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November, 2008:

Expats Vote Singapore, Copenhagen Top Places: Survey

Reuters – November 19, 2008

SINGAPORE – Asian expatriates have ranked Singapore as the best place to live in the world for its safe and clean environment, while Europeans chose Copenhagen, a survey showed on Tuesday.

Asian expats chose Singapore over Hong Kong (15th place) and Shanghai (78th place) and placed Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra as well as two Japanese cities Kobe and Yokohama in their top ten list of favorite locations, said ECA International, a human resource consultancy for multinationals.

Lee Quane, general manager of ECA International, said that Singapore’s solid infrastructure, low crime rate and clean air made it a favorable place to live.

“While Hong Kong has seen an improvement in some categories, such as personal security, air pollution remains the biggest cause for its lower rankings relative to Singapore,” Lee said in a statement.

Singapore is competing with Hong Kong as a location for banking and financial services.

For locations in China and India, Shanghai and Chennai (138th place out of a total of 300 locations) came in top for Asian expats, said the annual survey.

European expats ranked Copenhagen as their top choice to live in the world. They placed three Swiss cities — Geneva, Basel and Bern — and three German cities — Dusseldorf, Bonn and Munich — in their top ten.

East European cities such as Bratislava and Bucharest have made improvements in this year’s survey because of advances in security, housing and health, the survey said.

European expats rated Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, as their 20th choice and Romania’s capital of Bucharest in 14th place.

In the Middle East, Manama, the capital of Bahrain, ranked top in the region along with Dubai and Muscat. Baghdad, in last place globally, lost marks for poor security, the survey said.

Top 10 best locations in the world for Asian expats:

1) Singapore – Singapore

2) Australia – Sydney

3) Japan – Kobe

4) Australia – Melbourne

5) Denmark – Copenhagen

6) Australia – Canberra

7) Canada – Vancouver

8) Japan – Yokohama

9) New Zealand – Wellington

10)Ireland – Dublin

(Reporting by Melanie Lee, editing by Neil Chatterjee)

© Copyright (c)

Why Allow Polluting Buses?

SCMP | Updated on Nov 17, 2008

The government is going ahead with the enhancement of the waterfront at Victoria Harbour.
It is also seeking to relieve traffic congestion with the construction of the Central-Wan Chai bypass. But why is it doing nothing to combat the worsening pollution in Central?

Every day, passengers along Pedder Street, Des Veoux Road Central and Queen’s Road Central are exposed to exhaust emissions from vehicles, in particular buses.

The situation is particularly serious near Pottinger Street, next to the “eyesore” of the former Central market, which has been in a dilapidated state for years.

Taxi drivers have told me that in the early evening they see many buses along busy Hennessy Road which are only half-full.

Why do we have overlapping bus routes?

This just exacerbates the pollution problems.

Also, a lot of these buses emit heavy black smoke.

It is clearly visible to the naked eye.

Why is it that the government allows bus companies to deploy environmentally-unfriendly vehicles in such a densely populated city as Hong Kong?

Surely in other cities around the world this would not be tolerated.

The Environment Bureau and the bus companies owe the public an answer as why these vehicles are still a major cause of pollution.

Mary Chan, Central

Development Rethink To Let Fresh Air Into City

SCMP | Updated on Nov 17, 2008

Improving quality of life is one of the keys to Hong Kong’s continued success. The government well knows that changing property developers’ ways is central to achieving this aim. The so-called wall effect and canyons created by cheek-by-jowl buildings are synonymous with our city, but also make our environment uncomfortable. It is therefore good that authorities are considering significant changes to the present system.

Land being a premium has naturally meant that developers have done their utmost to maximise its potential. Scarcity means high values which translate into economic considerations being foremost when sites are planned. As a result, buildings with little or no space between them line the waterfront and hillsides. The views are spectacular, but for those at street level, the lack of air circulation and sunlight can be stifling, especially in the humid months of summer and when pollution is high.

As we report today, a public consultation could start as early as next month to look at a vastly different development approach. Among proposals are that only 70 per cent of the length of a site can be used, ensuring better air flow between buildings, and that 30 per cent of the total area be set aside for greenery. Such a model seems on its face to be a much-needed breath of fresh air for our city, but it needs to be carefully considered. A balance has to be found to ensure that developers are not overly jeopardised; height restrictions of buildings may have to be relaxed to compensate for area densities being lessened.

There is significant reason for a rethink. Developers who presently voluntarily add green features like podium gardens to buildings are given incentives such as extra floor area. This has not always been conducive to improving the environment. There are cases of the system having been abused, to the detriment of the community.

The government is to be commended for taking environmental concerns firmly on board and pushing ahead with finding a better system. If Hong Kong is to flourish and thrive, we have to improve living standards. But developers have to be listened to and rules made flexible. With care and forethought, the mistakes of the past can be avoided.

Public Urged To Check For Respiratory Illness

Anita Lam – SCMP | Updated on Nov 17, 2008

Those with a persistent cough and elderly people should be checked for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, as hospital admission rates always jump during periods of cold and wet weather, a doctor has warned.

Respiratory medicine expert Roland Leung said many Hongkongers were still unaware of the disease, which the World Health Organisation expected to become the world’s third-biggest killer in the next two decades.

According to Hospital Authority figures, an average of four people died of the disease every day in 2006. Dr Leung said that despite a drop in the number of deaths since then – because of a reduction in the number of smokers – Hong Kong had the second-highest death rate for the disease in East Asia last year, lagging just behind Japan.

“If your coughing lasts for more than three months and you are always short of breath, then you should go for a check-up,” Dr Leung said.

A 2005 study found 100,000 Hongkongers suffering from the disease – some even in the terminal stage – had never sought treatment, as many tended to put it down to an unhealthy lifestyle.

Directly linked to air pollution, Dr Leung said that apart from pneumonia, the disease was the most common cause of hospital admissions in Hong Kong. At worst patients may find themselves unable to carry out even the simplest household tasks such as cooking and cleaning.

Dr Leung said patients should try a new steroid-free medicine called Tiotropium to manage the illness.

A four-year study on the medicine, which helps sufferers breathe more easily, was found to be about 15 per cent more efficient than a traditional inhaler in improving patients’ lives, although its effects declined for long-term users.

Tiotropium has been available in public hospitals for about a year and is also available in local pharmacies with a referral letter from a doctor.

Brown Clouds Over Asia Pose New Threat To Planet: UN

CBC News | Thursday, November 13, 2008

A polluted Hong Kong island skyline is seen in September 2008. High to very high pollution levels were recorded in various districts in the territory at the time.

A polluted Hong Kong island skyline is seen in September 2008. High to very high pollution levels were recorded in various districts in the territory at the time. (Bobby Yip/Reuters)

A brown haze of soot, particles and chemicals that hangs over parts of Asia is darkening cities, melting glaciers in the Himalayas and making weather systems more extreme, the United Nations said Thursday.

Scientists who have studied the thick brown clouds, which they estimate to be more than three kilometres thick, said the haze stretches from the Arabian Peninsula to China and the Western Pacific Ocean. It is officially known as atmospheric brown clouds.

The scientists, who come from China, India, Europe and the U.S., said in a new report commissioned by the UN Environment Program that the brown clouds are aggravating the impact of climate change caused by greenhouse gases in some regions.

They said they are issuing the warning now about the brown haze because it is a “serious and significant” environmental challenge facing the planet that poses a threat to human health and food production.

“Imagine for a moment a three-kilometer-thick band of soot, particles, a cocktail of chemicals that stretches from the Arabic Peninsula to Asia,” Achim Steiner, UN undersecretary general and executive director of the program, said during a news conference on the findings.

“All of this points to an even greater and urgent need to look at emissions across the planet, because this is where the stories are linked in terms of greenhouse emissions and particle emissions and the impact that they’re having on our global climate,” he said.

The brown clouds have darkened 13 cities in Asia, including Beijing, Shanghai, Bangkok, Cairo, Mumbai, New Delhi and Tehran, “dimming” sunlight in some places by as much as 25 per cent.

The brown clouds, produced by the burning of fossil fuels, wood and plants, form particles like black carbon and soot that absorb sunlight and warm the air, enhancing the greenhouse effect.

Mask for warming impact

Scientists, however, said the brown clouds also “mask” the warming impacts of climate change by an average of 40 per cent because they contain particles that reflect sunlight and cool the earth’s surface.

According to the report, the phenomenon has been studied closely in Asia, but it is not unique to the region, with brown clouds seen over parts of North America, Europe, southern Africa and the Amazon Basin.

The scientists said the brown clouds are having a negative impact on air quality and agricultural production in Asia with risks to human health increasing. Health problems associated with the brown clouds include cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.

Veerabhadran Ramanathan, head of the scientific panel that is carrying out the research and a professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California in San Diego, said the huge cloud masses can cross continents in the space of three to four days.

It’s not a regional issue, but a global one, he said.

“The main message is that it’s a global problem. This is not a problem where we point fingers at our neighbours. Everyone is in someone else’s backyard,” Ramanathan said.

He said one of most serious problems noted in the report is melting of the Hindu Kush-Himalaya-Tibetan glaciers, which provide the head-waters for the major river systems including the Ganges, Brahmaputra, Mekong and Yangtze rivers.

The Ganges basin, for example, is home to more than 400 million people and holds 40 per cent of India’s irrigated croplands.

He said the melting has “serious implications for the water and food security of Asia.”

The Chinese Academy of Sciences estimates that the glaciers have shrunk five per cent since the 1950s and the volume of China’s nearly 47,000 glaciers has fallen by 3,000 square kilometres over the past quarter century.

The brown clouds also have helped decrease the monsoon season in India. The weather extremes caused by the clouds may have also helped to reduce production of crops such as rice, wheat and soybean, according to the report.

Ramanathan said he hopes the report “triggers” an international response to the problems of greenhouse gases and brown clouds and the “unsustainable development” that underlies them both.

“The new research, by identifying some of the causal factors, offers hope for taking actions to slow down this disturbing phenomenon,” he said.

CitySeen: Still Trying To Clear The Air, 11 Years On

Andrew Sun, SCMP – Nov 13, 2008

Under a clear night sky, the Clear the Air group celebrated its 11th anniversary at the Fringe rooftop on Tuesday, at the same time kicking off a campaign to convince more companies to sign up for the corporate clean-air effort and commit to reducing their carbon footprint.scm_news_clear_the_air

“There are different categories,” Lisa Christensen, the fund-raising and events chairwoman (pictured with ambassadors Jocelyn Luko and Anthony Sandstrom) explained. “Through their involvement, we’ve created a plan for companies that sign up to take action. We’ll offer them a free consultation to start to improve their air quality. That’s the first step. It’s scaled for all levels of corporations, from [small and medium-sized enterprises] to large factories. At one major sportswear manufacturer, we did a four-week consultation and [helped it improve] energy savings by 20 per cent.”

Given how the industry has tanked in the past two months, you would think any sort of socially conscious campaign would get doors slammed in its face as businesses hope to ride out the economic storm. “Surprisingly, not,” Christensen said.

“I’ve been through bird flu and Sars, and traditionally green promotion was the first thing to go, but the reception to our cause has been very good. But we have had no luck with banks.”

Contact Clear the Air at 2886 2655.

Additional reporting by Clara Mak and Vivian Chen. Send tips, tickets and invitations to

Low-emission Zone Plan Closer As Pilot Study Nears end

Cheung Chi-fai, SCMP – Nov 13, 2008

A pilot study on low-emission zones where polluting franchised buses are banned will finish next year, acting Secretary for the Environment Kitty Poon Kit told legislators yesterday.

Replying to Democrats lawmaker Kam Nai-wai’s queries on the scheme, Dr Poon said the government would wait until the study was completed to determine a timetable to implement it.

The pilot scheme will target buses first since they accounted for up to a third of traffic in busy areas such as Mong Kok, Causeway Bay and Central and their emissions were relatively high, according to Dr Poon.

“We have to look at a basket of factors including how it might impact on the traffic flow as well as roadside air quality.”

Vehicle emission standards would also be studied, she said. All new vehicles must met Euro IV emission standards. Vehicles that do not meet the standard might be banned from the low-emission zones.

Dr Poon said there were similar schemes in London, Toyko, Shanghai and Berlin and they varied in terms of the implementation period, types of vehicles affected, and enforcement.

But the legislators were unconvinced and criticised the government for failing to seriously and urgently address air pollution.

Some said the government was delaying through lengthy study. Others were unhappy the government had refused to pursue a more direct solution like replacing older buses.

“The air pollution can’t be more serious but the government always says it is studying it,” Mr Kam said. “So why did the government not use the $3.2 billion diesel vehicle replacement grant to phase out dirty buses and set a deadline for such a switch? Otherwise, we won’t solve the problems in 20 years,” he added. He was referring to the one-off grant to encourage vehicle owners to replace their pre-Euro and Euro I diesel commercial vehicles.

Dr Poon said there were existing plans between the Transport Department and the bus companies to replace the older bus fleet.

She said replacing the fleet earlier might cost the bus companies more money. Whether public funds should be used and how, if at all, to restructure fares would also have to be considered.

According to Dr Poon, the bus companies were already deploying environmentally friendly buses in busy districts.

She said about 80 per cent of franchised buses in Causeway Bay and Admiralty were already Euro II models or higher.

Air Pollution Affects Health In Asian Cities

BERNAMA, November 13, 2008 15:13 PM

BANGKOK, Nov 13 (Bernama) — A first-of-its-kind rigorous multi-city study on the effects of air pollution on health in Bangkok, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Wuhan has found significant mortality effects of acute exposure to urban air pollution.

Dr Frank Speizer of the Harvard Medical School and chairman of the Health Effects Institute’s (HEI) International Oversight Committee, said the study brought fresh local evidence that the substantially higher levels of air pollution in Asia were also associated with significant health effects.

“While a strong scientific literature exists in the developed world, documenting the adverse relationship between air pollution and health, differences between developed and developing world populations have sometimes limited the use of western science in developing countries,” he said at the Better Air Quality(BAQ) workshop here.

Over 900 participants are attending the BAQ, making it the largest gathering on air pollution and climate change in Asia.

The study on, “Public Health and Air Pollution in Asia (PAPA): A multicity study of Short-term Effects of Air Pollution on Mortality” was funded by HEI as a major project for Clean Air Initiative-Asia (CAI-Asia). It is the first integrated assessment across multiple Asian cities using modern analytic methods that allow direct comparison with western results.

The study’s finding of a 0.6 per cent increase in mortality for every 10 microgrammes (µg) of exposure to particulate air pollution is strikingly similar to comparable western results (which range from 0.4 per cent to 0.6 per cent) and provides increased confidence in the new Asian results.

The conference was told that with daily levels of Asian particulate air pollution routinely at levels above 100 micrograms (much higher than the World Health Organisation (WHO) Air Quality Guidelines), and very high population density in many Asian cities, these findings are a major cause for concern about the impact of air pollution on the health of Asian populations.

Sumi Mehta, senior scientist at HEI and co-author of an EHP editorial accompanying the studies, said that those with existing heart and lung diseases, the leading causes of death in Asia, were at increased risk of mortality due to air pollution.

“As Asian populations age, these risks can be expected to increase. In light of this recent science, Asian countries should consider whether their current standards, and current levels of air pollution are adequately protecting the public’s health,” Mehta said.

The study was part of a broader effort by the HEI to bring together the world’s data on the acute effects of air pollution by funding a series of related analyses in North America, Europe, Latin America and Asia.

“We are seeing the early stages of an emerging consistency in carefully coordinated studies conducted across regions that can provide policy makers with confidence that population effects are more similar than different.

“Similarly, pollution reduction measures can be expected to yield beneficial results no matter where they are implemented,” said Bob O’Keefe, Vice-President of HEI.

Civic Exchange Book proposes Asia as “Game-Changer” in Climate Change Negotiations

New Energy FinanceMichael Liebreich 10 November 2008

Book Launch

HONG KONG, 10 November 2008 (Monday) – Public policy think tank Civic Exchange released a new book: “Climate Change Negotiations: Can Asia Change the Game?”, which argues that Asia should take the initiative to be a “game-changer” in upcoming global climate change negotiations in Poznan and Copenhagen. The book offers a range of new Asia-based initiatives which might support this process. In particular, developing Asian countries could use their national energy efficiency and sustainable development plans and targets to demonstrate initial commitments to greenhouse gas reductions.

Christine Loh of Civic Exchange outlined a proposed ‘Prosperity Round’ of climate negotiations: “Two vital issues that are needed for climate negotiations to proceed meaningfully: first, the voice of Planet Earth needs to be heard and this can only be done by including regular briefings of the negotiators of the latest science focus on ecosystems changes that are taking place and the urgency to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions; and second, as the world needs to transit out of its fossil fuels-based industrial structure, a new, low-carbon, development path must be created.”

Special guest at the launch, Li Shaoyi of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) introduced ESCAP’s strategies in balancing energy security for Asia and the global concern of climate change: “Pursuing a low carbon development pathway is an effective and probably the most effective way to break the energy security and climate impasse faced by Asia and the Pacific region”, said Mr. Li.

By video link from London, Michael Liebreich of New Energy Finance discussed the importance of low-carbon technologies and recent developments on the financing of low-carbon technologies.

The book is the product of a year-long collaboration between Civic Exchange and the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA), which began with a background paper on Asian climate change policy “Climate Change Negotiations: An Asian Stir Fry of Options” published in December 2007. Building on that first publication, in May 2008 Civic Exchange and SIIA invited experts from within Asia and around the world to present their perspective on Asia’s key issues in the post-Kyoto agreement; culminating in this new publication.


Bikes Boom In Taiwan As Belts Tighten

Amber Wang – SCMP | Updated on Nov 08, 2008

For the past six months Wayne Hsu has been cycling 45 minutes to his office every day, which he says gets him off to an energetic start and, more importantly, slashes his monthly petrol bill.
Hsu, an airline sales representative in northern Taoyuan county, is among a growing number of people in Taiwan opting for bikes over cars amid rising inflation and a slowing economy.

“Cycling is an inexpensive way to exercise and I’ve encouraged my colleagues and even my boss to follow my lead,” he says.

The new-found devotion to cycling is a great boon for bicycle manufacturers on the island, which was once the world’s leading exporter but has watched business fall since the mid-1990s due to dumping charges and relocations of factories to China where production costs are much lower.

China now is the world’s major supplier of low-cost bicycles, while Taiwan retains its edge in high-end products such as racing-style, mountain and folding bikes with an average price tag of US$222, according to the economics ministry.

Exports reached a record high last year of US$1.05 billion with 4.75 million bikes sold abroad, while this year looks set to break that record with the export of 2.76 million bikes totalling US$635 million in the first six months, government figures showed.

There’s no official data on how many bicycles are sold locally, but industry watchers estimate around 1 million were sold last year on the island of 23 million people.

“Business was booming in 2007 and this year looks to be the best,” says Jeffrey Sheu, spokesman for the world’s leading bicycle maker, Giant Manufacturing.

“Our monthly revenue hit a historical high in August, and September looks like setting a new record.”

Giant’s August and September group revenue rose 27 per cent and 35 per cent year on year to NT$3.91 billion (HK$925 million) and NT$4.12 billion respectively, while revenue is projected to increase for the whole of the year by at least 25 per cent to NT$40 billion.

“Our staff are constantly working overtime to meet the ever-growing demand,” says Sheu.

Orders have poured in for Giant products until the middle of next year, prompting the addition of a new assembly line at its central Taichung base to boost annual production to 1 million bikes from the current 600,000.

As inflation soars and financial markets tumble, Taiwan’s bicycle manufacturers and other businesses catering to the thrifty are thriving as the public becomes increasingly eager to economise.

Pacific Cycles, a Taoyuan-based exporter, began selling its signature folding bikes at home in 2005, and since then they’ve become popular with city dwellers for their lightweight and convenient features.

“Our domestic sales are estimated to increase by 100 per cent this year, compared with 10 to 30 per cent in the past,” despite a 66 per cent price hike to NT$50,000 per bike, says marketing manager Max Yeh.

The folding bike, fondly dubbed “xiao che” in Putonghua, or “little foldable” by fans, weighs about 10kg.

The company will soon unveil a second plant, Yeh says.

Ed Lu, an avid fan of the folding bike in the capital Taipei, says cycling to work helps him relax but he added that he’d prefer cleaner air for the ride.

“If more people start cycling instead of driving, we would be able to improve the air quality while reducing traffic jams,” he says. Lu reflects a growing environmental awareness that bicycle manufacturers say has contributed to the growth in Taiwan.

“The public realise that driving less helps reduce air pollution to protect the environment against global warming,” says Giant’s Sheu.

Taiwan’s government has also promised to expand paths, in a bid to promote cycling as part of its “green policy” aimed at saving energy and reducing carbon emissions.

“The market is likely to peak this year … but cycling requires persistence and it’s restricted by weather conditions,” he says. “We hope more people will cycle regularly as a way of life and not just do so because it’s trendy.”

Agence France-Presse