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November, 2015:

Cities must lead way to climate solutions, Hong Kong environment minister says

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Ed Miliband urges UK to enshrine zero carbon emissions target in law

Ed Miliband has called on the UK to become the first country in the world to enshrine in law a target of reducing carbon emissions to zero.

The former Labour leader and energy secretary said Britain should show leadership and send a clear signal to businesses by building on its existing target of cutting emissions by 80% by 2050 under the Climate Change Act.

The intervention, in a comment article for the Guardian, comes a week before world leaders including David Cameron and Barack Obama meet for a landmark climate change summit in Paris. Nearly 200 countries are due to attend the negotiations to thrash out a deal for emissions cuts beyond 2020 and financing for poorer countries to cope with global warming.

“When we did the Climate Change Act [in 2008] it did send a message around the world, and then people did follow. It was Britain saying we’re going to do these big reductions and put it in law. I think there is the prospect of that happening again,” Miliband said.

The Labour MP said he did not want to put a date on when the zero emissions target should be achieved, because that decision should be taken by the government’s statutory advisers. To avoid dangerous global warming, the UN’s intergovernmental panel on climate change has said emissions must be cut to near zero by the end of the century.

Nicholas Stern, the economist commissioned by the then chancellor Gordon Brown to assess the costs of inaction on climate change, said he supported a target of reducing emissions to zero but would not go so far as to say it should be written into law.

Sir David King, the foreign secretary’s special representative on climate change, said Miliband’s call was important and timely. “It stresses the importance of maintaining all-party political agreement on the commitments of the UK to act on climate change. This has already created the certainty on investments in the new low carbon sector that means this is now the fastest growing sector in the British economy, now employing over 450,000 people in Britain.”

Miliband said the UK’s emissions cuts needed to go from 80% to 100% because it would be required eventually, and would send an important signal to businesses. “We now know we will get to the point where the carbon budget is exhausted. It just makes logical sense for the backstop to be zero, not simply 80%. The 80% target is fine but in the end we are going to have to get to zero, and we might as well start to look at the questions of when and how.”

This summer the government’s statutory climate advisers warned that the UK’s existing carbon budgets could be missed. The group’s chairman John Gummer took the unusual step of singling out Conservative policy changes such as scrapping a target for all new homes to be zero carbon.

But Miliband said he was not interested in political point-scoring in his call for a zero emissions target, which he said was backed by Tory, Liberal Democrat, SNP and Green party MPs.

“I’m not in the business of trying to have a go at the government. Paris is too important. I genuinely hope they will look upon this as a sensible cross-party initiative which they can support,” he said.

French authorities have said the Paris summit will still go ahead despite the recent terror attacks, although authorities have forbidden a planned march that was expected to attract hundreds of thousands of people. Miliband, who attended the last major climate summit, in Copenhagen in 2009, said he was hopeful of a “decent” deal at Paris.

“The stakes are high … it’s very, very important that Paris is a success. By a success, I mean serious commitments from the major emitters, which we have. But crucially with this so-called ratchet mechanism for the ambition to be greater.”

Countries representing nearly 90% of emissions have put forward their climate pledges before the summit, but a UN analysis found they would still lead to temperature rises of 2.7-3C – more than the 2C limit to which leaders have agreed. The EU, China and the US, among others, have called for a five-yearly review mechanism to ratchet up those pledges to meet 2C. “It’s very important we embed that in the agreement,” Miliband said.

He admitted that while the Copenhagen summit had been a setback in some senses, it had also laid some of the groundwork – such as a promise of $100bn a year in climate aid for poorer countries – for any deal agreed in Paris. The Paris conference opens on 30 November and runs until 11 December.

Hong Kong as ‘Asia’s World City’? Not any more – and here’s why

We in Hong Kong have lived for so long with the branding of Hong Kong as “Asia’s World City” that I am sure many take it for granted. So a new study by the consultancy PwC makes sobering reading.

PwC’s 2015 “Building Better Cities” study*, released this week at the APEC meetings in Manila, should provide a powerful wake-up call for anyone in Hong Kong who cares for our future. This survey of the livability of 28 cities across the APEC region puts Hong Kong a drab 11th, with shocking ratings for culture and “social health”, health and welfare, and environmental sustainability.

We might not be surprised to see Toronto and Vancouver up in the top two places, but it is irritating to see us lag behind Singapore (3rd), Tokyo (4th), Seoul (7th) and Osaka (10th).

The concept of Hong Kong as Asia’s World City feels like an empty marketing shell

Livable city surveys are always guaranteed to get peoples’ hackles up. I always bristle when I read the Mercer global rankings, and even worse the shockingly opinionated annual Monocle ranking (Hong Kong gets hit for being hot, and for not having enough bicycle lanes). One can quibble too with the PwC rankings. But their methodology is transparent, and their efforts to be objective are commendable. And their main aim is not to humble underperforming cities, but to get us focused on the pressing policy challenges linked with urbanisation. In that they do a good job.

The 28 cities surveyed account for a population of 210 million people, with numbers rising fast. More than half of the Asia-Pacific’s population now live in cities, and the trend is accelerating.

Malaysia’s urban population has grown from 50 per cent of the total population in 1990 to 74 per cent today. Thailand’s urban population has grown over the same period from 29 per cent to 48 per cent. Just this week Xi Jinping reported that China’s urbanites accounted for more than half the country’s population, and will grow at 2 percentage points a year over the coming decade.

Cities are becoming increasingly important economic forces, often on a par with nations. Lima, for example, accounts for 70 per cent of the GDP of Peru. Manila accounts for 45 per cent of the Philippine GDP. Los Angeles alone has a GDP 1.5 times that of Saudi Arabia. As economic dynamos they can be a force for great good.

But they are also aggregators of many of our biggest social blights – pollution, poverty, crime and so on. Last year, cities produced 1.3 billion tonnes of solid waste. As the PwC authors note: “Some cities essentially carry the opportunities and responsibilities of nations.”

It was perhaps with this thought in mind that Hong Kong leaders decided to brand Hong Kong as Asia’s World City 15 years ago. At that point, we accounted for 18 per cent of China’s GDP and were the unchallenged conduit between the dark, unknown Chinese interior, and the global business community.

Today, we account for barely more than 2 per cent of China’s GDP, and much work needs to be done if we are in a decade’s time still going to deserve the “World City” title.

The PwC study still ranks Hong Kong number one among the 28 cities as an economic powerhouse. And in terms of our “connectivity”, we rank an excellent number 2 behind Singapore.

But that is where the comfortable news stops. In terms of our cultural and social fabric we take a pasting – worst of all as the most unequal of all the 28 cities compared. The authors puzzle that one of the world’s most affluent cities should be home to more than a million people living in poverty.

They note that while incomes have risen on average by 42 per cent since 2007, perceptions of poverty are getting worse, as home prices have jumped by 154 per cent.

Our education system is poorly rated, as is lack of cultural diversity and a rising culture of intolerance. Our health care system ranks poorly, in particular in terms of the number of doctors we have serving the needs of our 7.2 million people. Failure to develop non renewable energy gives us a terrible environmental sustainability rating (though I quibble with us being punished for having comparatively few public parks – they should surely take account of our country parks?).

Beyond the city rankings, the study has greatest value in tracking some of the challenges arising from rapid urbanisation, and on the rising importance of city leaders to talk, learn and share with each other. Corrupt activity focused on urban communities costs the global economy at least US$1 trillion, it reports. Traffic congestion will remain a permanent challenge, even with good infrastructure investment: motor vehicles on our city roads are expected to double by 2022.

Pollution challenges will be another constant. Already, Beijing’s annual pollution bill is put at $11 billion. Cities produce 1.3 billion tonnes of solid waste a year. Tackling these problems will require cooperation, knowledge sharing, better data – what they call a “stock market of city ideas”.

To optimise city development, city leaders first and foremost need to be clear on what characteristics differentiate their city. These are the distinguishing factors that underpin competitive advantage. With this knowledge in hand, they then need to collaborate with cities around them.

What screams at me most forcefully as I plough through the study is a depressing realisation that our own administration has no handle on the large majority of challenges that would make Hong Kong a better city, or underpin our future competitive advantage – in short, push us up the rankings.

The concept of Hong Kong as Asia’s World City feels like an empty marketing shell. Knowledge of what distinguishes us seems better expressed in Beijing than here at home. And collaboration with the huge cities in the Pearl River Delta that surrounds us is non-existent. If we are ever to deserve the World City title, our leaders have to do better than this.

David Dodwell is executive director of the Hong Kong-Apec Trade Policy Group

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Food waste sickens auditor

The Audit Commission slammed the Environment Bureau for taking piecemeal action in controlling food waste, some 1.18 million tonnes of which were disposed in landfills in 2013, up 13 percent from 2004.

The Correctional Services Department and Hospital Authority were among the worst wasters of food.

The commission estimated that an average patient would waste 0.31 kilograms of food each day based on records from all 38 public hospitals from July to August.

A Hospital Authority spokesman said: “In fact, the quantity of food waste in public hospitals has seen a decreasing trend in recent years with the launching of a series of measures such as the save-rice program, adjusting the quantity of food supply to individual patients basing on need.”

He said the authority will “seriously consider” the audit recommendation of periodically publishing food-waste quantity.

Meanwhile, the audit report also pointed out that the HK$16 million Kowloon Bay Pilot Composting Plant may only handle a quarter of the food waste that the government claimed.

The Environment Bureau boasted in 2009 that the plan could handle up to four tonnes of food waste a day, but the audit found that it only handles 0.89 tonnes daily since it was put into use in 2008 up to June this year.

The commission also found that a third of vacant school premises have not been returned to the government even though they have been idle for an average of 11 years, with one school unused for over 35 years.

Another school on a 4,000-square-meter site in Tai Po, vacant since 1996, has not been reused, after the Lands Department was told in a phone call that the building was iconic and serves as a village memorial.

Of 234 vacant school premises in the Education Bureau database, 105 were not being used as of April 30 this year, 102 were being used and 27 had been or would be demolished for housing or other developments.

Of the 105 idle ex-schools, 29 were under the bureau’s purview. Twelve had been allocated for school use but had been idle for up to 11.6 years.

Seventy-three vacant ex-premises are under the Lands Department, among which is a school in the New Territories left idle for 35.6 years.

Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen described the vacant school campuses as “a pitiful waste.”

Ip added: “The Education Bureau and the government have put the most precious and limited resource in Hong Kong land into waste.”


Nearly three times more plastic bags are being dumped in landfills than the number of bags reported by retailers under the 50 HK cent levy scheme, Director of Audit David Sun Tak-kei says in his latest report.

This throws into doubt the Environmental Bureau’s much-touted success of the levy scheme in reducing plastic bags and whether shops are accurately turning over levy collections to the government.

About HK$172 million from the levy was lost from 2010-13, The Standard calculation based on the audit report shows.

The first phase of the levy was implemented in July 2009 and by the end of last year a total of 3,543 shops of 48 chain groups – including supermarkets, convenience stores and personal-item stores – were registered to charge the levy. They were required to submit quarterly reports on the number of bags distributed.

The collected levy was then transferred to the Environmental Protection Department.

This April, the levy scheme was renamed to a charging scheme. It was extended to cover the entire retail sector with more than 100,000 outlets.

The stores get to keep the charges and are no longer required to keep records of distribution of bags. The audit director’s Report No 65 found that based on the department’s records, 228.9 million bags were distributed by retailers from 2010 to 2013. This compared with 572 million bags in landfills – a discrepancy of 2.5 times.

Last year, registered retailers reported their outlets distributed 70.7 million bags and paid HK$35.4 million in levies to the department.

However, the department did not have landfill survey statistics for 2014 yesterday.

The biggest discrepancy was seen in the first year: 153 million bags were dumped in landfills, 3.1 times the reported 49.8 million bags in 2010. Next was in 2012 when 156 million bags were found in landfills, or 2.6 times the 59.5 million bags reported.

The Audit Commission said the number of plastic bags in landfill surveys might not accurately reflect the effectiveness of the levy scheme, and asked the department to consider doing consumer surveys to assess the scheme instead.

But a spokeswoman for the Environment Bureau said the bags counted in landfill surveys covered all those collected, including bags from non- registered retailers.

She added that even some outlets of registered retailers may not fall into the requirements of paying the levy, as only those that sell food and drink, medicine or first-aid items, and personal hygiene or beauty products in the same shop are registered.

Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing said the department would consider the audit’s advice.

Green Sense suggested the government raise the plastic bag charge to HK$1 to reduce use.

“We are worried that consumers have grown to a more relaxed attitude toward paying the 50 cents tax after six years of the implementation,” said project manager Gabrielle Ho Ka-po.

Proposal to build an incinerator in Hong Kong shows up the flaws of government self-regulation

The Court of Final Appeal on November 26 will hear arguments on whether the director of the Environmental Protection Department can approve an environmental impact assessment report on an incinerator project that the department itself conducted. And having approved its own report, whether it can then issue to itself the permit for incinerator construction.

Should a government department regulate itself – proposing, evaluating and approving a project? A simple analogy: should you be allowed to set your own exam question, mark your own exam paper, and give yourself a passing grade?

Regardless of the court’s decision, the debate over the incinerator has exposed the deep flaws in government self-regulation. The department, negating its regulatory role, became chief lobbyist for the incinerator. Its officials, in their zeal to promote the project, presented selective, misleading and outright false information on numerous occasions.

To justify locating the incinerator in Shek Kwu Chau island, the department claimed that building it in Tuen Mun, a far more cost-effective site, would unacceptably worsen the air quality there, contradicting its own report. Its officials misrepresented the incinerator’s cost in legislative hearings.

Their incinerator obsession blinded them to the waste-management policy of countries where waste recovery and recycling are as important as incineration. They visited Germany, Sweden, Denmark and Britain, which have such successful programmes, yet they reported no lessons learned on waste recovery and recycling, only incineration.

The department claims it conducted 120 consultations, yet the specifics of the project remained identical throughout the six years of “public consultation”.

The pitfalls of government self-regulation were raised by Christine Loh Kung-wai in 1997 when she was a legislator. At the second reading of the Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance, she expressed concern “about the difficult task of self-regulation that the bill imposes on the administration”, given that in many important projects, “the project proponent sitting across the table from the director of the Environmental Protection Department will be another senior government officer representing some other aspect of the public interest”.

“We know there will be internal conflicts within the administration over how stringently to apply the bill in such cases,” she said then.

What does Ms Loh, currently undersecretary of the environment, think of the case at the Court of Final Appeal now?

Tom Yam, Lantau

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Rubbish effort: Hong Kong environment bureau slammed for slow work on food waste disposal

Audit Commission calls for more timely action as landfills face increased pressure

Government auditors have given the Environment Bureau a grilling for not taking timely action to address problems arising from food waste disposal, which has risen 13 per cent over the last decade, and told it to be more accurate when reporting project information in the future.

The Audit Commission criticised the government’s “piecemeal” efforts to solve find ways to dispose food waste and for taking too long to implement a charging scheme for municipal solid waste that was already eight years behind the original target.

The bureau was also slammed for overstating the treatment quantity of a food waste pilot plant in Kowloon Bay and a significant project cost underestimation for phase one of an organic waste treatment facility in Lantau Island. The latter ultimately led to a delay in tendering and thus its commissioning, adding four more years of pressure to local landfills.

A major problem seemed to be a lack of public and private sector interest in the waste reduction campaigns, such as the Food Wise Charter in which only four of 12 invited government departments ended up taking part as of June.

Government bodies such as the Correction Services Department and Hospital Authority also saw some of their institutions generating high quantities of food waste per day.

The amount of food waste per capita disposed at the city’s prison facilities, for example, ranged from 0.02 to 1.61kg, meaning some institutions had generated an even higher per capita disposal rate than the city’s per capita average for municipal solid waste.

Some of the authority’s hospitals such as Grantham Hospital and Kowloon Hospital were also showing a wide range of high food waste generation per inpatient, between 0.06 and 0.58kg daily.

The watchdog urged the bureau to strengthen efforts to encourage higher participation in its food waste recycling and reduction schemes and to speed up implementation of a waste charge, which would help reduce some 324 tonnes of food waste per day.

“Audit has recommended that the pertinent bureau’s [sic] and departments should strengthen efforts in implementing the municipal solid waste charging scheme and Food Wise Campaign, and make improvements in related areas,” the report read.

It also urged the bureau to “make reasonable cost estimates in implementing a works project in future so the government could earmark sufficient funding”.

The city generated 5.49 million tones of municipal solid waste in 2013, of which two thirds were disposed of at landfills and the rest recovered for recycling. About 25 per cent of all municipal solid waste is food waste.
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HK’s recycling rate inflated for years

An Audit report has found that the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) has over-estimated the amount of waste recycled in Hong Kong for years, which it says can drastically diminish the effectiveness of the government’s waste management program.

In a report released on Wednesday, the Audit Commission said the department’s estimate that 52 percent of the city’s garbage was recycled in 2010, was likely overstated by more than a third, because the figure included recyclables that had been imported into Hong Kong for processing and export.

The Auditor said this practice had distorted the effectiveness of the government’s efforts in waste management. It said the department should get more accurate data to better gauge its performance.

The report also criticised the EPD for taking “piecemeal actions” in the past few years to reduce the amount of food waste in the city.

The government aims to reduce food waste disposal at landfills by 40 percent by 2022. But the watchdog found that some correctional services institutions and public hospitals are generating large amounts of food waste.

The Secretary for the Environment, Wong Kam-sing, acknowledged the problems and said the government will do what it takes to address the issue. For example, he said the first food waste recycling facility will be completed in 2017.

Wong added that the EPD will consider adopting a new method for estimating Hong Kong’s recycling rate.

Hong Kong officials must explain how they will reach anti-pollution goals

The Environment Bureau of the Hong Kong SAR government has published the “Hong Kong Climate Change Report 2015”. It says, “This document updates the actions the government has taken so far in order to set the stage for considering further actions in the future”.

It is a very well put together report and it is a good read. Everybody in Hong Kong should get hold of a copy and read it carefully. It is about the long-term future for our children.

The report exposes some common confusions and illusions of the subject matter.

To start with, the messages from principal officials read as if one has already accomplished. However, when I refer to the figure about the greenhouse gas emission trends for Hong Kong 1990-2012 in the report, I can see that from the point of view of the earth, little has been achieved to ease the pain the planet has suffered in the last 23 years. There is a long way to go.

Games of smoke and mirrors have been played. The best example is how one accounts for our carbon emission: absolutely, on a per capita basis or by this metric called carbon intensity. We may pick our own cherries, but from the earth’s point of view, which one is more relevant?

As an architect, I am particularly interested in the built environmental aspects of the report. To aim for an 80 per cent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, 90 per cent of which are from our buildings, over the next few decades as recommended in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, I wonder if the Development Bureau will say how that can be achieved.

I hope this report will be followed, maybe shortly after the COP21 global summit on climate change, by corresponding reports from each of our bureaus. This must be our government’s policy. Useful targets, action plans and road-maps, and a transparent, accountable monitoring and reporting mechanism must be provided.

Most dear to me is the part on vulnerable groups, such as our elderly, outdoor workers, and poor families in windowless rooms. The most-at-risk group is also the most-in-need group.

Professor Edward Ng, school of architecture,Chinese University of Hong Kong

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Less emissions, more electric buses for Hong Kong

Shenzhen-based BYD Auto Co. Ltd.'s electric buses have entered the US market. Photo: Xinhua

Shenzhen-based BYD Auto Co. Ltd.’s electric buses have entered the US market. Photo: Xinhua

Hong Kong has a large population and limited space, yet its traffic network is well established.

Buses are the second-most commonly used form of public transport, bested only by the MTR.

However, most buses use diesel fuel, which emits a large quantity of particulate matter and nitrogen oxides — adversely affecting air quality in Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong Air Pollutant Emission Inventory released by the Environmental Protection Department in 2013 showed navigation and road transport are the main sources of air pollutants, with road transport emitting 1,090 tonnes of respirable suspended particulates (RSP).

To improve air quality on the streets and reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, diesel buses can be replaced with electric buses.

Shanghai and London strongly promote electric buses

Electric vehicles (EVs) have been adopted by many big cities around the world.

Beijing, Shanghai, Osaka and London have started to popularize EVs.

Shenzhen, just across the border from Hong Kong, has 3,050 buses that use new energy for public transport, and there is a plan to add 3,600 more electric buses to the city.

However, in Hong Kong, there were only 2,889 EVs for road use by the end of September.

While the number of total licensed vehicles in Hong Kong reached 681,000 in 2013, the ratio of EVs to traditional vehicles was less than 0.5 percent.

These statistics show that EVs are still not very popular in Hong Kong.

We are introducing electric vehicles to Hong Kong more slowly than the cities around us, as well as those in Europe and America.

London is also a heavily populated city, the citizens of which usually travel by bus.

There are 9,000 buses in London carrying 6.5 million people per day – a demand equal to that of Paris and New York City combined.

The London government has been promoting electric buses and is now conducting a five-year trial of electric double-decker buses.

Recently, the world’s first electric double-decker was unveiled to the public when President Xi Jinping visited Britain.

The British government has also placed an order for 51 electric buses, and it is expected that these orders will continue to increase as citizens embrace the idea of going green.

Transport for London (TfL) is purchasing EVs and hybrid buses with the aim of having 300 electric-only buses by 2020.

Other governments around the world are likewise promoting electric public transport and EVs, with different targets that aim to reduce emissions.

The National Development and Reform Commission in China said it aims to lower the operating costs of EVs by 2020 through financial subsidies and planned charging facilities, creating more incentives for consumers to purchase EVs.

Although Hong Kong has very good plans for developing electric public transport, there is still a need to keep up with other countries in terms of development.

The transport systems in Hong Kong and London are very similar.

Hong Kong can take London’s strategy as a reference and plans to bring in the benefits of EVs and help Hongkongers enjoy cleaner air and blue skies.

Electric buses are safe, with good endurance

Safety is of the utmost importance when it comes to public transport.

Thanks to technological advancement that has led to using an iron-phosphate battery as an energy source, electric buses are not only safe but also stable and environmentally friendly.

An iron-phosphate battery can handle extreme environmental conditions and will not act adversely if a collision occurs or in cases of burning, short circuit, needling, high temperature, compression or overcharging.

Such a battery is itself a green product, generating no pollution during its manufacturing process and, with a long battery life, lasting the entire life cycle of an EV.

Used iron-phosphate batteries can even be recycled.

Many people are concerned about the endurance of EVs.

Some also worry that using EVs for public transport will affect efficiency.

In fact, some single-decker buses need to charge for only four hours to run 250 kilometers, and there have been endurance breakthroughs in electric bus design.

The newly invented electric double-decker can run 300 km when it is fully charged.

Hong Kong Island is 50 km around, which means electric buses can travel around it five or six times once fully charged.

Air pollution has been a key issue in Hong Kong for some time.

The Health Environmental Index from the University of Hong Kong shows 2,616 people died earlier than normal last year because of air pollution.

Therefore, we have to tackle related problems and find the most effective ways to improve air quality.

Promoting EVs is not only a global and environmentally friendly trend, it can also improve the image of a city.

Introducing zero-emission electric buses is a direct and effective way to reduce air pollution at its source and pave the way for Hong Kong to be a zero-emission city.

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