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November 8th, 2008:

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

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.