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November, 2008:

Wong Video Targets Wheezy City

Clara Mak – SCMP | Updated on Nov 08, 2008

Like a lot of people living in Hong Kong, Magic Boy director Adam Wong Sau-ping suffers bouts of hay fever. But instead of just blowing his nose into an endless number of hankies, he chose to address the issue of air pollution, which he believes triggers the reaction.

His concerns are probably justified. A recent Greenpeace report states that frequent exposure to air pollution can lower resistance to respiratory diseases and also increase chances of developing conditions such as asthma and bronchitis.

Greenpeace added that the Hong Kong government’s Air Pollution Index, its daily measure of air quality in the city, doesn’t quite reflect the reality. The index has been neither reviewed nor updated in the past two decades to match the World Health Organisation (WHO) standards, so Greenpeace has launched its own “Real Air Pollution Index”.

Meanwhile, Wong (pictured) filmed a short video to help promote the Greenpeace campaign. The 33-year-old recruited a group of children, whom he shot undertaking various activities around the city.

“At the beginning of the video, these 10 lovely children went out after they were reassured by the weather report that the air quality on the day was suitable for them to do outdoor activities,” he says. “So, they went out taking deep breaths in Kwun Tong, running in Sha Tin, blowing balloons in Central, playing music with a pianica and singing on the Tsing Ma Bridge.

“But by the end, you will hear these children coughing and wheezing because the current index just simply does not reflect the true air quality level here. We are using a standard that is some 20 years behind and far below the WHO standard,” Wong says.

Living in the busy district of Mong Kok, Wong has developed ways of dealing with air pollution. He takes a few steps back when he waits to cross the road to avoid breathing in fumes and he rinses his mouth with water when he gets home to prevent a sore throat.

Air pollution, he says, is as serious as the recent Chinese milk powder scare. “It’s like telling a child the milk he drinks is contaminated with melamine. The difference is if you don’t drink the milk every day or eat a large quantity of White Rabbit candies in one go, you probably won’t develop a kidney stone or die. However, you can’t choose not to breathe even though the air is polluted. It’s just scary.”

Wong tries to protect the environment by using fewer plastic bags and recycling plastic bottles. He says he was heavily influenced by Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki’s films which often touch on environmental subjects.

“One of his films, Nausicaa of The Valley Of The Wind [1984], talks about the friendship between an insect and a human. The eyes of the bug go red when it is angry and turn blue when the people are being friendly to it. It taught me the relationship between nature and human beings and how the two should live together peacefully.

“Besides, we are not here to conquer the world,” he says.

To watch Wong’s video and to learn more about the Real Air Pollution campaign, visit

Economy May Affect Greenhouse Gas Targets

Stephen Chen – SCMP | Updated on Nov 08, 2008

China would have a difficult task in overcoming economic hurdles to meet its greenhouse gas emissions targets, a senior central government official said yesterday. Miao Xu, deputy minister of industry and information technology, said in Shanghai that the nation was facing a lot of unexpected adversities this year from home and abroad, making the task of cutting emissions and pollution extremely challenging, Xinhua reported.

The country’s goal, set by the 11th Five-Year Plan, was to cut energy consumption per unit of gross domestic product by 20 per cent in 2010 and emissions of major pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide and airborne dust, by 10 per cent from 2006.

But even with a thriving economy in the plan’s first two years, the country failed to keep up with the annual benchmarks and, because of a disappointing performance in the first half of this year, will probably miss the mark again.

Those failures would make the job difficult, if not impossible in the next two years, Mr Miao said.

To make things worse, an unprecedented blizzard and earthquake hit the nation this year before the world’s biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression began.

He said that to meet the emissions targets in the plan’s remaining two years, the country would have to reduce energy consumption by 18 per cent through industrial upgrades, including rapidly adopting some of the world’s most advanced manufacturing technology.

Mainland enterprises, from steel to power and light industry, have invested heavily in energy efficiency, mostly through funds raised in a booming stock market and foreign investment.

But mainland stock markets have dropped by more than 70 per cent this year, and many companies have reported sharp falls in profit, and even losses.

Gross domestic product in the first three quarters dropped to 9.9 per cent, a 2.3 percentage-point decline from last year, recording the first growth rate below 10 per cent in five years.

The growth rate of large industries was cut by more than 3 percentage points, and investment in infrastructure fell by 10 per cent.

It would be difficult to imagine that, under such economic circumstances, business would have much incentive to take part in the global anti-climate-warming campaign, some environmental experts said.

Even so, the government was considering dramatically increasing public investment to meet the emissions target, Huang Li , deputy director of the National Energy Bureau’s energy conservation and scientific equipment department, told Xinhua in Chengdu yesterday.

The State Council had discussed a proposal to nearly double the targeted nuclear capacity to 7,000 MW by 2020, Mr Huang said.

UN Environment Boss Warns Economic Crisis Will Diminish Climate-change Commitment

Reuters | Updated on Nov 08, 2008

The global financial gloom would make citizens of rich nations reluctant to use taxes to fight global warming, and any plan to help poor nations should make the polluters pay, the UN’s climate boss said. The warning cast doubt on a Chinese proposal to ask the world’s rich nations to devote up to 1 per cent of their economic worth to pay for cleaner expansion in poorer countries.

“It is undeniable that the financial crisis will have an impact on the climate change negotiations,” said Yvo de Boer, who heads the UN Climate Change Secretariat.

More than 190 nations have agreed to seek a new UN treaty by the end of next year on greenhouse gases. He said the polluters should be directly targeted as a source of revenue to help developing countries.

Speaking ahead of a conference on climate technology transfer in Beijing, Mr de Boer warned the rich world that under a road map for a climate deal to replace the Kyoto Protocol, they had to create revenue to help developing nations fund greener growth.

The plan accepted in Bali last year committed poor countries to curbing emissions if rich governments helped with technology so they did not sacrifice economic growth.

He praised China’s leadership in negotiations and its effort to firm up demands for technology.

“This is a great opportunity for the country that has put so much emphasis on this issue to really focus the debate on how technology transfer can be part of the long-term … response.”

While the financial crisis threatened efforts to tackle global warming, he said, it could also give impetus to talks aimed at forging a climate-change pact.

The crisis has also highlighted the benefits of a trading system, favoured by most rich nations, that sets pollution limits but allows companies to buy and sell quotas to meet their targets.

The auction of credits to pollute could fund cleaner development in poor nations, he said.

A flat carbon tax would be more efficient than the current system, but more complicated to implement, he added.

Chemicals Clampdown To Send Costs Soaring – Proposal To Cap Compounds In More Than 70 Products

Cheung Chi-fai – SCMP | Updated on Nov 08, 2008

The costs of materials for painting and decorating homes, vehicles and ships are expected to climb as much as 200 per cent after the government introduces new curbs on smog-inducing chemicals. Proposed regulations would cap the level of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in more than 70 products, including vehicle and marine paints, adhesives and sealants for construction and household use.

If the regulations are endorsed by lawmakers, Hong Kong will become one of the leading regions in the world in controlling VOC emissions, following California, which will implement strict limits from January.

The new rules are scheduled to be introduced in phases from January 2010 to April 2012.

The Environmental Protection Department estimates they will cut VOC emissions by up to 700 tonnes a year – about 2 per cent of the total.

But it says some of the affected products could rise in price by up to 200 per cent initially, until more supplies are available in the market.

In a submission to the Advisory Council on the Environment, the department said the new rule was necessary for Hong Kong to meet its pledge to cut VOCs to 55 per cent of 1997 levels under an agreement with Guangdong province. So far, it has achieved only a 40 per cent cut.

VOC content in hair spray and lubricants, insecticides, printing ink and buildings paints has been capped since April last year.

Under the latest rule, the department projected that the prices of adhesives and sealants for construction uses would rise by up to 200 per cent, while the garage trade might need to invest HK$5,000 to HK$30,000 to upgrade its painting facilities.

For shipyards, the impact would be small because painting accounts for only about 3 per cent of total ship maintenance costs.

The department said it had consulted suppliers, manufacturers and users about the proposal and believed they could comply with the new requirements before the regulations took effect.

Hong Kong Vehicle Repair Merchants Association chairman Ringo Lee Yiu-pui said over 80 per cent of the paints and additives the vehicle repair trade used needed replacement under the rule, and the costs would be up to a third higher.

“It is clear that the extra cost will be passed on to consumers. But we haven’t seen, so far, any substitute products available on the market,” he said.

A spokesman for the vehicle maintenance company Inter Auto Engineering said that while the change was believed to be a step in the right direction, the company was concerned about the impact on its costs and client relationships.

Hong Kong Construction Industry Employees General Union head Choi Chun-way said the new regulation should not be implemented until there were proven substitutes for the adhesives and sealants.

“The VOC-free adhesives will take longer to dry, and this will lengthen the work period. But most important, we are not sure these products can deliver the same results as those with VOCs,” he said.

Hong Kong Shipyard manager Ma Chi-wai said the regulation would not affect his business because the cost of paint was directly borne by shipowners. He said he was not worried that shipowners might send their vessels to the mainland for repairs to minimise costs.

The Star Ferry said it had switched to cleaner paints long ago and those now in use were neither toxic nor bad for air quality.

VOCs react in the air with sunlight and oxides of nitrogen to form ozone, a key ingredient in air pollution.

Rich Nations Should Ditch ‘Unsustainable’ Lifestyle

Reuters in Beijing | Updated on Nov 07, 2008

Premier Wen Jiabao said rich nations must abandon their “unsustainable lifestyle” to fight climate change and expand help to poor nations bearing the brunt of worsening droughts and rising sea levels.

Mr Wen told the opening of a conference on Friday the financial crisis was no reason for rich nations to delay fighting global warming.

“As the global financial crisis spreads and worsens, and the world economy slows down apparently, the international community must not waver in its determination to tackle climate change,” Xinhua news agency quoted him as saying.

The two-day meeting is to push Beijing’s call for rich nations to fund a huge infusion of greenhouse gas-cutting technology for developing countries. But foreign officials at the meeting raised doubts about Beijing’s proposal, which could stoke contention over who pays and how much.

China is widely believed to be the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas from industry, power plants and vehicles lifting global temperatures. But Wen threw the onus back on rich nations, with their much higher emissions per person and long history of polluting the air.

“Developed countries shoulder the duty and responsibility to tackle climate change and should alter their unsustainable lifestyle,” he told the meeting.

Mainland officials have said wealthy nations should divert as much as 1 per cent of their economic worth to paying for clean technology transfers and helping the Third World overcome damage from the rising temperatures bringing more heatwaves and droughts, more powerful storms and rising sea levels.

This would mean a total US$284 billion a year if members of the Organisation for Cooperation and Economic Development (OECD) paid up based on the size of their economies last year.

Over 190 nations have agreed to seek a new treaty to curtail greenhouse gases from industry, vehicles and land-clearing. China wants technology aid to feature in that pact, which negotiators hope to seal in Copenhagen late next year.

Climate officials gathered in Beijing welcomed China’s growing activism on the issue but questioned its proposal, especially with an economic downturn draining coffers.

“It is undeniable that the financial crisis will have an impact on the climate change negotiations,” said Yvo de Boer, who heads the UN Climate Change Secretariat.

“If we go to citizens under the current circumstances… and say ‘I’m increasing your tax burden in order to pay for climate policy’, that might not go down very well,” he told reporters.

Denmark’s Climate Change Minister, Connie Hedegaard, who is helping guide negotiations leading to Copenhagen, said other governments wanted to see what the mainland offers in future emissions goals in return for help and big emissions cuts by rich nations.

Few rich nations have lived up to vows to give a sliver of their GDPs to development aid, giving little hope for any similar approach to climate change, she said in an interview.

“I think we will not be able to do this at an adequately big scale unless we also activate market forces,” she said of technology transfers.

Clear The Air For Our Future

SCMP | Updated on Nov 06, 2008

Many expatriates find Hong Kong a heavily polluted city with extremely poor air quality.

The government seems to be taking action with, for example, the Action Blue Sky campaign and the ban on smoking in public places. But they have shown limited progress in improving air quality. We can still see people lighting up in restaurants, parks, and places where smoking is prohibited.

Stricter penalties are needed. Take the issue of illegal dumping of waste, where the maximum penalty is HK$200,000 and imprisonment for six months. Has anyone ever been sentenced to six months’ imprisonment?

If the government is not going to enforce the stricter penalty, I wonder whether our citizens will be environmentally aware enough to keep Hong Kong clean.

Hongkongers want our city to become an international financial hub, but what people are doing now is the exact opposite. Hongkongers should not just be money-minded. We should focus more on environmental problems which are the real concerns hurting Hong Kong’s competitiveness.

Artemis Cheung, Kwun Tong

Well Positioned To Help Fuel Future Growth

Thomas Tang – SCMP | Updated on Nov 05, 2008

The financial crisis has focused the minds of everyone on the economy. Cuts in interest rates to maintain liquidity are the measures currently being discussed in macroeconomic circles. However, despite the ominous likelihood of a recession, does this mean that Hong Kong will just seize up?

An alternative is to adopt a bolder approach, to restructure markets to make them sounder and more rational – and use these mechanisms to address a much longer-term but equally pressing global problem, climate change.

Lord Stern, the former adviser to the British government on climate change, spoke to some of the major business leaders in Hong Kong recently to outline the steps mankind must take to avoid the catastrophic effects of increasing carbon emissions in the atmosphere.

Since 2000, atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations have climbed by 2 parts per million annually, due to soaring use of fossil fuels to power the world’s economic growth.

The present level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is around 438 parts per million; if this amount is allowed to increase at the current rate, then by 2050 we are looking at over 500 parts per million and a corresponding increase in average temperatures.

To staunch this calamitous trend, Lord Stern spoke of the need to cut emissions by 50 per cent by 2050 (based on 1990 levels) to bring global carbon emissions under control. But, as he stressed, it is not a case of forgoing economic growth; it is about growth in a low-carbon economy. Under the Apec Leaders’ Declaration on Climate Change, Energy Security and Clean Development, made in September last year, Hong Kong has committed itself to reducing energy use by 25 per cent by 2030 (using 2005 as a base year).

Hong Kong now emits between nine and 10 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person each year, which is roughly in line with most developed nations. The US emits between 20 and 25 tonnes per capita, while the figure for China is about 5 tonnes.

In his policy address this year, the chief executive put the emphasis on an economy based on low energy consumption and low pollution through energy efficiency, clean fuels and energy conservation.

Mandatory building codes on energy, energy audits and energy labelling are commendable, and a step in the right direction. The government should also consider road pricing and carbon taxes. Meanwhile, there is a growing array of low-carbon technologies that are well suited to Hong Kong’s needs.

The question is one of money. This brings us back to the sourcing and application of funds – surely it would have been far better for investors to spend money on low-carbon technology, rather than on the risky financial products that led to the minibond debacle.

This is where business can lead, by redirecting funds to more appropriate causes, and for government to pursue sensible, viable projects that have both commercial and environmental benefits.

Hong Kong could make a significant contribution abroad. For example, almost a quarter of carbon emissions arise through the loss of natural forests, either through felling or burning. The world’s forests act as global “sinks” for carbon; any disruption in these ecosystems has a profound effect on emission levels. Hong Kong could help protect vital forests by purchasing carbon credits from clean energy projects in developing economies.

Shored up by the mainland, which is committed to reducing emissions as well as maintaining economic growth, Hong Kong is well positioned to become the green finance centre of the region.

As the world battens down for the coming recession, Hong Kong can use its financial clout to shift focus to another global problem – but one that deals with real-life issues. That is what leadership is about.

Dr Thomas Tang is executive director of the Global Institute for Tomorrow

HK People Reluctant To Change Ways For Cleaner Planet, Survey Finds

Cheung Chi-fai, SCMP – Nov 04, 2008

Hongkongers are among the least willing to change their behaviour for a better environment, according to a poll covering 17 countries and regions.

The poll also found Hong Kong people tended to favour such habits as controlling their energy use rather than green purchasing or more sophisticated behaviour that required more time and skills. In the poll conducted by TNS in June, more than 13,000 people in 17 countries and regions in Asia, Europe, South America and Australasia were interviewed online. About 400 were from Hong Kong.

It found that while more than 70 per cent of Hongkongers said they were willing to pay more for a better environment, only 33 per cent said they had changed their behaviour “a great deal” or “a good amount” for the environment.

The score was lower than the global average of 40 per cent and was the fourth-lowest among the 17 regions, after South Korea, Germany and Russia. The most willing to change their habits were Mexicans – 74 per cent.

From a list of 34 green habits in the survey, the five most frequently practised by Hongkongers all related to energy use. Up to 76 per cent said they always or often shut down computers and unplugged electrical appliances not in use, compared with the global average of 69 per cent.

Other habits favoured by Hong Kong people include air-drying laundry, washing clothes in cold water, using efficient light bulbs, tuning air conditioning at appropriate temperatures and cutting back on travel.

“The Hong Kong public score well above the international average in terms of these particular habits and actions. Yet their performance is disappointing in other ways,” said Wade Garland, managing director of TNS Hong Kong and Singapore.

When asked how often they bought used clothes or furniture, 60 per cent of Hongkongers said never or rarely, compared with the global average of 51 per cent, while 41 per cent never or rarely purchased eco-friendly clothing and shoes, compared with the global average of 27 per cent.

Hong Kong people also scored lower on making their own cleaning supplies, composting, having cars tuned annually and having a meatless meal at least once a week.

A question on the proposed plastic-bag levy found 42 per cent of respondents describing it as “not very effective” or “not at all effective”. Only 25 per cent said it was highly effective.

While up to 97 per cent of people were aware of the No Plastic Bag Day campaign, only 82 per cent brought their own bag on that day, and 7 per cent opted to pay 50 HK cents for each plastic bag. The other 11 per cent avoided making purchases.

Mr Garland said Hong Kong consumers seemed willing to foot the bill and enjoy the convenience. He said publicity should be stepped up to remind people about the beneficial impacts that green habits can have.

Axe Bypass, Says Ex-London Mayor: ‘However Many Roads You build – They Will Fill Up, Usually Within 18 Months’

Albert Wong – SCMP | Updated on Nov 04, 2008

Construction of the Central-Wan Chai bypass would be a “complete waste of time” and only serve to increase the number of drivers in the area, according to the former mayor of London, Ken Livingstone.

“Literally, it will fill up in two years; it might fill up in two months,” Mr Livingstone, noted for his controversial introduction of a congestion charge to cut traffic levels in central London, said in an interview with the South China Morning Post.

Mr Livingstone, who visited Hong Kong last week at the government’s invitation to exchange views on urban environmental policies, said he had expressed his views on the matter to officials.

“In any city as densely populated as London, New York or Hong Kong, there’s a potential to double the road system and it will fill up,” he said.

“Transport planners have known since 1938 that however many roads you build – they will fill up, usually within 18 months or two years … If you take the [vehicle] capacity out, the number of people driving goes down; if you put it up, the number of people driving goes up.

“When you look at a city like Hong Kong, especially when you’ve 100 per cent of the roads you need, it’s about using them more sensibly.”

As the first mayor of London, a post created in 2000, Mr Livingstone credits his congestion charge for his re-election in 2004 – although he admits some people will never forgive him for it.

Since it was introduced in 2003, every annual report by Transport for London (TFL) on the successful reduction in congestion has been contested by alternative reports by various automobile associations that claim the figures are “spin”.

Businesses in central London also complained of the increased delivery costs and blamed reduced sales on less traffic in the area.

The controversy was fuelled when TFL reported in August that while the volume of cars entering central London was down 21 per cent since the charge started in 2003, congestion – measured by journey times – was back to 2002 levels. TFL maintained this was due to roadworks.

In Hong Kong, the government is planning to relieve traffic congestion by building the Central-Wan Chai bypass, scheduled for 2016, which will connect the Rumsey Street flyover in Central with the Island Eastern Corridor in North Point.

“Electronic road pricing”, similar to a congestion charge, is also being studied, although the government has said it could only complement the bypass, not replace it, and would depend on “community support”.

Mr Livingstone recognised that his scheme had its detractors, but said he felt they were outnumbered by its supporters. “Some people hated me and will never forgive me. But once the zone came in, my opinion polls jumped 10 per cent. And it guaranteed my election in 2004.”

A number of cities in Europe have now implemented congestion charging and New York has also been flirting with the idea.

Mr Livingstone urged the Hong Kong government to show some political will. “The one thing that strikes me here about the nature of this embryonic democracy is that everybody is so desperate to get a consensus and that everyone must be consulted,” he said. “There are always people resistant to change … The world doesn’t have the time to wait for everyone to agree.”

However, Mr Livingstone said neither the pollution nor congestion in Hong Kong was as bad as in many developed cities. He also said Hong Kong and Shanghai had the best potential to join London and New York in the “first tier” of great cities. “In both Hong Kong and Shanghai, you feel people are much more relaxed about difference and diversity,” he said.

Mr Livingstone recently lost the mayoral election to Tory Boris Johnson but plans to run for election against in 2012, in time for the Olympics Games. The former mayor advises various governments on sustainable development issues in cities and has been appointed an adviser in urban planning to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Reluctance For Air Study In Line With MTR’s Orwellian Vision

SCMP | Updated on Nov 03, 2008

It is distressing that the MTR is not showing the corporate social responsibility one would expect from an arm of our government which claims it is dedicated to sustainable development and whose chief executive placed resolving air pollution to the fore in his policy address.

I refer to the reluctance of the MTR to conduct an air ventilation study on its massive Tsuen Wan development. Of course we know why the MTR does not want this study. It will conclude that the wall of concrete to be erected on the Tsuen Wan waterfront will have a significantly negative impact on airflow and ventilation and an adverse impact on the health and well-being of residents with homes behind it.

Once again the usual excuses that we are weary of hearing are trotted out – comprehensive development area, master layout plans, approvals and planning permission granted in the dark ages and ventilation studies were not compulsory at the time. Well, in the year 2000 we still had blue skies; now we look out of our windows every day on to the grey pea soup that passes for air.

On October 23, ATV’s Focus Asia: Business Leaders featured Chow Chung-kong, chief executive of the MTR Corporation. I hope that I was not the only viewer who was disturbed by his Orwellian vision for Hong Kong. He boasted that living in gated high-rise communities above train stations allows people to go back and forth to their work place, dine and shop in internal malls and never leave the “mother ship” of the MTR.

This concept completely ignores the benefits to a community of interaction among different classes, leaving one’s comfort zone, exploring, feeling the sun on one’s face, getting a little dirty and the myriad experiences that go towards the formation of a society that is both experienced and integrated. The MTR vision on the other hand promotes exclusion, division of the community on income levels, lack of initiative and an unhealthy lifestyle.

It is time the MTR revaluated its focus in line with the aspirations of its stakeholders, the Hong Kong public. Government officials must stop hiding behind lame excuses and put public interest first. The air ventilation assessment must go ahead.
Martin Brinkley, Ma Wan