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Emissions Legislation Does Not Go Far Enough

Air pollution bill passes, but lawmakers are still unhappy

Emissions legislation does not go far enough, say critics

Cheung Chi-fai – Updated on Jul 11, 2008 – SCMP

Lawmakers yesterday endorsed cross-border emissions trading and gave legal backing to caps on power firms’ emissions of pollutants.

They demanded unanimously that officials set out a framework for handling the city’s “carbon footprint”, which was excluded from the measure passed yesterday because officials say they need more time.

The measure also spells out the way caps on emissions of three major air pollutants will be determined beyond 2010.

Cross-border emissions trading will give power firms leeway to meet emissions caps by means other than reducing the pollution their chimneys spew into the air.

A majority of lawmakers voted in favour of the Air Pollution Control (Amendment) Bill 2008.

However, the legislators were unhappy that it has not put Hong Kong’s efforts on a par with other countries in the fight against climate change.

“When is the government going to really take global warming seriously? Please stop telling us that the issues are being studied and instead give us a clear timetable and strategy,” said Audrey Eu Yuet-mee, the Civic Party leader.

Democrat Sin Chung-kai urged the government to table concrete initiatives in the next legislative term to keep Hong Kong ahead of other Chinese cities in curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

DAB legislator Choy So-yuk criticised the measures as inadequate and biased in favour of power producers. “It is just a little better than nothing,” she said.

She proposed an amendment to limit the validity of emissions-trading contracts to five years. While arguing her case, she appeared close to tears as she claimed an official, who she did not name, had made misleading comments about her proposal.

“There have been media reports quoting official sources saying the real motive of my proposal was for election purposes. This is complete nonsense and misleads the public,” she said.

Without a time limit, Ms Choy said, emissions trading would merely create a window for local power producers to emit excess pollutants indefinitely as long as they could buy sufficient quota from mainland counterparts to cover the extra pollution.

Fellow lawmakers rejected her proposal. They preferred a government proposal to limit power firms to buying quotas equal to a maximum of 15 per cent of their annual pollution caps. Environment minister Edward Yau Tang-wah said Ms Choy’s proposal would reduce power producers’ flexibility to trade quotas.

As for the city’s carbon footprint – the measure of the carbon emissions all economic and human activity generates – Mr Yau said the administration was serious about taking action, but reducing it would require a significant adjustment to power producers’ fuel mix.

The Legco meeting was interrupted when two Greenpeace protesters in the public gallery held up a banner labelling the environment minister an “accomplice to global warming”.

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