Cablegate: Consul General and California Air Expert Urge

DE RUEHHK #2533/01 2760812
P 030812Z OCT 07





E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) Summary: Consul General James Cunningham and former
California Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Dr. Alan
Lloyd urged Hong Kong's new Secretary for the Environment
Edward Yau to take action on Hong Kong's growing air
pollution problems, in a meeting on September 20. The Consul
General offered USG assistance, and reminded Secretary Yau of
Post's Pollution Prevention and Energy Efficiency (P2E2)
program. Dr. Lloyd shared relevant California case studies
as possible solutions to Hong Kong's port-operation and
mobile-source emission problems, noting that "deliberation is
no substitute for action." Secretary Yau, in turn, reviewed
Hong Kong's actions to date, and identified several
forthcoming initiatives: idling engine regulations, and
corporate energy efficiency support. The Hong Kong public is
putting "tremendous pressure" on the government for action,
and Chief Executive Tsang places great importance on this
issue, but funding challenges exist, he emphasized. Yau had
just finished a series of consultations in Guangdong at
provincial and local levels. Yau and his staff plan to visit
the U.S. in mid-January 2008, and are interested in meetings
in California to discuss environmental issues and energy
policy. The CG encouraged him to also add Washington and New
York City to the itinerary, as each has valuable regulatory
and "best practice" information to share. End summary.

2. (SBU) Comment: As the government's point person on
pollution, Secretary Yau has inherited a politically
difficult issue. The last couple of years have seen a
substantial up-tic in public and government recognition that
Hong Kong's pollution problem is serious and growing. The
fact that much of Hong Kong's pollution is generated in
mainland China puts the HKG in a difficult position, however.
Nevertheless, although the HKG "talks up" the problem,
tangible evidence of regulatory or policy initiatives remains
elusive. The HKG has not revised its Air Quality Objectives
since 1987, and the HKG's last notable success, the
conversion of taxis to LPG, occurred in 2003. Further, CE
Donald Tsang and the HKG have done little to encourage or
compel the Hong Kong owners of some 80,000 factories in the
mainland to take the initiative to reduce pollution. The
Environment Bureau civil service staff have the technical
expertise and will to develop policy, but these staff
candidly convey the message that senior political leadership
will be needed to execute their analysis and proposals. End

3. (U) Background: On July 1, as part of the Hong Kong
Government's reorganization of the cabinet structure, the
former Bureau of Environment, Transport and Works was divided
into an Environment Bureau and a restructured Transport and
Housing Bureau. Edward Yau was designated as the new
Secretary for the Environment.


Mixed Message on Air Pollution

4. (SBU) After a brief discussion regarding the day's
"very-high" air pollution (recorded as one of the worst in
2007), Secretary Yau opened the meeting by relating that he
had just returned from three days in Guangzhou to confer with
Guangdong provincial and municipal authorities about regional
and cross-border cooperation on air pollution. He also
highlighted the "tremendous pressure" that the Hong Kong
government feels regarding air pollution; it is not just the
expatriate community that is concerned about the issue, but
all of Hong Kong (Comment: A fact the HKG has long avoided.
End comment.)

5. (SBU) Dr. Lloyd expressed sympathy for these issues and
concerns, and offered examples of methods and possible
solutions for Hong Kong. He emphasized stakeholder task
force work that allows all interested parties to be involved
in devising solutions. He went on to outline the
effectiveness of using public health information as a
powerful lever to create public support for environmental
programs. Southern California's effective programs for
reducing emissions from maritime ports and cross-border
trucking from Mexico are worth reviewing for applicability in
Hong Kong, opined Dr. Lloyd, and "deliberation is no
substitute for action."

HONG KONG 00002533 002 OF 003

6. (SBU) Secretary Yau responded that Hong Kong has "very
high expectations", but is constrained by its location in the
Pearl River Delta (PRD). Since the signing of the Memorandum
of Understanding between the Hong Kong and Guangdong
governments in 2002, cooperation and information sharing are
improving, he claimed, and levels of the region's big four
pollutants (sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides, particulate
matter and ozone) are dropping, despite the extraordinary
economic growth in the PRD. Hong Kong's Environment Bureau
is working with the mainland's State Development and Reform
Commission and State Economic and Trade Commission to get
approval for new projects. He observed that the huge
investment from Hong Kong in Southern China strengthens the
HKG's position "in helping them to help us."

7. (SBU) Secretary Yau ticked off several in-progress Hong
Kong environmental successes, including: tightening emissions
standards on Hong Kong's two power plants; transitioning
taxis to LPG and buses to Euro IV fuel; and replacing
commercial-use trucks with new and more efficient models.
Looking forward, Yau detailed plans that will follow the
Chief Executive's (CE) annual Policy Address in October on
idling engine regulations and corporate energy efficiency
support, in an attempt to impact both "the perception and
reality" of the air pollution issue, intimating that the
absence of idling engines regulation, while having a
relatively small impact on the overall emissions inventory,
is perceived by the public and green groups as an obvious
example of government inaction. He said, "the CE places
great importance on this issue," and it is a top agenda item.
However, he went on to say that he had just come from a
meeting with the CE where he complained about the lack of
needed resources to fund the Environment Bureau's programs,
and this remains a challenge.

8. (SBU) Looking at the mainland's position, Yau identified
growing PRC press coverage of environmental issues, and noted
that China's national policy on environment is changing in
response. For example, he said, during the recent APEC
Ministerial, results on climate would not have been achieved
without "Beijing's change of heart."

HKG Open to USG Assistance

9. (SBU) Dr. Lloyd and the CG urged cooperation, offering
technical expertise and assistance, and encouraging Yau and
his team to keep asking "is that the best we can do?" Lloyd
went on to cite a long-term study of children's health and
its linkages to air pollution, and a field study of air
pollutants that identified unexpected sources (i.e.
individual gas cans) as major pollutants. In both cases,
California officials enacted regulations that resulted in
emissions reduction. Yau expressed thanks for the offer of
assistance, and mentioned that he had seen a project
benefiting from P2E2-like work on his return trip from
Guangzhou (Note: The CG provided Yau and his staff with the
Consulate's new P2E2 promotional materials. End Note.)

10. (SBU) Yau and his staff plan to visit the U.S. in
mid-January 2008, and are interested in meetings in
California to discuss environmental issues and energy policy.
The CG encouraged the delegation to add Washington and New
York City to its itinerary, as each city has valuable
regulatory and best practice information to share. The CG
offered Consulate assistance scheduling meetings for the
trip, while Lloyd offered the assistance of his current
organization, The International Council on Clean
Transportation (ICCT), which meets in Hong Kong in November.

11. (U) Meeting participants included:

Hong Kong Government Representatives
--Secretary for the Environment Edward Yau
--Carlson CK Chan, Deputy Director, Environmental Protection
--Chin-Wan Tse, Associate Director, Environmental Protection
--Eric Chan, Administrative Assistant to the Secretary for
the Environment

U.S. Representatives
--Consul General James Cunningham

HONG KONG 00002533 003 OF 003

--Dr. Alan Lloyd, former California EPA Secretary and Air
Resources Board Chairman, and U.S. Consulate "American
Speaker" visiting Hong Kong to present a series of seminars
on air pollution solutions.
--Dale Kreisher, Assistant Public Affairs Officer
--Dawn Schrepel, Economic Officer

© Scoop Media

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