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October 30th, 2008:

Methane Emissions On The Rise

The Australian | October 30, 2008

EMISSIONS of the potent greenhouse gas methane are on the rise again – but this time it’s nothing to do with farting cows.

Scientists have warned climbing methane levels may speed up global warming.

Levels of methane, the second-worst greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide, had plateaued but recently started to rise again.

Dr Paul Fraser from the CSIRO said increasing methane levels appeared to be caused by the melting of Arctic ice, which was opening up more wetlands to the sky.

These wetlands are releasing methane.

Cows and sheep, that burp, breathe and fart out methane gas, are a major source of methane emissions, but apparently, are not to blame for the increase.

Dr Fraser said the rise in methane levels was a concern.

“This is not good news for future global warming,” he said.

HK And Guangdong Air Quality Shows Slight Decline On Last Year

Joyce Ng – SCMP | Updated on Oct 30, 2008

Air quality in Guangdong and Hong Kong in the first half of the year was marginally worse than a year earlier, data from a regional network of monitoring stations shows.

Only three stations showed improvements over the same period last year, and pollution levels at all 16 exceeded the national air quality standard set for general residential areas part of the time.

Air quality was unsatisfactory 28.07 per cent of the time on average, compared with 27.68 per cent in the corresponding period last year. A Hong Kong government source said it would not be scientific to compare two years’ data and conclude air pollution had not improved.

The three stations which showed improvement were in Guangzhou and Foshan. The other 13, including the three stations in Hong Kong – in Tsuen Wan, at Tung Chung near the airport on Lantau and at Tap Mun, or Grass Island, in Mirs Bay off the north coast of Sai Kung – all had worse readings than a year earlier.

The government source ascribed the improvement in air quality in Foshan to the relocation of highly polluting ceramics factories. The worst air quality was recorded in March because winds were too light to dispel pollution, the source said. Coastal areas had better air quality because summer ocean winds dispersed pollutants. Regional air quality is graded from 1 (the best) to 5 (the worst).

Respirable suspended particulates were a bigger problem than the three other pollutants measured – ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide.

In parts of Guangzhou, Foshan and Huizhou, the level of respirable suspended particles of a diameter of 10 microns or more (known as PM10) exceeded safe levels between 20 and 29 per cent of the time, or for 25 to 47 days in six months.

The monitoring network was set up by Guangdong’s Environmental Protection Bureau and the Environment, Transport and Works Bureau in Hong Kong three years ago.

Despite a lack of significant improvement in air quality since then, the source said the government was confident of achieving some of the 2010 targets jointly set for emissions reductions. As well as factories relocating, vehicles in some Guangdong cities had switched to cleaner fuels, the source said.

Alexis Lau Kai-hon, an atmospheric scientist at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said his research showed there had been hardly any improvement in air quality in the region since 2004, although there was no clear sign either that it was getting worse.

He agreed that joint monitoring was beneficial, but urged the mainland authorities to release data on a daily basis instead of once every six months to allow for better research.

Hahn Chu Hon-keung, environmental affairs manager for campaign group Friends of the Earth, said the closure of some factories on the mainland and the relocation of others might have helped improve air quality in some places, but it was time governments stepped up efforts to reduce roadside pollution.

“One major source for PM10 is vehicular emissions. There is plenty of room for mainland authorities to reduce roadside pollution,” he said.

“For Hong Kong, power plants’ emissions reductions have had an effect, but there’s a need to replace old heavy diesel vehicles more quickly.”

Emissions At Least On Par With US: Beijing Admits It May Be World’s Top Polluter

Shi Jiangtao in Beijing – SCMP | Updated on Oct 30, 2008

A top climate official has admitted the mainland’s greenhouse gas emissions are at least on a par with those of the United States, but said the unfolding financial crisis was presenting new economic and technological opportunities to restructure the international campaign against global warming.

Xie Zhenhua , deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission, also said yesterday rich countries must take the lead in cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and contributing money and technology to developing countries.

It was the first time the central government had publicly acknowledged that China may have passed the US to become the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter.

“Based on information we have at hand, our total emissions are roughly the same as the US,” Mr Xie said at the launch of the country’s first white paper on tackling climate change.

International research institutes and experts have said for two years that China’s output of carbon dioxide, the key greenhouse gas, had surpassed that of the US, given that the latest data on China’s greenhouse gas emissions was from 1994.

But Mr Xie said: “Whether or not we have surpassed the US is not in itself important.” He repeated China’s stance that it was only fair to consider historical and accumulated emissions in determining whether developed or developing countries should play a bigger role in the global fight against climate change.

The white paper says: “Developed countries should be responsible for their accumulative emissions and current high per capita emissions, and take the lead in reducing emissions, in addition to providing financial support and transferring technologies to developing countries.”

Mr Xie said China’s per-capita emissions for its 1.3 billion people remain much lower than those of rich countries, and was about a fifth of the US average. “As China is in the process of industrialisation and urbanisation, it is fairly natural that the country’s greenhouse gas emissions grow very fast,” he said.

He also said it was not fair for China to take responsibility for emissions generated on behalf of countries that consumed Chinese exports, which accounted for 24 per cent of the country’s total emissions.

Both the white paper and Mr Xie played down the growing criticism over China’s refusal to accept a mandatory target in cutting emissions.

“There is no doubt that under the Kyoto Protocol, developed countries must take the lead in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions,” Mr Xie said.

Under the UN-sponsored treaty, developing countries are not obliged to accept mandatory caps, but the US has refused to ratify it, citing the framework’s failure to hold China and India more responsible.

“But regardless of the results of international negotiations and how much developed countries honour their commitments, China from its own perspective must realise sustainable development,” Mr Xie said. “We must save energy, raise energy efficiency, develop renewable energies and adopt measures aimed at reducing greenhouse gases.”

He said the financial turmoil should be viewed as an opportunity for China as well as the whole world to carry out economic restructuring, promoting environmentally friendly technology and cutting pollution.

“Tackling climate change and the financial crisis is not contradictory,” he said. “We will seize the opportunity to increase domestic demand and funding on energy efficiency. We will have to solve climate change and environmental problems through development.”

Mr Xie said developed countries should contribute at least 0.7 per cent of their gross domestic products to help developing countries fight global warming.

Analysts said the release of the policy paper as well as recent remarks by mainland officials were part of Beijing’s strategy amid intense negotiations on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

An international climate change seminar on technology transfer organised by the UN and China will be held in Beijing next week, and delegates from more than 190 countries will participate in another key UN conference on climate change in Poznan, Poland, in December.

Yang Ailun , from Greenpeace China, said the white paper was basically a review of the government’s achievements in tackling climate change in the past few years.

“While it may not have much new information, it is clearly aimed at highlighting China’s progress in cutting emissions ahead of international negotiations,” she said.

A Good Starting Point For UN Climate Change Talks

SCMP – Updated on Oct 30, 2008

In releasing its position paper on climate change, China has spelled out two national imperatives that appear to conflict. The nation’s leaders recognise the urgent need to combat climate change and reverse environmental degradation caused by rapid industrialisation. But they have also vowed not to let such efforts impede the economic growth necessary to pull hundreds of millions of people out of poverty.

The government has little choice. Climate change is already causing crop failure, drought and floods on the mainland. These disasters have a high economic cost, and that cost is set to mount in coming years. Inaction is not an option.

The conundrum is not unique. Other developing nations also face the challenge of balancing economic growth with environmental protection. Climate change recognises no national boundaries. Their problems are everyone’s problems. China, however, plays a pivotal role because, by many measures, it has exceeded the United States as the world’s top emitter of greenhouse gases.

Understandably, the rich nations want the poor countries – especially China and India – to clean up, and are exerting increasing pressure on them to do so. The wealthy economies have moved into a post-industrial phase; their most advanced technologies are environment-friendly and their citizens, by and large, live in much greener and cleaner places. The rich nations say this is the future towards which emerging economies must move. The question is how – and who will pay for it?

Beijing is proposing a solution with which other emerging economies would no doubt concur. It argues that rich countries should devote between 0.7 per cent and 1 per cent of their gross domestic product to helping poorer nations cut their greenhouse gas emissions. This would amount to more than US$300 billion a year from the Group of Seven countries alone. Most of the money would be spent on technology transfers. This would certainly help combat climate change, but the rich nations are unlikely to accept such a high price tag; many believe it is not their responsibility. Moreover, western investors, companies and governments jealously guard their proprietary technology and will not so easily share it. China and other developing countries know this, so the issue is likely to be the most contentious as they enter intense international negotiations next year over a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires at the end of 2012. The protocol does not bind poor nations to achieve targets for cuts in emissions of greenhouse gases. The European Union and United States will insist the emerging economies accept emissions caps under the successor treaty.

The timing of the release of China’s latest position paper is no accident. Next month, Beijing will host a United Nations conference on climate change; it is working to buttress its international position. And its argument carries weight. Most of the greenhouse gases now trapped in the atmosphere, and causing climate change, were produced by the rich countries when they were industrialising. It is, therefore, both in their own interests and that of historical justice that they pay a substantial part of the cleanup costs. Beijing’s proposal may turn out to be too much for rich countries to accept. Still, it establishes a starting point for negotiations.

We live in one world. Nations rich and poor alike have a responsibility to preserve and protect it. All sides need to devise a fair successor to Kyoto which shares the costs and generates benefits for future generations.