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January 11th, 2013:

Cleaner air urged to boost health

Cleaner air urged to boost health
An academic from the University of Hong Kong says big improvement in the SAR’s air quality would provide an immediate boost to people’s health.

Honorary Professor at the university’s School of Public Health, Anthony Hedley, told legislators that improvements to air quality in recent years had been insufficient.

The Under Secretary for the Environment, Christine Loh, said the government would do everything it could to control air pollution levels.

The government estimates air pollution in the territory leads to economic losses of HK$1.7 billion dollars every year, while the Hedley Environmental Index, run by the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health, puts the figure for last year alone at HK$40 billion.

New air quality costings needed: Loh

New air quality costings needed: Loh

The Under Secretary for the Environment Christine Loh.
The Under Secretary for the Environment, Christine Loh, says the government needs to update its research on the health costs of Hong Kong’s at times appalling air pollution.

The government’s current estimate of economic losses due to illness and disease caused by poor air quality is HK$1.7 billion dollars a year.

That compares with a figure of nearly HK$40 billion for last year, calculated by the Hedley Environmental Index, run by the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health.

Ms Loh told a subcommittee of the Legislative Council’s Environmental Affairs Panel that a true cost-benefit analysis of cleaning up Hong Kong’s air is needed to help make decisions on how to do it and pay for it.

Almost half of the world’s food thrown away, report finds

Figures from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers show as much as 2bn tonnes of food never makes it on to a plate

Between 30% and 50% or 1.2-2bn tonnes of food produced around the world never makes it on to a plate. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod for the Guardian

Food waste

As much as half of all the food produced in the world – equivalent to 2bn tonnes – ends up as waste every year, engineers warned in a report published on Thursday.

The UK’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) blames the “staggering” new figures in its analysis on unnecessarily strict sell-by dates, buy-one-get-one free and Western consumer demand for cosmetically perfect food, along with “poor engineering and agricultural practices”, inadequate infrastructure and poor storage facilities.

In the face of United Nations predictions that there could be about an extra 3 billion people to feed by the end of the century and growing pressure on the resources needed to produce food, including land, water and energy, the IMechE is calling for urgent action to tackle this waste.

Their report, Global Food; Waste Not, Want Not, found that between 30% and 50% or 1.2-2bn tonnes of food produced around the world never makes it on to a plate.

In the UK as much as 30% of vegetable crops are not harvested due to their failure to meet retailers’ exacting standards on physical appearance, it says, while up to half of the food that is bought in Europe and the US is thrown away by consumers.

And about 550bn cubic metres of water is wasted globally in growing crops that never reach the consumer. Carnivorous diets add extra pressure as it takes 20-50 times the amount of water to produce 1 kilogramme of meat than 1kg of vegetables; the demand for water in food production could reach 10–13 trillion cubic metres a year by 2050.

This is 2.5 to 3.5 times greater than the total human use of fresh water today and could lead to more dangerous water shortages around the world, the IMechE says, claiming that there is the potential to provide 60-100% more food by eliminating losses and waste while at the same time freeing up land, energy and water resources.

Tim Fox, head of energy and environment at the IMechE, said: “The amount of food wasted and lost around the world is staggering. This is food that could be used to feed the world’s growing population – as well as those in hunger today. It is also an unnecessary waste of the land, water and energy resources that were used in the production, processing and distribution of this food.”

In order to prevent further waste, governments, development agencies and organisation like the UN “must work together to help change people’s mindsets on waste and discourage wasteful practices by farmers, food producers, supermarkets and consumers,” the IMechE said.

• This article was amended on 10 January 2012 to change the abbreviation IME to IMechE.

Pollution turns Hong Kong harbour from ‘fragrant’ to foul

AFPJanuary 11, 2013, 4:03 pm

AFP © Hong Kong’s skyline is shrouded in thick smog on January 9, 2013. Hong Kong is poised to get tough on ships burning dirty fuels that have turned the harbour into a city often covered in smog with air pollution killing over 3,000 people yearly.</p>

HONG KONG (AFP) – Hong Kong’s name may mean “fragrant harbour”, but cargo ships burning dirty fuel in what is one of the world’s busiest ports add to a foul layer of pollution that kills more than 3,000 people a year.

Now the government is vowing to get tough, with activists hoping mandatory restrictions on shipping emissions will be among a raft of measures announced next week aimed at making the city more environmentally friendly.

A total of 410,560 vessels arrived and left the port in 2011, with cargo ships vying for space in the crowded waters alongside public ferries, tourist junks and luxury yachts.

This level of activity means shipping is a key polluter in a city where, according to the University of Hong Kong, air pollution kills about 3,200 people every year.

Simon Ng of the Civic Exchange think-tank blamed the pollution, which often shrouds the city’s dramatic skyline in thick smog, for driving away talent.

“Just imagine a small power plant right next to your doorstep, producing a lot of pollution every day, almost 24 hours a day, what would you do?” he said.

“Ships are now producing a lot more pollutants than we had anticipated, and it is becoming a major problem that we need to address.”

Rising emissions from ships, which burn heavily polluting bunker fuel, will have seen shipping overtake the power industry as the biggest source of the colourless toxic gas sulphur dioxide last year, Ng predicted.

Nearly 400 Hong Kong people died last year from breathing in pollution from bunker fuel alone, he added, citing a study on marine pollution by his think-tank.

Activists say Hong Kong lags behind the rest of the world on environmental issues ranging from recycling to cycle lanes.

And when it comes to shipping, while vessels calling in northern Europe and North America are mostly restricted to fuels with 1.0 percent or less sulphur content, Hong Kong allows 3.5 percent.

Last year however, it did introduce a voluntary scheme in which ships using 0.5 percent or less are given a 50 percent discount in port dues.

Christine Loh, an environmental crusader who has become the government’s environment undersecretary, said the scheme was just a “small start”.

“We want to regulate. We want it to become mandatory and we want to take the scheme across the border to our neighbours in Guangdong,” she told an air quality conference last month.

“We would like, within the next few years, to collaborate and work very closely with the Guangdong province so the whole of the water of the (Pearl River Delta) could be turned into a low emission zone.”

The Environmental Protection Department said it was working with the mainland Chinese authorities to look into a switch to cleaner fuel for vessels berthed in the delta, which includes Macau and industrial hubs like Shenzhen.

But the Hong Kong Shipowners Association said the reduction in port dues was only enough to cover 30-40 percent of the yearly costs of using cleaner fuel, which amounted to about $2 million per company.

“Asking carriers to spend money that they don’t have on switching fuel is quite a difficult thing,” the association’s managing director Arthur Bowring said.

The industry was operating in a “terrible” environment amid an unpredictable trade volume due to the global financial crisis, he added.

But he said liners were prepared to work with the government and noted that about 18 companies had taken part in a two-year unsubsidised, industry-led initiative to use cleaner fuel that expired at the end of last year.

Orient Overseas, Hong Kong’s biggest container ship operator, which took part in the initiative, said mandatory regulation would at least create a level playing field.

The city’s chief executive Leung Chun-ying has pledged to make pollution one of his top priorities during his five-year term.

But when the Beijing-backed leader takes up the issue in his first annual policy address next week, the question will be not just whether the field is level but also whether he is willing to set the bar high enough.

New air quality objectives announced last year for seven pollutants including sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide were criticised as too little, too late and in August the city choked under the worst smog it had ever recorded