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Pearl River Delta

At least five more people detained over Huizhou incinerator protest

Monday, 15 September, 2014

Huifeng He

Arrests follow weekend demonstrations involving thousands calling for project to be scrapped

At least five people were detained by police on Sunday in Huizhou in Guangdong for allegedly spreading false information over the internet to “incite” protest against a proposed trash incinerator project.

The arrests follow demonstrations during the weekend in which thousands took to the streets in Boluo county demanding the authorities scrap the project, which would process 2,600 tonnes of rubbish a day.

Since Saturday, the local public security bureau had taken away 32 people for investigation on suspicion of spreading rumours or disturbing public order and causing trouble, and 21 were still being detained.

Several local residents said they received electronic messages saying the municipal government had given approval to their taking to the streets peacefully on September 20 to voice concerns about the project. But the county’s authorities released a brief statement on Sunday night denying it had given such permission.

However, many local residents said they would again take to the street this coming Saturday, no matter the authorities approve. “We are not afraid of being detained. If we don’t stand up to fight, it will be too late to save our community,” Li Wei said

According to county authorities, the location of the incinerator had not been decided, and the party chief of the county was scheduled to meet today with representatives of the residents to hear their advice and appeals about the garbage incinerating plan.

Some internet users have called for demonstrations to spread to other cities in the Pearl River Delta. “People of Shenzhen, Dongguan and even Hong Kong should take to the street because incinerator would be so close to their water sources, Dongjiang River,” a person using the nickname Ai Yu Bu Ai said on weibo.

Pearl River Delta governments axe cross-border air quality index

Thursday, 04 September, 2014

Cheung Chi-fai

Decade-old index scrapped in favour of online platform that has been criticised as redundant and difficult for public to understand

Governments in the Pearl River Delta area have axed the decade-old regional air-quality index in favour of an online platform offering pollutant concentration readings that has been criticised as hard to understand.

The Environmental Protection Department announced the change in a press release yesterday after the environmental chiefs of Macau, Guangdong and Hong Kong signed an agreement on so-called “regional air-pollution control and prevention”.

The three governments agreed to do away with the index and a related map that used different colours to grade air quality across the region – a system in use since 2005 to monitor changes in air quality after a 2002 cross-border pact to reduce emissions.

After the termination of that index, there will no longer be a single yardstick covering the whole region. Rather, three different air-pollution indices and alert systems will now operate separately in Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau.

The EPD hailed the new agreement as progress, with hourly updates of pollution readings at 23 locations in the region, including the newcomer Macau, via an online platform managed by the Guangdong authority.

The platform displays a map of the region, with the hourly concentration levels of six pollutants, such as ozone and fine particles, shown at each of the 23 selected monitoring locations: four in Hong Kong, one in Macau and the rest scattered around the Pearl River Delta.

However, Guangdong’s environmental protection bureau already releases hourly updates of air-quality data on its website (and has since 2012), covering 111 locations in the province and the same range of air pollutants.

Dr Cheng Luk-ki, the scientific and conservation head of the advocacy group Green Power, criticised the change as “a step backward” and a “loss of a common language in air pollution”.

He said that while the old index was compiled based on the national air-quality standards, it at least offered the readers clarity and meaningful comparisons of air-quality measurements across the region.

“The public will now find it hard to understand the meaning behind those pollution readings, without a simple index to explain the impacts,” he said.

He said the online platform was already redundant, as it made more sense for people to go directly to the air-quality index offered by their own local environmental authority.

Professor Wong Tze-wai, an air-pollution expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who helped devise the city’s new air-quality health index, said neither an “oversimplified index” nor “complicated pollution readings” would be meaningful to the public.

He said it would be beneficial if the air-quality indices between Hong Kong and the mainland could be unified, but he believed that would be a time-consuming process with many technical problems that would have to be overcome.

Hong Kong now employs an alert system that gives air-quality information by neighbourhood on a scale of one to 11, displaying the health risk associated with each reading.

Macau and Guangdong, meanwhile, use conventional air-quality index systems that express pollution as one of six grades, with scales from 0 to 500 and from 0 to more than 300.

Government accused of marine park pledge to take pressure off bid for third runway

Ernest Kao

Tuesday, 02 September, 2014

In the midst of environmental hearings on a proposed third runway, conservation authorities have made a surprise pledge to designate two new marine parks off Lantau Island by 2017.

The announcement was made as government advisers continued deliberation on the Airport Authority’s environmental report on the proposed additional runway at Chek Lap Kok.

[1]The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said the announcement, which ends a 12-year impasse, was not related to the runway proposal.

It said it was a response to public concern and part of its own Chinese white dolphin conservation programme.

The proposed parks will cover 660 hectares off southwest Lantau and 1,270 hectares around the Soko Islands archipelago, in a bid to enhance protection for the endangered dolphin and finless porpoise.

But Dolphin Conservation Society chairman Dr Samuel Hung Ka-yiu suspected the move was made by the government to take pressure off the authority.

“The authority’s [report] and the long-delayed designation of the two marine parks cannot be grouped together.

“We never said this could be a compensation measure for the third runway and it cannot be one. Marine parks cannot mitigate the [650 hectares of] habitat loss,” he said.

He urged subcommittee members of the Advisory Council on the Environment, who will meet today, not to accept the new plans as justification for the airport expansion.

An authority spokesman said the government’s latest park plan was not part of its report but it would “complement” its own conservation measures to protect the dolphin population.

“We will launch another round of public engagement in 2015 and take other necessary steps and seek to complete the statutory procedure for the designation by early 2017,” a department spokesman said.

Proposals to designate the two marine parks span back to 2002 but never came to fruition due to opposition from the fisheries sector and Lantau residents.

Dr Michael Lau Wai-neng, a senior programme head at WWF Hong Kong, said the move was welcome, but was not enough. “There is a consensus among scientists that [dolphin] habitat can only be protected by linking up the parks along the Tai O fringe, to the existing Sha Chau and Lung Kwu Chau Marine Park,” he said.

The authority’s proposal for a 2,400 hectare marine park connecting Sha Chau and another proposed park northeast of Lantau has been dismissed as ineffectual as it would be designated only after the runway’s completion in 2023.

Lawmaker Steven Ho Chun-yin, of the agriculture and fisheries sector, said the industry would likely oppose the park plan if it hurt fishermen’s livelihoods.

He said that on issue would be whether fishing permits for the marine parks would be allowed to be transferable.

“The government will have to consult the industry further,” Ho said.

The Country and Marine Parks Board will be consulted on the draft maps at a “suitable time” before it is published for public inspection, the department said.

Marine parks to shield white dolphins”

Plans to designate southwest Lantau and the Soko Islands as marine parks were announced yesterday, 12 years after they were first gazetted.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Plans to designate southwest Lantau and the Soko Islands as marine parks were announced yesterday, 12 years after they were first gazetted.

The marine parks will be part of efforts to protect important habitats of Chinese white dolphins and finless porpoises. The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department is hoping to complete the statutory procedures for the parks by early 2017. Plans were first gazetted in 2002.

Southwest Lantau and the Soko Islands are major habitats of these mammals. The conservation areas will cover about 660 hectares of water off Lantau and 1,270 hectares of water off the Sokos.

This is part of a program to enhance survival of the dolphin population in the Pearl River Estuary, a department spokesman said. KENNETH LAU

Airport Authority’s fixation with third runway is blinding it to other options

Thursday, 28 August, 2014

Albert Cheng says more feasible ways to reduce airspace congestion must be considered, not least because of the hefty costs of airport expansion

Over the years, the Airport Authority has been funding research and more research to legitimise its claim that Hong Kong needs a third runway. The findings have boiled down to a single conclusion – that the proposed three-runway system is environmentally acceptable and economically indispensable.

Another such report – an environmental impact assessment – was submitted to a subcommittee of the Advisory Council on the Environment for endorsement earlier this month. In a nutshell, the document concludes that mitigation measures can limit the potential damage to the environment to within permissible levels.

This is what sociologists refer to as “instrumental rationality” in action. It is all about finding ways to achieve one’s defined goals with the available resources, whether or not the goal is worth the cost.

Thus, a person who believes he is a dog might be considered instrumentally rational as long as he acts in accordance with canine beliefs and desires. If he’s got his eye on a bone for lunch, he would yap and howl in order to get it.

The third runway is the metaphorical bone for the Airport Authority. To the exclusion of other considerations, it has convinced itself that a third runway is the only way to keep Hong Kong vibrant as an aviation hub. The feasibility studies – economic, technical and environmental – are just a means to that preconceived end.

The authority’s latest bark came in the form of its environmental report.

Green groups have dismissed the assessment as a whitewash. More importantly, members of the council’s subcommittee were sceptical, too.

In particular, they voiced doubts that the Chinese white dolphins, which would be displaced during construction, would come back to a new marine park as claimed.

After three days of deliberation, the panel withheld its recommendations. Members said the report lacked hard data to substantiate its claims that the environmental impact would be acceptable.

This should be a wake-up call for the authority.

Environmentalists say there are alternative ways to solve the supposed congestion at Chek Lap Kok.

Green Sense’s Roy Tam Hoi-pong noted that the Chinese military required flights leaving Chek Lap Kok to enter mainland airspace at a minimum height of 4,800 metres. To do this, planes from Hong Kong have to first head south and fly in circles to climb to that altitude, wasting up to 20 minutes of flight time. The reverse applies for flights landing in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong’s existing two runways are designed to accommodate between 82 and 86 flights an hour. The tally actually achieved is fewer than that, thanks to this “sky wall”.

What Tam did not point out was that, whatever the military requirement, there is a stronger reason why careful coordination is necessary : the Hong Kong and Shenzhen runways are positioned close by, at right angles to one another.

During the economic slowdown in the wake of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, the Shenzhen airport was looking for buyers. Some Hong Kong businessmen were serious about acquiring the facility. Unfortunately, the Hong Kong authorities sat on their hands and failed to help the businessmen clinch a deal. The window of opportunity was lost.

If both Chek Lap Kok and Shenzhen were under the same command, aircraft movements could be more easily coordinated, within one large airspace rather than the two disparate ones now.

The authority’s executive director for corporate development, Wilson Fung Wing-yip, told the press that once the third runway was operational, the sky wall problem would be solved. But he did not spell out how.

He has put the cart before the horse. If the Hong Kong authorities can be more determined in dismantling this invisible barrier, taxpayers will not have to foot an estimated bill of some HK$200 billion for an additional runway.

This should be a big enough economic incentive to demand that our negotiators try harder.

Could we pay off Shenzhen with that amount to ask them to move their airport to a location where the sky wall will no longer be relevant to us? This is, of course, a long shot.

The former head of the Observatory, Lam Chiu-ying, suggested a more realistic solution. He argues that the airport’s capacity can be markedly improved by allowing the use of more wide-body planes.

Building on that premise, we can follow the practice of other advanced economies, whereby priority is given to bigger aircraft. The remaining capacity can then be auctioned to smaller planes. This can boost efficiency and raise revenues.

We may eventually need a third runway decades down the road. Meanwhile, we don’t need to act like a dog.

Airport Authority expert’s ‘fairy-tale’ predictions about marine park questioned

Government advisers on Monday were highly sceptical of the Airport Authority’s assessment of the environmental impact of the proposed third runway at the airport, with one expert consultant’s predictions about a new marine park questioned.

But the authority said they were “confident” the environmental advisers would eventually give a green light to the project.

The remarks came on the first of three days of meetings being held by the Advisory Council on the Environment, which will offer its view to the government on whether measures outlined by the Airport Authority for offsetting the environmental impact of a third runway are sufficient.

The authority has proposed designating a nearby site as a marine park in 2023 after the runway is built. It’s consultant, marine biologist Dr Thomas Jefferson, said numbers of Chinese white dolphins living in the north Lantau area would drop during construction but rebound later when the marine park is designated.

“Dolphins are very complex animals … they have the ability to move around,” Jefferson had said in June.

Council member Dr Hung Wing-tat said the authority needed to present data showing how many Chinese white dolphins would return to the area once the proposed 2,400 hectare marine park – connecting the existing Sha Chau and Lung Kwu Chau Marine Park with a planned Brothers Islands marine park – is designated.

Watch: SCMP took a look at Hong Kong’s pink dolphin habitat

“You speak of creating a fairy tale … a paradise … How can you make sure that in seven years time [in 2023] there will be peace in that area for the dolphins? How can you ensure that there won’t be any other disturbing activities?” he asked.

“This will set a very bad a priori case for any [future] project… Others may have the same theory [that the dolphins will come back] too.”

Jefferson had based his prediction in part on the experience of dolphins returning to the area after the initial construction of the airport at Chek Lap Kok.

This was dismissed by council member Dr Gary Ades as “comparing a grape with an apple”.

But Peter Lee, the authority’s general manager for environmental projects, said he was confident the council would eventually give them the green light.

“We are confident that our mitigation measures … are sufficient and appropriate for mitigating the impacts from our projects.”

The authority on Monday revealed four additional measures to mitigate the impacts of the project on the dolphins, including a cap on the number of high-speed ferries from the SkyPier at its current level of 99 per day and conducting night studies on dolphin activity.

A coalition of green groups including the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society, Greenpeace, WWF-Hong Kong and Friends of the Earth protested next to the venue of the meeting.

They urged the council not to rubber stamp the authority’s mitigation proposals and to reject them.

WWF-HK assistant conservation manager Samantha Lee Klaus said the authority was adopting a “destroy first, conserve later” approach.

Monday, 11 August, 2014

Third runway decision on hold over dolphin habitat concerns

Wednesday, 20 August, 2014

Cheung Chi-fai

Airport officials’ measures to protect dolphins during building of third airstrip ‘unconvincing’, says subcommittee studying impact report

Prospects for a proposed third runway at Hong Kong International Airport seemed uncertain yesterday as environment advisers delayed their decision on whether to approve its environmental impact assessment study.

The advisers – from a subcommittee under the Advisory Council on the Environment – were concerned about how adequate and effective measures to mitigate the project’s impact on the threatened Chinese white dolphin habitat would be.

If the study is approved and the HK$130 billion project is given the go-ahead, some 650 hectares of prime habitat for the shrinking dolphin population would be lost to land reclamation for the third runway. Construction would last from 2016 to 2023.

The Airport Authority will respond in writing to further queries from the subcommittee, before another meeting on Monday for the advisers to deliberate their decision.

The subcommittee, which has spent 15 hours in three days grilling the authority’s officials on the environmental impact assessment study, met yesterday afternoon to discuss whether to recommend the advisory council to endorse the report.

But by the end of the meeting, it had still not drawn a conclusion on the city’s single most costly infrastructure project. The council has to submit its views by late next month to the environmental protection director, who will then decide whether to issue a work permit for the project.

A subcommittee member, who wanted to remain anonymous, said members at the meeting “freely expressed their opinions” about the report and what outstanding issues had to be further addressed by the authority.

“We haven’t come to the time to indicate our preference,” he said. “This takes time as … environmental impact assessment is a very complex issue.”

Another member said the subcommittee had a number of doubts on the mitigation measures to protect the dolphins during construction and what could be done to draw them back after the work is done. The authority’s replies had been unconvincing, he said.

The authority has so far agreed to set up a 2,400 hectare marine park to compensate for the habitat loss, but will build the park only after the runway is completed in 2023.

It also promised to re-route its Skypier high-speed ferry services and lower the ferries’ speeds during construction, but rejected suggestions to relocate the pier from the east to the west side of the airport.

The authority’s other mitigating measures include adopting a non-dredging reclamation method to reduce underwater noise that would affect the dolphins, and to set up an eco-enhancement fund to support dolphin research.

The subcommittee member said the group was also concerned about the authority’s role as a proponent of the large-scale project that would involve various government departments.

“The authority can’t speak for the government, and this leads to the question: to what extent does it have the power to do what it has pledged to do,” he said.

Samuel Hung Ka-yiu, a dolphin expert who has been opposing the runway project, said he was pessimistic that the subcommittee would reject the controversial project.

“The government’s hands are everywhere and officials will make sure that the project is passed,” he said.

Experts slam lack of novel ideas to protect white dolphins from third runway construction

Tuesday, 19 August, 2014

Cheung Chi-fai

Government advisers express exasperation at Chek Lap Kok officials’ lack of fresh thinking on protecting dolphins if third runway is built

Government environment advisers vented their frustration yesterday at the Airport Authority’s failure to come up with “out-of-the-box ideas” to protect the threatened Chinese white dolphin during construction of the proposed third runway.

They were speaking on the last of three days’ scrutiny of the environmental impact assessment study on the runway.

“We hear nothing new. You just repeat and repeat,” said Dr Hung Wing-tat, vice-chairman of the Advisory Council on the Environment subcommittee studying the report.

“You just can’t say let [the environmental impact] study pass first and we will see what we can do. Can you invest a little bit more? And don’t always just ask the government to do things.”

Subcommittee members had been unhappy at the last meeting over the lack of measures to compensate for plans to reclaim 650 hectares of prime habitat for the shrinking dolphin population – and it emerged as the key issue again yesterday.

The meeting was the last opportunity to provide new information to the subcommittee before it makes its recommendations to the council, which will decide next month whether the report should be endorsed and what conditions to attach.

Before Hung’s criticism – which was met by silence from airport officials – Professor Nora Tam Fung-yee also vented her frustration at the authority’s performance.

She criticised it for failing to respond to members’ previous call for “out-of-the-box ideas”, such as setting up another marine park farther from the works site in southwestern Lantau.

The authority proposes opening a 2,400 hectare marine park after the runway is finished, saying dolphins that leave the area during construction will return.

Tam also queried the effectiveness of a proposal to re-route the Skypier high-speed ferries to Macau and the Pearl River Delta and lower their speed during the construction.

The measure would re-route ferries travelling to the north of Lung Kwu Chau marine park – a vital dolphin sanctuary. The authority also proposes to freeze further growth until 2023 of its ferry business that carries 2.5 million transit air passengers a year.

Authority consultant Eric Ching Ming-kam said the diversion of the ferries and their lowered speed could benefit the dolphins by reducing underwater noise without significantly reducing passenger comfort.

But Tam said the increased journey times might increase the dolphins’ exposure to noise and demanded a proper assessment.

Another member, Gary Ades, listed a number of other options, including relocating the Skypier. But his idea was rejected by the authority as not practical.

Under present plans, the new 2,400-hectare marine park would connect the existing Sha Chau and Lung Kwu Chau Marine Park with the planned Brothers Islands marine park.

Another consultant, Dr Thomas Jefferson, said in June that some decrease in dolphins was to be expected during construction, “but the plan and hope” was that the large marine park would draw them back.

Standard: ‘Wishful thinking’ on dolphins slammed

The Airport Authority announced four extra measures to help conserve Chinese white dolphins after work on the proposed third runway is complete.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Airport Authority announced four extra measures to help conserve Chinese white dolphins after work on the proposed third runway is complete.

That came in a meeting with an Environmental Protection Department subcommittee, which criticized the authority for “wishful thinking” that dolphins fleeing their Lantau habitat will return.

Authority general manager Peter Lee Chung-tang said traffic volume at SkyPier would be capped at 99 ferry trips per day, originally predicted to rise to 115 in 2021 and 130 in 2030.

And to be funded is a marine ecology conservation management plan for the dolphins in south Lantau waters.

Night studies will be carried out on dolphin activity and funding provided for a conservation strategy in the Pearl River Estuary. The authority submitted its environmental impact assessment report to the related subcommittee under the EPD’s Advisory Council on the Environment at the meeting, which continues tomorrow and Monday.

Dolphin specialists Thomas Jefferson and Bernd Wursig, advisers to the authority on the report, said dolphins are smart and it is believed they will return after work on the third runway is over.

But subcommittee vice chairman Hung Wing-tat, associate professor of civil and structural engineering at Polytechnic University, criticized the EIA report for lacking scientific evidence.

Hung said: “I swear it is wishful thinking. If there is a piece of scientific evidence, I will take back my words.” KENNETH LAU

High PM2.5 on Sunday: Ocean-going vessels major culprit of HK air pollution

Hong Kong officials continue to legislate for switching out old diesel engines on road vehicles, singing their own praises and splashing public funds in the process. Yet Hong Kong’s air quality remains extremely poor – a simple look outside the window suffice to dissatisfy.

Air quality on a Sunday afternoon. PM2.5 readings are very high, at 150-170.

The number of vehicles on the roads on Sunday is the least in the week, in addition to the consideration of all the work that the officials proclaim to have done in reducing vehicles emissions. The PM2.5 particles, on the other hand, don’t lie. Their continued presence points to shipping emissions as the real major source of pollutants in Hong Kong.

The Northeasterlies at the Northeast brings emissions from Yantian; the Northwesterlies at the Northwest brings emissions from Shekou; Southerlies at the South brings emissions from ships passing through and into Hong Kong.

Hong Kong urgently needs to legislate and enforce an emissions control area for shipping. It remains to be seen if the city’s officials will take real action.

SCMP: Average hours of unhealthy air in Hong Kong up on last year

from Ernest Kao of the SCMP:

Hong Kongers endured an average of 2,727 hours of unhealthy air this year, surpassing last year’s figure with a week to spare.

The Post examined hourly air pollution index (API) data from the Environmental Protection Department’s 11 general air quality monitoring stations and three roadside stations.

From January 1 to December 21, the average number of hours of high, very high or severe air pollution recorded by each general monitoring station rose 7.6 per cent from last year’s 2,534.

The API measures concentrations of major air pollutants such as carbon monoxide and respirable suspended particulates in a range of 0 to 500. Readings above 51 are "high" - acceptable in the short term but beyond long-term health standards. "Very high" is above 100, indicating air that is unhealthy in both the short term and the long term. "Severe" readings are above 200. (SCMP)