar story: the government similarly watered down plans to tackle childhood obesity in the face of special pleading from the food and drink industry.

The high court ruling puts the ball back in the government’s court. It should choose to accept it, rather than appeal. But either way, it has been exposed as a government willing to privilege marginal political advantage and the lobbying efforts of big business over the health of the nation.