Blogs

Forest natural capital
June 19, 2014
The United Nations created the annual International Day of Forests in an effort to raise awareness of the importance of all types of forest and to promote their wise use. Like any other causes granted their own special day of the year, the world’s forests are cherished in principle but unappreciated in practice. In the case of forests, though, the lack of appreciation is quite literal. Despite the sophistication of financial and economic systems and models, there is as yet no universally accepted framework to recognize and value forests beyond their function as remote warehouses where logs are stored vertically.
Hong Kong red tide
May 28, 2014
In future, Hong Kong will not only face water challenges from a stretched resource in terms of quantity, but also from deteriorating quality. The latter issue is especially grim, since no matter from land or ocean, Hong Kong’s water sources may literally be inundated with all kinds of pollutions. “Across the country, China has a severe scarcity of safe drinking water”, noted a special report published on China Reform on Caixin Net (http://magazine.caixin.com/2014-03-31/100658681.html) (The Caixin special report). In 2010, amongst all seven major basins – including the Pearl River Basin – only 28.7 percent were found to have I-II water rating, which is considered safe for potable use.
China environmental law
May 02, 2014
Last week the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s top legislature, approved major amendments to the country’s Environmental Protection Law (EPL), the first since the law was enacted 25 years ago. These amendments are a game changer. The original EPL entered into force shortly before I moved to Beijing in 1990. I recently found a journal entry written on my second day in the nation’s capital, in which I marveled at the clean air and lack of private cars on the street.
Agricultural irrigation on the North China Plain
April 25, 2014
Among the numerous challenges China faces in its quest to become a great power, the biggest perhaps is mounting water insecurity. China has 20 percent of the world’s population but only seven percent of the world’s fresh water. To make matters worse, the country’s scarce water resources are unevenly distributed between the south and north of the country. With rapid industrialization and urbanization, the demand for fresh water is increasing at a very fast rate. It is forecast that by 2030, China’s water demand will surpass 800 billion cubic metres. However, China’s supply is severely undermined by worsening water scarcity and pollution.
Hong Kong public housing
April 07, 2014
Over the past year, growing pressures on housing in Hong Kong have led policy-makers to re-examine public housing policies towards well-off tenants. While everyone who enters public housing is means-tested upon application, over the years, the incomes and assets of some tenants have grown to the point where they can no longer be considered “poor”. In fact, a favorite talking-point of social commentators is to remark on just how many luxury cars can be found in public housing estate car parks. If they can afford BMWs, should they be allowed to live in public housing?
Alarm bell rings for climate change impacts
April 04, 2014
I have just spent a gruelling week in Yokohama, Japan at the plenary meeting of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). There the summary for policymakers on climate impacts, adaptation and vulnerability was adopted a day after the official closing, after an all-night marathon of work. The co-chairs of the working group crafting the summary, Chris Field of the United States and Vicente Barros of Argentina, were on the podium for nearly 40 hours straight. The rest of us lead authors were also supposed to be there on standby in case any of the government delegates had questions on the text.
Map of Fukushima evacuation zones
April 03, 2014
Here’s a pop quiz. How many people have died as a direct result of Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident: A) 15,884, B) 1 or, C) 0? Until last week the correct answer was C but it can now be argued to be B as a worker at the wrecked nuclear plant died on Friday after being buried under gravel while digging a ditch. Answer A is actually the number of confirmed deaths as a result of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, which sort of puts things in perspective.
Assessing ecosystem risks
April 01, 2014
Are you including in your due diligence process an assessment of ecosystem malfunction risk? It is what futurist Peter Schwartz would refer to as an “inevitable surprise.” Consider a few situational issue areas.  In 2012, China Dialogue reported that excessive pesticide use and destruction of habitat are decimating the wild bee population. The implications are many, one of which is that farmers in Southwestern China have had to hand-pollinate apple and pear trees. (This issue is global, also affecting the United States, which is of concern given that crop pollination by insects is estimated to be worth US$14.6 billion to the American economy.)
Ningbo from the river
March 20, 2014
Following the recent “Symposium on a New Type of Major Power Relationship” (see Beijing Charts), our Chinese hosts provided a tour of several cities and facilities, including factories producing solar panels and windmills. In Ningbo I wanted to stay in my hotel and write an op-ed on energy and climate, but was told this would be a major faux pas, so instead I stayed up one night writing World’s Greatest Crime Against Humanity and Nature. The city we visited that day, with population at least comparable to New York City, was bustling in development and construction.
Map of planned dams in Arunachal Pradesh
March 18, 2014
The northeastern India states of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, east of Bangladesh and bordering China to the north, is an area described by politicians as India’s “future powerhouse” and is a key focus point of the country’s dam building program. The ambition of planners in New Delhi is not in doubt. So far plans for more than 160 dams – both big and small – have been announced in the northeast, the majority of them to be built in the remote, mountainous state of Arunachal Pradesh and harnessing the waters of the mighty Brahmaputra river and its tributaries.
US natural gas production 1990-2040
March 13, 2014
Ukraine and the Crimea are a long way from Asia and, quite understandably, most people and countries across the region are rather less concerned than Europeans and Americans over Russia’s actions. We live an interconnected world, however, and although the eventual outcome of the Ukrainian crisis remains uncertain, there’s one sure bet that should have the attention of energy and climate policy makers across Asia.
On-shore power for ships
March 10, 2014
The Environmental Protection Department of the HKSAR Government has recently released the 2012 air pollutant emission inventory. Just as with the prior three years, ship emissions remain Hong Kong’s largest source of sulphur dioxide (SO2), respirable suspended particulates (RSP or PM10) and nitrogen oxides (NOx). The contribution of ships to air pollution has prompted the Government to take action in cleaning up the shipping sector.
ESG does not have to be abstract
March 03, 2014
ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) is a common element of contemporary business administration in most parts of the world but companies in Asia have been slow to adopt comprehensive systems for ESG reporting to the standard seen elsewhere.  That doesn’t mean there has been no active ESG agenda, there has, but the imperative in Asia has been driven by a practical approach aimed at meeting formal standards and accreditations to stay competitive in the supply chain, improve environmental systems, address workplace safety or make-good negative community impacts, the result of poor production and emissions practices.
The concept of Net Positive
February 13, 2014
It is becoming increasingly clear that the traditional view of a business existing purely to maximize profit for shareholders is not so much wrong as built for another time. Businesses have been slowly moving towards a model that recognizes the impact they have on society and the environment, putting increasing amounts of budget and resource towards mitigating that impact. But just minimizing the amount of environmental damage a business does is no longer enough.
Zhejiang shark slaughterhouse
February 10, 2014
This past month, images of purportedly the world’s biggest slaughterhouse for endangered sharks were splashed across the broadsheets in Hong Kong, and across the globe. Wild Life Risk, an NGO based in Hong Kong, went undercover in a coastal city Zhejiang Province, China, to find that around 260 endangered species of sharks were being processed per day in a single plant.
Tesla China
January 27, 2014
Thanks largely to its rather uncompromising top-down system of governance, China is more capable than most in delivering on ambitious development goals in a relatively short space of time. The massive growth of its renewable energy sector to become the world’s biggest (although not per capita), is a case in point. By the same token, however, when the central planners get things wrong they can be spectacularly wrong.
Tai Tam Tuk Reservoir memorial
January 06, 2014
Vision enables us to look far and think beyond present circumstances. If we cannot envision, we do not know where we want to go; and we certainly would not get there. By nature, Hong Kong is a water scarce city, which makes a water vision all the more relevant. So what is Hong Kong’s water vision? Ever since the DongShen Water Supply Project helped to secure 70-80 percent of Hong Kong’s fresh water demand, innovation in developing water solutions rapidly declined.
Sai Yeung Choi Street
December 20, 2013
In Hong Kong’s congested urban core, pedestrianization would seem like the logical and obvious solution to overcrowded pavements, roadside air pollution, and pedestrian-vehicle conflict. Yet, pedestrianization has become a political no-go due to not-in-my-backyard politics. Last month, the Yau Tsim Mong District Council voted to curtail a pedestrian scheme in Mong Kok, one of the busiest shopping districts in the city.
Launch of SupportHK
December 18, 2013
From public demonstrations against finance institutions, the planned development of an incinerator at Shek Kwu Chau, to appeals against the development of an escalator through the peaceful and historic Pound Lane in Sai Ying Pun, there appears to be a growing appetite in Hong Kong to pressure government and business to listen and act on local citizen’s concerns. 
Projection of CLP's proposed Hong Kong offshore wind farm
December 09, 2013
Charismatic Swedish statistician and “edutainer” Hans Rosling recently gave a speech where he tackled common misperceptions about global issues. He emphasized that most people overestimate the amount of effort that has been channeled into developing renewable energy and concluded: “Let’s not make a joke of solar and wind – those are the real potentials for the future, no doubt … it’s very strange that people think they are so big already, when they are really small. We haven’t even started to tap the enormous potential of solar and wind energy.”