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March, 2009:

Progress On Green Goals ‘Not Enough’

Shi Jiangtao in Beijing – Updated on Mar 06, 2009 – SCMP

Government advisers and green campaigners expressed dismay at the lack of progress in tackling the mainland’s worsening environment, despite Beijing’s renewed pledges to combat climate change and pollution problems.

Premier Wen Jiabao said yesterday that severe pollution and high energy use remained big challenges despite the government’s costly campaign to repair the environment.

Speaking at the opening of the National People’s Congress, he vowed Beijing would “unswervingly” push the anti-pollution drive and address climate change.

But his renewed promises failed to cheer mainland environmentalists, who said the damage was a lot worse than Mr Wen has said and were unhappy with the government’s inability to reverse the situation.

They said Mr Wen had talked little about the grave situation in dealing with global warming, and the speech was short of pledges to do more to help make the international climate change campaign a success.

According to Mr Wen, Beijing reported progress in curbing the emission of major pollutants and promoting energy efficiency last year, the second time since 2006.

Energy use per unit of gross domestic product was cut by 4.59 per cent. Emissions of acid rain-causing sulfur dioxide and chemical oxygen demand (COD), two keys in measuring water pollution, fell by 5.95 per cent and 4.42 per cent respectively.

Beijing set ambitious targets three years ago as part of a five-year plan to cut energy consumption by 20 per cent and the aforementioned pollutants by 10 per cent by next year.

Referring to a major achievement in protecting the environment, Mr Wen said energy use per unit of GDP had dropped by 10 per cent over the past three years compared with the 2005 figure, while COD and sulfur dioxide emissions had been cut by 6.6 per cent and nearly 9 per cent.

“We will implement the … plan for addressing climate change and become better able to respond to it,” he said.

Zhang Weiqing, a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, said the mainland’s overall environment had been deteriorating despite progress in some areas, which was far from enough to reverse the deterioration. “People are worried that it continues to get worse despite officials claiming otherwise,” he said yesterday. “Officials are still obsessed with development, but what’s the point … if the environment we live in is completely ruined?”

Environmentalists said the addiction to coal and policy priority on maintaining high growth would make it much more difficult to meet the pollution control targets on time.

Call For Regular Rain-Making To Relieve Drought-Hit Areas

SCMP – 5th March 2009

Artificial rainfall should become a routine practice in some drought-affected areas of the country, says NPC delegate Zong Qinghou. He said some areas in the north and northwest had endured many droughts, and occasional use of artificial rainfall could only ease that pressure. He said the rain-making efforts would not change the environment and would improve the quality of people’s lives. He proposed that the nation’s weather watchers create a team dedicated to inducing rain regularly, reports.

Environmentally Friendly And Cost-Effective Minibus Design


I think minibus designs should be changed to make them more environmentally friendly and cost-effective.

Also, I think reintroducing buses without air conditioning is one way to help people who take long trips to work, cope better with the economic downturn.

Most buses have too much air conditioning. Even in the winter it is switched on which is a waste of energy.

In fact, during the peak flu season air conditioning can help spread flu in enclosed spaces. In a redesigned minibus it would be possible to have more control over air-conditioning settings.

Also, if some buses did not have air conditioning on some routes, this could make fares cheaper for people on low incomes having to commute from some remote areas to the urban areas of Hong Kong. This would lower their transport costs.

Stefan Lam Kit-yung, Tuen Mun

A Fresh Start

Updated on Mar 05, 2009 – SCMP

Some things will need to change as Hong Kong people demand a more healthy living environment. The sooner our government and politicians respond to this, the sooner their popularity will rise. Even during tough economic times, people still want to protect their health. Inaction on this issue cannot be excused simply because “it costs more”.

A headline in the Sunday Morning Post sounded a warning: “Parents question decision to build MTR air vent next to school”. Parents of students attending Bonham Road Government Primary School are fighting the railway operator’s plan to site a ventilation shaft next to the school. The company and government say the shaft acts like a window to improve air exchange and will not spew out pollution.

What is interesting is the concern of parents. A few years ago, such a protest would probably not have happened. Today, people are far more concerned about public health. They are asking questions and demanding answers.

Parents should focus on how far away schools are from major roads; vehicle emissions are a health hazard for everyone, but especially children.

In the US, a school sited within 400 metres of a highway is considered within an air-pollution danger zone. If we were to apply this standard to Hong Kong, many of our schools situated right by busy roads with very high daytime pollution levels would not pass muster. Equally threatening to health is the undesirable “street canyon effect” that traps pollution between tall buildings.

Planners and officials might protest that it is impossible to ensure schools in Hong Kong are sited further away from busy roads because of the high urban density, but this assumption should not be taken at face value. We should at least ask how, in a city like ours, we can protect public health, especially of youngsters whose physical development can be impaired by pollution.

Children are not just miniature adults: they eat, drink and breathe at much higher rates; their growing bodies more readily absorb contaminants; and their developing immune systems make them more prone to diseases and disorders caused by exposure to toxins. Polluting emissions near schools, where children spend many hours a day, pose a huge threat to students’ health. Although the science is clear, we have not yet taken public health into account when planning our city.

Turning on air filter systems indoors will help, to a point. But, if the overall air quality is poor, all of us suffer.

In such a dense and built-up city, shouldn’t the attitude be “we need to work harder to minimise health risks” rather than “we can’t do much about it”? The political will of our leaders is paramount. Very little will change from a “business-as-usual” approach. Much more can be done if they adopt the Hong Kong “can-do” attitude our officials so loudly crow about when it comes to business matters.

For Hong Kong to have a chance to be a healthier city, the Development Bureau (which is in charge of urban planning), the Transport and Housing Bureau and the Environment Bureau first need to work together, rather than stay in their own bunkers. The heads of these policy bodies need to know, through legislation, what Hong Kong’s priorities are.

Laws such as the Air Pollution Control Ordinance need to be overhauled so that public health becomes the clear driver for planning and emissions control. Air quality standards must also be drastically tightened to make them at least consistent with modern health standards in science.

The government will argue that it is “reviewing the standards” but, if the whole of the government is not given a unifying vision and mission to make health a top priority through strong policy and laws, it won’t be enough.

Parents arise! We owe nothing less to our children.

Christine Loh Kung-wai is chief executive of the think-tank Civic Exchange.

Hong Kong Air Pollution Rap by MC Yan

‘Green GDP’ Drive Grinds To A Halt

Boosting economy takes priority over calculating cost to the environment

Shi Jiangtao in Beijing – Updated on Mar 04, 2009 – SCMP

Beijing has stopped calculating the pollution cost of its economic growth as it goes all out to lift the economy, a top environmental official says.

The controversial “green GDP” project, which deducts the economic consequences of environmental damage from the original gross domestic product figures, has been put on hold since early 2007 because of resistance from local officials.

The move came as top leaders repeatedly pledged that an aggressive 4 trillion yuan (HK$4.5 trillion) stimulus package announced late last year would not take a toll on the battered environment.

Analysts said it was a major retrogression for Beijing’s ambitious campaign to cut energy use and pollution, which came after the government promised to combat climate change together with Washington during US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s recent visit.

Environmental vice-minister Pan Yue said on the sidelines of the opening session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference that “the green GDP project has been cancelled” and “will not be resumed [any time soon]”.

The project, aimed at providing a true picture of the mainland’s degradation by putting an environmental price tag on economic success, has been shrouded in controversy since its introduction in 2004.

It has been widely applauded by the public along with Beijing’s pledges to slash energy consumption by 20 per cent and curb pollution emissions by 10 per cent by the end of next year – but development-minded local authorities have scorned it.

An incomplete calculation of the environmental costs in 2004 showed that pollution caused more than 510 billion yuan in economic losses, or 3 per cent of GDP, according to the only green GDP report ever published, in 2006.

Mainland leaders who had lent their support from the outset of the research scheme were apparently embarrassed by the huge environmental price of the runaway economic development and decided to postpone the release of a second report.

President Hu Jintao shelved the green GDP calculations indefinitely ahead of the Communist Party’s congress in 2007, in an attempt to ensure a successful political reshuffle.

Despite widespread appeals to reinstate the project, analysts said environmentalism had been sidelined again amid the economic slowdown.

Many conservationists have expressed fears about the green impact of the stimulus package, with much of the spending focusing on energy-intensive and polluting industries. Mr Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao had promised several times since December that the mainland would not make the same mistakes of “pollution first and cleanup later”, which contributed to the economic miracle of the past three decades.

However, sources at the Ministry of Environmental Protection said energy and infrastructure projects totalling 800 billion yuan had been approved by the ministry in the past three months.

The ministry had been told not to hamper economic growth, they said.

Analysts said the cancellation of the green GDP project and the ministry’s relatively rapid approval process in recent months were a result of intense political pressure from the top leadership.

“There is a clear conflict between lifting the economy and upholding strict environmental standards,” a Beijing-based environmentalist said. “It is not surprising to see such a result, given the country’s poor environmental record.”

Although Beijing had announced progress in cutting key pollutants, Mr Pan said there was still a long way to go to reverse the worsening environmental degradation.

February Was Warmest On Record

Cheung Chi-fai – SCMP – Updated on Mar 02, 2009

Last month was the warmest February since records began 125 years ago, with an average temperature of 20.5 degrees Celsius, 4.2 degrees higher than the month’s average for the 30 years to 2000.

The thermometer hit 28.3 degrees on February 25, a record high for the month.

The Hong Kong Observatory said the warmer weather was the result of a weak northeast monsoon and the stronger than usual influence of warmer air from the south.

“The cold air from the north seldom reached southern China. In Hong Kong, the occurrence of the warmer southerly winds originating from the ocean was about three times normal,” the Observatory said.

The temperatures were in line with the warming trend seen over the past 50 years, it said. The average February temperature has been rising by 0.4 degrees each decade.

Global warming and increasing urbanisation had contributed to this trend, the Observatory said.

The previous warmest February was in 2007, when temperatures averaged 19.5 degrees.

The city has just experienced its warmest autumn on record.

Last year, in a projection of the long-term impact of climate change on the city, Observatory chief Lam Chiu-ying warned summers would get longer and winters shorter, and that winters would disappear for good by 2049, possibly as early as the 2020s. That would mean temperatures falling to below 12 degrees for less than one day per year.

This scenario would happen if greenhouse gas emissions were not controlled and urbanisation continued to accelerate.

Edwin Lau Che-feng, the Hong Kong director of environmental group Friends of the Earth, said the new data reinforced the fact that global warming was affecting the city.

“No doubt climate change is at work,” he said. The city should step up efforts to conserve energy through measures that encouraged businesses to cut their energy consumption and reduce their carbon footprint.