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December 1st, 2015:

The Dangers of HNE 4-Hydroxy-Nonenal in hotel, public restaurants and home environments

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Tipping points – no safe limit

18 possible tipping points well before +2°C is reached

New research reported by Climate News Network has identified at least 37 “tipping points” that would serve as evidence that climate change has happened – and happened abruptly in one particular region.

Eighteen of them could happen even before the world warms by an average of 2°C, the proposed “safe limit” for global warming.

Researchers report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they “screened” the massive ensemble of climate models that inform the most recent reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and found evidence of abrupt regional changes in the oceans, sea ice, snow cover, permafrost and in the terrestrial biosphere that could happen as average global temperatures reached a certain level.

The models did not all simulate the same outcomes, but most of them did predict one or more abrupt regional shifts.

But the future is not an exact science according to the researchers. “Our results show that the different state-of-the-art models agree that abrupt changes are likely, but that predicting when and where they will occur remains very difficult. Also, our results show that no safe limit exists and that many abrupt shifts already occur for global warming levels much lower than 2 °C.”

The researchers explore some of the telltale indicators of such abrupt change. One of these would be the wholesale collapse of the Arctic Ocean winter ice: the Arctic is expected to be largely ice-free most summers in the next few decades. Winter ice would then become increasingly thin. Once sufficiently thin, warming and wave power would do the rest, and tend to leave clear blue water even in the coldest seasons.

Another indicator would involve massive unexpected plankton blooms in the Indian Ocean as a consequence of an upwelling of nutrient-rich waters from the ocean bottom, in response to changes in the Asian monsoon regime.

A third would involve massive snow melt on the Tibetan plateau: in 20 years, the annual average snow cover could fall from 400 kilograms per square metre to a trifling 50 kg.

A fourth signal would be massive dieback in the Amazon rainforest over a few decades, mainly because of reduced rainfall.

Yet another telltale aspect of climate change would be the sudden, paradoxical dramatic drop in temperatures in the North Atlantic, as a response to global warming and a collapse of the ocean current that carries warm surface water north, while denser, colder and increasingly more saline water in the Arctic sinks to the bottom and flows back southward.

The researchers conclude: “An additional concern is that the present generation of climate models still does not account for several mechanisms that could potentially give rise to abrupt change. This includes ice sheet collapse, permafrost carbon decomposition, and methane hydrates release.”

Reinhold Pape
Source: Climate News Network

Air pollution takes 3.3 million lives per year

Farming emissions of ammonia are a leading cause of air pollution health damage and premature deaths in Europe and eastern United States.

Every year 3.3 million people die prematurely from the effects of outdoor air pollution worldwide – a figure that could double by 2050 unless clean-up measures are taken. This is shown in a study carried out by a team of researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany, recently published in the journal Nature.

The study focuses on the most critical outdoor air pollutants, namely fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and ozone. It is estimated that nearly three-quarters of the deaths are due to strokes and heart attacks, and one quarter to respiratory diseases and lung cancer.

This is the first study to single out different outdoor air pollution source-sectors and estimate the number of premature deaths they each cause, considering seven source categories: residential and commercial energy use; agriculture; power generation; land transport (i.e. excluding shipping and aviation); industry; biomass burning; and natural sources.

A surprising discovery, according to the authors, is that the two largest sources of health damage from air pollution are not industry and transport, but small domestic fires and agriculture.
Residential and commercial energy use is the largest source category worldwide, contributing nearly one-third of the premature deaths, and with particularly high shares in countries such as India and Indonesia. This category includes diesel generators, small stoves and smoky open wood fires, which many people in Asia use for heating and cooking. (Note that this study’s estimate of 1.0 million deaths per year from this sector is in addition to the 3.54 million deaths per year due to indoor air pollution from essentially the same source.)

By contrast, a leading cause of air pollution in Europe, Russia, Turkey, Japan and the eastern United States is agriculture. Ammonia is emitted into the atmosphere as a result of intensive livestock farming and use of fertilizers. It then reacts with other air pollutants, namely sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, to form ammonium sulphate and ammonium nitrate, which are tiny airborne particles.

Globally, agriculture is the cause of one-fifth of all deaths due to air pollution. In many European countries, its contribution is 40 per cent or higher. Since the abundance of ammonia is often a limiting factor in PM2.5 formation, a reduction in its emissions can make an important contribution to air quality improvements.

The finding that agriculture is the second-largest contributor to global mortality from PM2.5 is highly valuable, said environmental health expert Professor Michael Jerrett, at the University of California, because agriculture has generally not been seen as a major source of air pollution or premature death, and because it suggests that much more attention needs to be paid to agricultural sources, by both scientists and policymakers.

Other major sources are coal-fired power plants, industry, biomass combustion and motor vehicles. Taken together, they account for another third of premature deaths. Just under a fifth of premature deaths are attributed to natural dust sources, particularly desert dust in North Africa and the Middle East.

The authors conclude that: “Our results suggest that if the projected increase in mortality attributable to air pollution is to be avoided, intensive air quality control measures will be needed, particularly in South and East Asia.”

Christer Ågren
Source: Max Planck Institute press release 16 September, 2015
The article: “The contribution of outdoor air pollution sources to premature mortality on a global scale.” By J. Lelieveld, J. S. Evans, D. Giannadaki, M. Fnais and A. Pozzer. Published in Nature, 17 September 2015; doi: 10.1038/nature15371

The costs of melting permafrost

Researchers have for the first time modelled the economic impact caused by melting permafrost in the Arctic up to the end of the twenty-second century.

The effects of melting permafrost in the Arctic could cost $43 trillion in extra economic damage by the end of the next century. This is in addition to the $300 trillion of economic damage already predicted according to researchers from the University of Cambridge and the University of Colorado in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change. This roughly corresponds to the combined gross domestic product last year of the US, China, Japan, Germany, the UK, France and Brazil.

The Arctic is warming at a rate that is twice the global average, due to anthropogenic, or human-caused, greenhouse gas emissions. If emissions continue to rise at their current rates, Arctic warming will lead to the widespread thawing of permafrost and the release of hundreds of billions of tonnes of methane and CO₂ – about 1,700 gigatonnes of carbon are held in permafrost soils in the form of frozen organic matter.

Rising emissions will result in both economic and non-economic impacts, as well as a higher chance of catastrophic events, such as the melting of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, increased flooding and extreme weather. Economic impacts directly affect a country’s gross domestic product (GDP), such as the loss of agricultural output and the additional cost of air conditioning, while non-economic impacts include effects on human health and ecosystems.

The scientists report that if emissions of greenhouse gases continue to rise as they are doing now, the thawing of the permafrost and the loss of the ice caps could release 1,700 billion metric tons of carbon now locked in as frozen organic matter.

The scientists used a computer model to simulate the impacts of what is now known as the business-as-usual-scenario, in which the world goes on burning more and more fossil fuels, until the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reaches 700 parts per million.

The researchers’ models predict $43 trillion in economic damage could be caused by the release of these greenhouse gases, an amount equivalent to more than half the current annual output of the global economy. This brings the total predicted impact of climate change by 2200 to $369 trillion, up from $326 trillion – an increase of 13 percent.

Their conclusion for expensive inaction: an extra $43 trillion bill. An aggressive strategy to limit thawing of the permafrost, on the other hand, could save the world $37 trillion.

Reinhold Pape
Source: Science Daily and Climate News Network
Journal Reference: 1. Chris Hope, Kevin Schaefer. Economic impacts of carbon dioxide and methane released from thawing permafrost. Nature Climate Change, 2015; DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2807

Hong Kong business group urges city’s private sector to help fight climate change

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Report on Study of Road Traffic Congestion in Hong Kong

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Targets urged for 2030

Green groups called on Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam- sing to outline an emissions plan for 2030 and beyond.

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Wong, pictured, who is in Paris, should bring ideas from other regions back home, they said.

Currently, Hong Kong’s plan is to reduce emissions by 19 to 33 percent as compared to 2005 levels by 2020.

It is odd that China has outlined its plan well beyond 2020, said Gavin Edwards of the World Wildlife Fund.

The plan may include “a scheme to encourage renewable energy development,” he added.

Greenpeace senior campaigner Frances Yeung Hoi-shan said it is time to start formulating a 2030 target since “it takes time to change economic and energy models, including renewable energy.”

MPs advise against Heathrow expansion until conditions met

The British government should not give final approval to the expansion of London’s Heathrow [FGPTOW.UL] airport until it shows it accepts and will comply with environmental conditions, a parliamentary committee said in a report.

Members of parliament on the Environmental Audit Committee said Heathrow must show it can reconcile expansion with a commitment to introduce a ban on night flights, a legal commitment on air quality and demonstrate that an expanded Heathrow would be less noisy than a two-runway Heathrow.

“The communities living near to the roads around Heathrow already put up with noise and extra traffic, it would be quite unacceptable to subject them to a potentially significant deterioration in air quality as well,” committee chairman Huw Irranca-Davies said in a statement.

A government-appointed Airports Commission named Heathrow as the preferred site for London airport expansion in July, and Prime Minister David Cameron has said he will decide by the end of the year whether a new 23 billion-pound ($35 billion) runway should be built there.

Heathrow said the committee was right to look at the environmental impact of expansion but said its plan would make Heathrow quieter and served by improved public transport links which would help improve air quality.

The airport has been campaigning for years to be allowed to add a third runway because it is operating at full capacity but it faces opposition from some prominent politicians, local residents in west London and environmental groups.

Activists opposed to the expansion of Heathrow blocked an approach tunnel last week, bringing traffic chaos to Europe’s busiest airport.

The final decision on expansion poses problems for Cameron who pledged to voters before an election in 2010 that he would not allow a third runway, “no ifs, no buts”. His party’s candidate for next May’s London Mayoral election is also opposed to expansion of Heathrow.

Gatwick airport, Heathrow’s rival to the south of the capital, said the parliamentary committee’s report brought into question the basis for the Airport Commission’s recommendation.

“The Committee questions the entire legal basis of the Airports Commission report on air quality and highlights the many other environmental hurdles facing Heathrow expansion,” said Gatwick’s Chief Executive Stewart Wingate.

“It is increasingly clear only expansion at Gatwick is legal and can actually happen.”

Heathrow’s largest shareholder is Spanish infrastructure firm Ferrovial (FER.MC). Other partners include Qatar Holding, China Investment Corp and the Government of Singapore Investment Corp.

(Reporting By Aurindom Mukherjee in Bengaluru and Michael Holden in London; Editing by Stephen Addison)

Park defenders set big day to remember

CTA says: issue a ‘Use it or Lose it’ declaration on developer land banks

They are sitting on agricultural land for years waiting to get some corrupt Govt officer to change its status for residential development

A new alliance will mark December 13 as Country Parks Appreciation Day in an effort to stymie those who eye natural spaces as potential sites for housing.

The Save Our Country Parks Alliance of 29 green groups is launching what is planned to be an annual event.

Lam Chiu-ying, an adjunct professor at the Chinese University and a former director of the Hong Kong Observatory, hopes the day will remind everyone of the value of country parks.

Lam wants people to take photos of themselves in parks on December 13 and tag it “SaveOurCountryParks” on social media so the alliance may gauge how many people back the campaign. The intention is to show “a lot of people in Hong Kong love our country parks.”

The alliance is recruiting volunteers for visitor counting and promotion work at park entrances on the day.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has spoken of using park land with “low ecological value” for housing, and a foundation led by a predecessor, Tung Chee-hwa, wants a review on park use.

One of Lam’s university colleagues, Ng Sai-leung, said planners should consider developing brownfield sites, golf courses and military sites before parks.

Hong Kong’s waste problem: A stinking trail of missed targets, data errors and misdirected efforts

Tom Yam says a government audit of Hong Kong’s waste reduction efforts makes clear who is to blame for our growing mountain of rubbish

In the private sector, a chief executive accountable for such rotten results would have been fired.If an organisation misses targets, mangles statistics, mismanages capital assets, underestimates costs, undertakes trifling projects and underperforms in a critical task year after year, will it survive?

The answer is a resounding “yes” if it is the Environmental Protection Department.

The department’s data, used to manage ongoing programmes, is rubbish (pun intended)

The Audit Commission recently issued a report on the government’s management of the garbage, officially known as municipal solid waste, which Hong Kong produced over the decade to 2015. The Environmental Protection Department is responsible for waste management and has an annual budget of HK$2.05 billion to do the job.

By every measure, including the department’s own as set out in its Policy Framework for the Management of Municipal Solid Waste (2005-2014), and the Hong Kong Blueprint for Sustainable Use of Resources (2013-2022), it fell short.

Key performance indicators for waste management have all deteriorated. Per capita waste disposed daily increased from 1.27kg in 2011 to 1.35kg in 2014. Waste recovered and recycled dropped from 49 per cent in 2009 to 37 per cent in 2013. Food waste increased from 3,227 tonnes per day in 2004 to 3,648 tonnes in 2013.

The landfill in Tseung Kwan O. As of 2013, 63 per cent of Hong Kong’s waste was still dumped in landfills. Photo: SCMP Pictures

The landfill in Tseung Kwan O. As of 2013, 63 per cent of Hong Kong’s waste was still dumped in landfills. Photo: SCMP Pictures

The policy framework set a target of disposing of 25 per cent of waste in landfills by 2014. As of 2013, 63 per cent was still dumped in landfills.

The department’s data, used to manage ongoing programmes, is rubbish (pun intended). The Audit Commission cites a litany of statistical errors. The amount of waste recovered for recycling was inflated because the department included waste imported for processing. Its forecast of a 50 per cent drop in food waste from school lunches was overstated because only 12 per cent of students ate lunch in school. It could produce no quantifiable data to explain its changing assumptions about the serviceable life of the landfills. It now claims that all landfills will be full by 2018. The Audit Commission believes they should last some years beyond 2018.

The department priced phrase 1 of the Organic Waste Treatment Facilities, to recycle mainly food waste, at HK$489 million in 2010. But because it omitted or significantly underestimated the cost of some components, the cost surged to HK$1.589 billion in 2014.

Target dates for rolling out the producer responsibility scheme for six products, based on the “polluter pays” principle, have not been met. Only the first two phases of the plastic shopping bag levy have been implemented, in 2009 and 2015, six to eight years behind target. The scheme has yet to be implemented for the other five products – waste electrical and electronic equipment, vehicle tyres, glass bottles, packaging materials and rechargeable batteries.

Only four of the 12 government departments have signed up to the Food Wise Hong Kong Campaign, which promotes reduction of food waste, two years after its launch.

With great fanfare, the department did launch a series of waste reduction, recovery and recycling initiatives. Their impact, however, has been inconsequential. Net reduction of plastic shopping bags disposed of in landfills in 2009-2013 was 11,544 tonnes, or an infinitesimal amount of total waste disposed.

The HK$308 million EcoPark was trumpeted as a hi-tech hub but the industry remains at the lowest rung of the value-added ladder. Photo: May TseAs of June, only 4.6 per cent of the 43,091 households in 16 public rental housing estates were taking part in the food waste recycling scheme, fewer than half the department’s 10 per cent estimate. Though not discussed in the Audit Commission’s report, the recyclable waste collected in the three-colour recycling bins is no more than 900 tonnes per year, or 0.02 per cent of the waste generated.

Here’s where the department’s record truly stinks: the Audit Commission’s 2015 report on the dismal state of Hong Kong’s waste management echoes its 2008 report

The HK$308 million EcoPark in Tuen Mun was trumpeted as a hi-tech hub to develop a recycling industry. But the industry remains at the lowest rung of the value-added ladder, mainly collecting, baling and packaging waste materials. One operator started 24 months later than stipulated in the tenancy agreement. In another lot, operations started five years later. From August 2008 to June 2015, a HK$16 million pilot food waste treatment plant was operating at only 22 per cent of capacity.

Despite all these failings, here’s where the department’s record truly stinks: the Audit Commission’s 2015 report on the dismal state of Hong Kong’s waste management echoes its 2008 report. At the time, the Legislative Council’s Public Accounts Committee expressed serious concern over the management of the Environmental Protection Department as well as “deep regret and sadness that the secretary for the environment lacks a sense of urgency and is not proactive enough” in tackling the problem of municipal solid waste. Seven years later, nothing has changed.

The audit report describes a mismanaged organisation that lacks coordination with other government departments, produces inaccurate information and statistics, and engages in inconsequential efforts to tackle waste reduction and recycling. It cannot effectively manage ongoing programmes, resulting in missed targets and deteriorating performance.

In the private sector, a chief executive accountable for such rotten results would have been fired. Yet the previous environment secretary, Edward Yau Tang-wah, is now director of the Chief Executive’s Office. The current one, Wong Kam-sing, is this week attending the UN climate change conference in Paris. The Environmental Protection Department’s director, Anissa Wong Sean-yee, has been in her job since 2006. Despite the audit report, all three are likely to keep their highly paid jobs in Hong Kong’s non-accountable government.

Tom Yam is a Hong Kong-based management consultant. He holds a doctorate in electrical engineering and an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania