We are fishing and eating from our oceans unsustainably, eating down the food chainContinue Reading...
Archives For admcf
Please watch, this great video from Hong Kong’s Clean Air Network. It really says it all.
- Hong Kong University of Science and Technology/Civic Exchange research has shown that 53 percent of the time, the pollution that affects us most in HK is from transport – trucks, buses and ships
- Last March the government introduced retirement schemes for old Commercial Diesel Vehicles as well as selective catalytic converters for taxis and mini-buses
- And last year, data did show that HK’s air improved slightly
- More good news: The government recently tabled regulation in Legco that mandates ships switch to cleaner from bunker fuel while at berth
- But measures to improve our air have been largely offset by the huge increase in private car ownership in recent years as well as the massive development initiatives that are being undertaken
- The Hedley Environmental Index estimates that in 2014, air pollution caused 2,616 premature deaths, 32.657 billion in lost dollars, 174,926 hospitalizations, and 4.253 million doctor visits
- The so-called “end of pipe” solutions the government has introduced are certainly a beginning but inadequate alone
- Hong Kong needs to follow Singapore and European cities in establishing low emission zones, pedestrian zones, electronic road pricing and intelligent transport solutions
- We urgently need a smarter, cleaner city. This is within our reach.
Good news is always welcome when working in a field like ours where social and environmental challenges are often seemingly intransigent. Months or even years can pass with seemingly limited progress and then, suddenly, there is a decision that changes the work entirely or shifts us into fast-forward gear.
We had just one of those moments last week when the Hong Kong government recommended that shark fin not be served at official functions. In a circular dated September 4th but only announced last Friday in a press release, the government also said its employees should not consume the soup at functions they will be attending.
The intention was for the government to “demonstrate its commitment to the promotion of green living and sustainability,” according to the press release. Also included in the recommendation was that blue fin tuna and black moss should be avoided.
A government ban on public sector consumption of shark fin has been the primary “ask” of conservation groups working in Hong Kong on reducing the consumption and thus import of shark fin.
There has also been some success there: Although Hong Kong still imports about half of all shark fin traded globally, data from the Census and Statistics Department indicates a 19.8 per cent drop in imports from 2011 to 2012. This is particularly interesting given that for the 15 years through 2011 shark fin imports remained relatively constant at about 10,000 tons a year. Of course, the question is whether this reduction is due to declining supply – fewer sharks in the oceans – or a reduction in consumption.
Stay tuned for the results of our investigations. Working with Hong Kong Shark Foundation and Bloom, we intend to survey restaurants and wedding planners to get a sense of whether consumer tastes are changing – following some years of education on the biodiversity challenges associated with the consumption of shark fin.
Estimates are that the fins of as many as 73 million sharks are traded each year and scientists warn that the rate of fishing for sharks, many of which grow slowly and reproduce late in life, is unsustainable. Sharks help maintain marine habitats such as coral reefs and ocean health by regulating the variety and abundance of species below them in the food chain, including commercially important fish species.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List estimates that of the 262 shark species where there is sufficient data to assess conservation status, 54 per cent, or 142 species, are at risk of extinction either now or in the near future.
When ADMCF in 2006 first started working with conservation groups in Hong Kong to research consumption habits and the trade, educate consumers about sharks and ultimately reduce consumption, the task certainly looked daunting. There was a sense that expensive shark fin soup, served mostly as a status symbol at official or business functions and wedding banquets, was an entrenched cultural tradition.
Still, a study of cultural attitudes toward shark fin in 2011 by Bloom and the Hong Kong University Social Sciences Research Centre showed that 88 percent of respondents believed the Hong Kong government should prohibit the sale of products that involved killing endangered species. More than 75 percent said it would be acceptable not to include shark fin in a wedding menu.
Certainly, the first achievement milestone was, after much hard work by conservation groups here to educate hotel staff, recognizing last year that more than 60 percent of four and five-star hotels had either taken shark fin soup off their menus or would serve it only upon request.
More recently, airlines, led by Cathay Pacific, have said they will no longer carry shark fin as cargo unless they can be assured the fin is from sustainable sources. This is in line with many corporate sustainability policies.
The sense here, and perhaps globally, is that the “tide is turning” in favour of sharks. We believe that change is inevitable. Our job at ADMCF is to keep the pressure turned on both government and business, keep educating consumers and move us even closer toward more sustainable use of our already depleted oceans.
We hope the next milestone achieved will be a full Hong Kong government ban on the shark fin trade here until the industry can show that the product can be harvested sustainably. We are currently a long way from real sustainable supply, with only two small certified shark fisheries producing only spiny dogfish (small fins), which are not the source of much of the soup consumed in Hong Kong or elsewhere.
Yes, this is a big ask of a government that is usually reluctant to act on any environmental issue. Still, the recent government circular, dated September 4th stated, “The government is committed to the protection of endangered species.”
It also stated: “As the government is committed to the promotion of green living, we should take the lead and set a good example that goes beyond the minimum expectation as laid down in law.”
One of the world’s most important and largest-remaining stretches of protected forests could be lost within the month to mining, logging and plantation companies that want to reclassify the land.
If a new spatial planning goes ahead, the governor and parliament of Aceh province in Indonesia would hand over forest vital to an estimated 4 million people as watershed protection and critical to food security and livelihoods.
The forest being proposed for re-zoning is part of the protected Leuser ecosystem, which is one of the richest expanses of tropical rain forest in Southeast Asia and a global repository of biodiversity.
Action NOW (sign the petition with link below) is urgent ahead of expected approval by the Aceh provincial parliament, where it significant support. Following that vote, the plan must then be approved by national government in Jakarta and a Forestry Ministry spokesman there has been quoted in press reports saying it could be approved within the month.
Approval of the plan would open up the forest for mining, paper and palm oil plantations the forest.The new spatial plan would grant currently protected land for mining, logging and palm oil. The plan would also approve an extensive new network of roads that would run through protected forests.
East Asia Minerals, the (TSX:EAS) Toronto-based mining company, with silver, gold and copper operations in Aceh and Sulawesi has said it is working closely with government officials in Aceh to obtain reclassification of 1.6 million hectares from “protected forest” to “production forest.”
In a statement, the company hailed the progress toward the rezoning as “positive news for mineral extraction in the area.”
The Aceh government banned the granting of new logging permits six years ago to protect the forest, but a new administration since last year is in favor of allowing logging again – hence the change in focus from protection of forests to allowing their commercial use.
Please click this link and sign the Change.org petition.
- With or without moratorium, Indonesian forests still under threat (eco-business.com)
At a recent environmental forum in Beijing, the speakers were in full swing with relatively predictable insight into China’s environmental challenges, and more broadly, environmental challenges elsewhere.
Then came the question-and-answer period and again a couple of relatively innocuous questions before a Chinese man strode to the front of the auditorium and launched into a discussion of his own.
In angry tones and raised voice, he said the Chinese government was not doing enough to mitigate air, water and soil pollution and demanded immediate attention to related public health concerns.
No one flinched, people listened intently, respectfully, no one emerged from the shadows to haul him away. Several students in the audience also asked about lack of action on pollution and suggested that more should be done to clean the environment and protect citizen health.
I sat beside a Chinese friend who simply shrugged, saying she had seen the man speak out at two other recent environmental forums. She said that because of his stature as an energy expert, he was left unhindered to express his opinions publicly.
She pointed out that the students were also feeling free to criticize the government, whereas previously the unspoken line everyone knew not to cross was any sense of direct opposition to Beijing authorities.
My sense from the entire trip (my previous visit being only four months earlier) was that China is changing, and perhaps faster than we could have imagined.
For the first time, censors this year have allowed Chinese media to carry reports about the “cancer villages” in areas of high industrial pollution.
Environmental advocate Ma Jun told me with some amazement that he had felt free recently to criticize a recent Ministry of Environmental Protection decision not to release data about soil pollution, which it considered a “state secret”.
Ma Jun said this was irresponsible and put public health at risk, a comment that was unusually picked up by the People’s Daily and Xinhua, among other news sources that aren’t usually inclined to publish remarks critical of the government.
“Previously, these comments would have been removed by censors,” Ma Jun said. “Now these issues are allowed to be talked about, debated and discussed.”
This became particularly clear, as March brought the annual meetings of the legislative and consultative bodies of China where major policies traditionally are decided and key government officials appointed.
Concern for the environment was a constant throughout the session – and was the subject of one in ten of the 5,000 proposals submitted by delegates.
Social media was also alive with commentary on the environment throughout.
And talk about environmental protection wasn’t simply a side act to the main show. The National People’s Congress (NPC) at 2,987 members is the largest parliament in the world and gathers alongside the People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) whose members represent various groups of society. This year, the NPC confirmed the new leadership of President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang.
This once-in-a-decade leadership change emerged from November’s Communist Party congress with a strong reform mandate and promising a more sustainable China, balanced growth as well as more emphasis on environmental protection.
To be fair, this was not, however entirely a departure in direction from the previous Hu Jintao, Wen Jibao administration and it remains to be seen whether the result will be real change.
The 2011, 12th Five-Year Plan, which sets the direction for policy, of course emphasized balanced growth and set priority green industries. The mantra that emerged then was that economic growth should not come at the expense of resource depletion or pollution.
Wen Jibao, representing the departing Old Guard, opened the 12th National People’s Congress with a “Report of the Work of the Government” pointing to “steady progress in conserving energy, reducing emissions, and protecting the environment.”
But levels of anger are rising, fueled by recent truly off-the-charts air pollution in Beijing as well as the repeated and increasingly public (because of the rapid spread of news on social media platforms) water pollution incidents nationwide. Rampant corruption among local officials that has allowed harmful practices to continue unhindered has also been a target of microbloggers.
This sense of disregard for public health coupled with an increasingly affluent and vocal middle class presents a problem for the Chinese government in terms of its own legitimacy.
Recognizing this, Xi Jinping said at the March proceedings that the government should play a stronger role in pushing reform and opening up.
“The new administration wants a new start,” Ma Jun said. “They want to make clear that the current environmental challenges are not their fault.”
- China delegates in pollution protest vote (abc.net.au)
- China’s Poison Air Is Becoming Its Leading Export – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
- As Pollution Worsens in China, Solutions Succumb to Infighting (wtee.wordpress.com)
- China People’s Congress environment surprise (abc.net.au)
- Anger Over Pollution Becomes Main Cause of China Unrest (bloomberg.com)
Many brands that say they are producing sustainable product are in reality greenwashing their textile production in China, according to the latest report from five environmental NGOs in China.
“Sustainable Apparel’s Critical Blind Spot,” which can be found here, was a follow on from a report I wrote about here released in April that named 49 global fashion brands using polluting factories in China and suggested consumers make a “green choice” when buying clothes.
Led by Ma Jun’s Institute for Environmental and Public Affairs, “Cleaning up the Fashion Industry” listed 6,000 water pollution violations by manufacturers of goods ranging from sports apparel to luxury handbags.
Subsequently, 30 brands began conversations with IPE about how to improve the environmental performance of their supply chain, according to Ma Jun.
Clothing brands and retailers such as H&M, Nike, Esquel, Levi’s Adidas, Walmart, Burberry and Gap have all established regular screening mechanisms, are actively identifying pollution violations in their supply chain and have pushed more than 200 textile and leather suppliers to clean up.
Adidas, Nike, Levi’s and H&M have begun to address environmental challenges with their dyeing and finishing suppliers, the report said.
The latest investigation looked deeper into supply chains following a letter sent September 25th by the NGOs to the 49 brands requesting information about pollution management issues at materials suppliers.
Besides IPE, authors of the report were, Friends of Nature, Green Beagle, Envirofriends and Nanjing Greenstone
In all, 22 of the brands receiving the letter, including Marks & Spencer, Disney, J.C. Penney, Polo Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger gave limited or no responses to specific questions relative to emissions violation problems in their supply chain. This despite Marks & Spencer, for example, promoting its “Plan A”, which is a sustainable business benchmark for global textile companies and retailers.
Companies promoting sustainability should “not continue to let suppliers pollute the environment and hurt communities whilst using concepts such as ‘zero waste’ and ‘carbon neutral’ to greenwash their performance,” the environmental NGOs wrote in the report.
The report draws attention to the fact that textile exports from China have dropped recently, weighed by higher labor costs in China, trade barriers, the appreciation of the RMB and higher resource costs.
Big brands have moved some of their cut and sew production to South and Southeast Asia. Nike shut down its only shoe factory in China and recently, Adidas also closed its only factory in China, leading people to believe China is steadily losing its status as the textile factory to the world.
But materials production is still concentrated in China, with exports of these products rising steadily, according to the report. This is the most polluting portion of the apparel supply chain.
In the raw materials processing sector, which includes dyeing and finishing, exports are growing steadily. According to the 2011/2012 China Textile Industry Report, for the six main printing and dyeing product categories, the total amount of exported printed and dyed cloth was 14.412 billion meters which showed a year on year growth of 13.76%.
The value of exported printed and dyed products was US$16.979 billion, which showed a year on year growth of 31.26%. However, at the same time the total value of all exported textile products only increased by 0.49%.
The cut and sew industry provides the most jobs, uses less water and energy and pollution discharge is not a big problem. However, the reverse is true for textile production. Essentially, China has kept the dirty part of the business, while allowing the relatively clean, job-creating cut and sew industry to wane.
The problem is that enforcement of pollution remains weak in China, while the cost of inputs like water and energy are still relatively low. So dyeing and finishing companies often avoid any water or energy savings initiatives and disregard pollution control, ignoring environmental laws and regulations.
Sustainable apparel in particular, has a ”dangerous blind spot,” according to the report, which means that dyeing and finishing mills and factories lower their environmental standards to cut costs and win orders in a race to the bottom.
Essentially the problem is that most apparel and retail brands still choose not to look into the polluting part of their business – the bottom of the supply chain. Consequently, materials manufacturers are still trying to produce in the cheapest way possible in order to keep costs low for fast fashion.
We as consumers must recognize that we have a choice not to buy the cheapest item on the shelves, to acquire less and from companies that truly care about not doing harm to our planet.
In Rio this week up for discussion and negotiation (mostly negotiation) is a 49-page draft document that aims to establish clear sustainable development goals and action to achieve them.
The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, better known as Rio Plus 20, marks 20 years since the Earth Summit, which at the time was the largest gathering of heads of state ever to talk about environmental challenges.
This time, the agenda has been softened to be about sustainable development, with an emphasis on development. Indeed, some people here don’t seem to believe that environment really plays any part in the conference. Earth isn’t anywhere isn’t mentioned – despite that this is clearly supposed to be a follow-on to the earlier event.
Yet it’s hard to imagine how the discussion of sustainable development can take place without careful consideration of our natural environment.
The reality and the urgency is that our world’s population is expected to rise from its current 7 billion to more than 9 billion in 2050. That’s scary in a world where already an estimated 3 billion people don’t have clean water to drink and 14 percent of our planet, to adequate food.
According to the final version of the Rio Plus 20 Common Vision submitted today under the title, The Future We Want, one in five people, over 1 billion people, still live in extreme poverty. By 2050 two-thirds of our world will live in cities.
So where we find food and water for another 2 million people in 38 years is the crux of the challenge and one that really can’t be denied, regardless of political leaning.
And we live in Asia, where most of that future population growth is expected to occur. This places the challenges front and centre for those of us engaged in work to combat environmental challenges and with communities without adequate means to survive.
Despite the enormity of the task at hand, however, few here in Rio are optimistic that real change will come from or be led by the conference.
The Brazil delegation worked hard in recent days to ram through a document that is in essence hollow, fearing more than anything a repeat of the Copenhagen disaster when no one could agree on anything.
I guess the sense is that if they can at least agree on nothing meaningful that’s better than agreeing on nothing at all over the three-day official proceedings, which begin Wednesday?
The conference document finalized today was, “the result of intensive and prolonged negotiations,” according to the press release, and is a “compromise text,” in which, “countries have had to both give and take to achieve progress.”
The text is to be approved by heads of state at the conference conclusion on Friday. Significantly, Barack Obama, David Cameron and Angela Merkel will not be present in Rio.
Still, the text does include a commitment at least to the concept of sustainable development and recognition that eradicating poverty is one of our greatest challenges. It emphasizes the urgency around “freeing humanity from hunger and poverty”.
The text establishes the clear linkages between sustainable development and the environment, between sustainable development and the means to bolster our struggling economies, and emphasizes the value of public-private partnerships.
Sadly, the hope that this translates into government action is absent from the jaded community spending long hours being bused among several distant event locations in fancy and frigid coaches that have nothing to do with sustainable development other than collective transport.
Part of the skepticism also derives from the fact that the earlier Rio conference ended with two treaties aimed at curbing emissions of greenhouse gases and conserving biological diversity that have since languished amid lack of political will.
There is, additionally, a certain exhaustion generally with the promotion of international frameworks to make sweeping change toward environmental progress.
Those just have been too hard to achieve in our economically challenged world that doesn’t yet seem to link better development, protection of our natural world and an improved economic environment.
like the posh buses, the main conference venue itself is a reflection of misunderstanding of the challenges we face. The huge Riocentro is two hours in traffic from Ipanema and Copacabana, where most participants are staying.
There, air conditioning blasts through huge buildings that are no model of efficiency – either in space or energy consumption.
At the same time, Rio Plus 20 is largely white and male – at least this is particularly true of the official and business delegations. Amongst the NGO community, women are better represented.
At the alternative youth summit in Flamengo, three hours from Riocentro in traffic and closer to Rio’s pulsing centre, the situation is considerably different.
Here, the youth and community-connected people are basing themselves, including many of the smaller NGOs – and diversity is evident in the variety of national dress, skin hues and music that accompanies many events.
In a long stretch of tents, people gather for animated discussion or to listen to seminars on topics related to conservation and sustainable development. Here, the environment is very much present although it’s hard to see where, concretely, the discussion will lead.
Official delegations are noticeably lacking these communities – the NGOs and youth. This is despite the final text emphasizing wide agreement among business, NGOs and government.
Perhaps one bright light here in Rio seems to be the talk on many levels of the importance of valuing our natural resources. Companies, NGOs and governments alike seem to recognize the need to bring environmental value into economic decision-making.
And engaging the private sector, governments, communities in this important dialogue, in partnerships to achieve results, is key to real change. As always in large gatherings it’s the back-room learnings and discussion that are the real drivers for change.
I recently spent a week at Angkor Hospital for Children in Siem Reap, Cambodia with Francesco Caruso, director of ADMCF’s Children at Risk program and Ryan Glasgo, our new finance director. Both are working hard to help bring the hospital to the point where it can become a fully Cambodian institution.
When the hospital was founded in 1999 by Japanese photographer Kenro Izu and then was nurtured into being in partnership with an American board as a free pediatric hospital, Cambodia was a very different place.
Now there is a growing middle class, many of whom would be fully able to pay something for medical care. AHC for now, however, is still entirely free to any Cambodian child.
At the same time, the hospital in 2012 has a talented and dedicated medical and administrative staff that is fully capable of taking the hospital forward.
There is now an almost entirely Cambodian staff of 149 nurses and 46 doctors, including AHC’s executive director. Only two doctors and two nurses are foreign.
Last year, the hospital treated more than 150,000 children for illnesses ranging from acute diarrhea to tuberculosis. The Outpatient Department sees between 400 and 600 patients daily, while the Inpatient unit of 40 beds is almost always full.
An emergency room has eight beds, four of these in a separate isolation ward. There are plans to build a separate neonatal ward since on any day 10 of the patients are babies and many have suffered birth trauma or are premature.
Surgeries in the one operating theatre range from hernias to heart repair.
A pediatric Satellite clinic that is part of the government hospital in Sotnikum, 35 kilometers from Siem Reap, last year treated 12,300 Children. The Satellite staff works closely with the government hospital to build the quality of care offered there, with a focus on assisting the lab, X-ray unit and pharmacy, which the clinic shares. The clinic also has installed an emergency button in the delivery room to summon a Satellite doctor to assist any baby in distress.
AHC also has become northern Cambodia’s premier pediatric teaching facility. The Medical Education program includes a three-year residency program for every doctor who joins and then on-going internal education and fellowships abroad. ME also offers internships and trainings for medical staff from other hospitals.
“What we are developing is to be shared,” the hospital’s executive director, Dr. Bill Housworth emphasized, explaining the hospital’s full engagement via the AHC External Program with both the Ministry of Health in Phnom Penh and directly with many of Cambodia’s government hospitals.
The AHC Capacity Building program works with rural Health Care Centres and communities to provide education on nutrition, hygiene, sanitation and relevant disease – some of the main challenges for the AHC patient population.
The hospital, Satellite, Medical Education and CB programs together cost US$4.5 million last year. This amount is covered almost exclusively by donor funding and is a challenge for the hospital to raise each year.
Consequently, AHC is of necessity looking at revenue-generating programs and already for a fee provides hospital services to the children of some local NGO workers and airport staff in Siem Reap.
Although public hospitals are not free in Cambodia, about 30 percent of the rural population has what is known as a Health Equity Card, which establishes that they are poor and reimburses some of the medical costs and travel expenses to get to the hospital. But even then, it is not uncommon for doctors and hospital administrators to ask patients for payment ahead of treatment.
Private clinics are expensive and don’t necessarily provide a better quality of care, underlining the importance of a hospital like Angkor for the population that just cannot pay medical costs.
Research shows that the most common reason for impoverishment in Cambodia remains emergency healthcare costs, which force families to enter an often unending spiral of debt. For families who have a child with a chronic disease, healthcare costs can be devastating.
In Cambodia, an average of one in 20 children die before their fifth birthday, compared to a rate of one in 120 found in developed nations, according to UNICEF. And four children out of five live in rural areas, where the mortality rate is much higher at 64 deaths per 1,000 live birth.
Government census data shows that in 2010, 40 percent of children under five were too short for their age, stunted by malnutrition. Roughly 30 percent of Cambodians live on less than $1.25 per day, which the World Bank has established as the poverty threshold.
Indeed, Siem Reap province, better known abroad for its 11th century temple complexes and lavish hotels replete with Western tourists, has the third-highest poverty rate among the Cambodian provinces at 52 percent.
For a province of 1 million people, the total health budget of Siem Reap this year is about $2.8 million, according to provincial health officials, and almost two-thirds of that represents support from large foreign government donors. None of that makes its way to AHC.
Clearly, part of the problem with provincial hospitals is that the government can afford to pay only low salaries to its health workers. Thus doctors, who might earn as little as $100 a month, often supplement their incomes with private clinics that take precedence over any hospital care.
Still, Cambodia is making headway in medical care on offer, in part with the support of AHC.
Part of the problem is the legacy of destruction leftover from the 1975-1979 Khmer Rouge rule, when medical professionals and other educated people were singled out for slaughter. In all, an estimated 1.7 million people were killed or died from forced labor, starvation or disease over the period.
When they marched into Phnom Penh and other cities, the Khmer Rouge emptied the hospitals, eliminated the doctors and then left the care of sick and injured to untrained young soldiers who favored traditional Cambodian remedies over Western medicine. By the time the Vietnamese ejected the Khmer Rouge from power, there were only an estimated 40 doctors left in the country.
Decades of war and isolation followed, leaving the medical infrastructure in shambles. In the 1990s, NGOs simply took over the health care system without trying to build anything indigenous, and change only began in earnest with the end of the Cambodian Civil War in 1998.
Angkor Hospital is working hard to be part of the solution.
Yesterday the Shangri-La took the courageous step of declaring that effective immediately, the group’s 72 hotels and resorts would no longer serve shark fin in any restaurants or at wedding banquets.
In a press release, the hotel said that in December 2010 the company initiated the process of becoming shark fin free with the removal of shark fin products from its restaurant menus. “The new policy is a continuation of Shangri-La’s journey towards environmental support,” the release said
This follows the Peninsula Hotel’s decision in November last year to stop serving the soup in its restaurants and at wedding banquets as of January 1st this year.
The hotels should be applauded for their actions, which were not easy in a city that sees 50 percent of the global shark fin trade and where consumption of the soup at special events has been second-nature. Here, shark fin soup is seen as a symbol of wealth and prestige and consumed most often at weddings and corporate banquets.
Yet as the consumption of the soup has increased in recent years with greater affluence in Asia, shark populations have dwindled. In some species. populations have declined by as much as 90 percent. As many as 73 million sharks are caught annually, with millions of these believed caught for their fins alone.
Shark flesh is not a high-value meat, while dried fins can be sold for as much as $300 a pound. A bowl of the soup in Hong Kong can fetch as much as $100. Thus is some cases, shark are finned at sea with the bodies thrown back to drown in a practice that is both wasteful and cruel.
Bloom, the HK Shark Foundation, WWF and other conservation groups have been working hard in Hong Kong over the past few years to educate consumers and the trade about the ramifications of declining shark populations for our oceans.
The work has included research to understand both the cultural attitudes toward consumption of shark fin soup and the trade in shark products; educating the hotels on biodiversity issues related to sharks and learning about the challenges of ceasing sales of shark products; encouraging consumers to consider shark fin free weddings; encouraging companies to sign a pledge not to serve shark fin soup at banquets.
Despite a swell action from local and national governments worldwide to ban consumption of shark fin products, the Hong Kong government (consistent with its course of rarely acting in public or conservation interest) has refused to consider any such action – even a ban on serving at official banquets.
In reality, the assumption is that because of the cost, little shark fin soup is actually served at official banquets in Hong Kong and indeed government officials have alluded to this.
Certainly, however, with the growing awareness around threats faced by our oceans, the sense of inevitability of action as shark populations decline, the government must now be feeling the heat.
Last week the HK Marine Products Association was certainly feeling the heat. The trade group placed half-page ads in leading Chinese publications titled (in English translation) “Is eating Shark Fin Guilty?” and arguing that
- Shark fin is simply a by-product of the shark fishing industry
- CITES bans trade in only four species therefore fishing should be allowed in others
- Any conservation of a species should be based on scientific evidence not emotion
- States the MPA uses resources sustainably and contributes to conservation
Clearly, shark fins, for reasons stated above are not by-products of any shark fishing industry and clearly conservation of a species should be based in scientific fact, which exists and is documented: sharks are in significant decline.We would welcome any communication from the MPA related to their sustainable practices and conservation work.
The CITES issue mentioned in the ads is an interesting one and is raised frequently by the MPA, as well as both the HK and Beijing governments, which hide behind the treaty. The main point here is that CITES is not effective in protecting shark species globally and should not be used, counter-intuitively, as a a justification to fish endangered
CITES was drafted as a result of a resolution adopted in 1963 at an IUCN (The World Conservation Union) meeting and entered into force in 1975 as an international agreement. Today, it has 175 signatories.
Its aim: to ensure that the international trade in wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. The CITES mechanism to achieve this is by placing trade restrictions on species at risk. The Convention is, therefore, undoubtedly an important wildlife conservation agreement.
Yet CITES only includes three species of shark, despite that according to IUCN 143 species are threatened with extinction, either now or in the near future.
So why should a conservation agreement exclude threatened species? The answer lies in the fact that for a species to be bought under CITES trade restrictions, the signatories must vote.
In 2010, for example, six shark species were proposed for inclusion in CITES. Countries with vested interests in the shark trade, such as Japan, bargained with fellow signatories to ensure that highly lucrative species, albeit critically endangered, were not included in the Convention’s regulatory appendices. Science and sustainability clearly gave way to commercial interests.
In Hong Kong, CITES remains the only mechanism for regulating the shark fin trade and to make matters worse its implementation is unclear.
The Agricultural, Fishery and Conservation Department (AFCD) of the Hong Kong government is responsible for monitoring the trade in endangered plant and animal species.
Currently, visual identification is a commonly used to identify imported plants or animal species. While this may be appropriate for many species, it is extremely difficult, in practice, to determine the shark species from a fin without the carcass, and even more difficult if the fin has been bleached or processed. It is understood that AFCD do not carry out any DNA analysis.
Thus, CITES clearly is not an effective mechanism to monitor the shark fin trade in Hong Kong.
Scientific research based on DNA testing shows that in 2006 approximately 40% of the auctioned fin weight in the Hong Kong market came from 14 shark species listed on the IUCN Redlist of Threatened species.
So bravo to the Shangri-La and the Peninsula hotels for taking action, the 112 companies in Hong Kong that have signed the WWF pledge not to sell or buy shark fin as part of their corporate activities.
Going shark free is a groundswell here and abroad that we certainly hope will continue in time to save the apex predators and our oceans.
Concern is growing globally about water resources and the potential for conflict in regions where they are scarce. But are investors and businesses in Asia adequately factoring water into risk assessments?
A recent Neilson study showed that worry about water shortages has overtaken global warming as the top issue, with 75 percent of respondents identifying this as something they worry most about. That represents an increase of 13 percent over the previous year.
And the concern is not without basis. Worldwide, almost 1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water while 70 percent of industrial waste in developing nations is dumped untreated into waterways, further limiting what is often already stretched supply.
Yet investors and leaders of industry may not be paying attention, considering water challenges simply an environmental problem rather than a fundamental business risk.
In China, the water landscape is particularly stark. We hear much about that country’s economic growth averaging 10 percent over the past 20 years, the massive and wholesale transformation of the economy at rapid pace, but not so much about the horrendous cost to the environment that already weighs heavily on GDP .
We hear much less about the dead and dying rivers, the over-pumped aquifers, the creeping desertification in previously agricultural areas, the thinned soil from over-use of pesticides, the power plants without adequate water to function, the massive and growing health care costs from poisonings and escalating cancer rates.
We hear very little about the growing numbers of protests nationwide linked to pollution incidents.
The government is clearly concerned. The official response in China has been a tightening regulatory environment, and a move toward real pricing of the precious resource, or the investment opportunities that an inevitable clean up will bring.
The recently approved, 12th five-year plan for the first time features climate change and energy, sets lower growth targets for the country and favors investment in industries that promote pollution clean up and cleaner processes generally.
Clearly, there are thus significant ramifications across a broad range of industries in China but are investors prepared? Are they staying ahead of the water risk curve, engaging in the due diligence and mitigation efforts needed to survive the inevitable and seismic shifts around water?
China Water Risk (CWR) is ADMCF’s redesigned follow-on from Asia Water Project, the pilot initiative launched 18 months ago to inform investors and companies of both risk and opportunities around water crisis in China.
This initiative, which launches later this month at www.chinawaterrisk.org, is designed to influence capital allocation to industries in China located in water-appropriate regions, with solid mitigation strategies built around water.
Per capita global water resources are 6,280 cubic meters on average but people in China have less than 1/3 of that amount at 1.816 cubic meters.
So, the country with 20 percent of the world’s population has access to only 7 percent of global water resources, while an estimated 300 million people in the country are without access to safe drinking water.
And this is not just a problem for rural areas in China. In 2007, research showed that 60% of China’s cities faced water scarcity and 110 cities faced serious water shortages.
Pollution of groundwater follows from the low urban sewage treatment rate, which was only 73 percent in 2009, according to a recent article in China Business Times. Hundreds of new sewage treatment plants have been built nationwide in recent years and sit idle because of the high cost of operating them.
The Beijing-based Institute for Public & Environmental Affairs in its water pollution map (an inspiration for China Water Risk and a CWR partner) lists hundreds of violations by sewage plants.
According to the Ministry of Environmental Protection, 77 percent of 26 key lakes and reservoirs, 43 percent of 7 major river basins are considered unfit for human contact. Meanwhile, 19 percent of monitored rivers and basins, 35 percent of lakes are reservoirs are believed unfit even for agricultural or industrial use.
The World Bank has warned of “catastrophic “ consequences for future generations if the government does not act to solve quickly the acute water shortage and pollution problems. The report urged new pricing, management and regulatory strategies.
In China, agriculture has been by far the largest consumer of water at 62 percent, and the largest polluter, with pesticides and fertilizers responsible for about half of contamination of waterways.
With water scarcity becoming more evident, waterways increasingly unfit for irrigation coupled with the fact that China holds only 7 percent of the world’s arable land, food security has by all accounts become of national concern.
Part of the problem around agriculture and food security in China has been that regions south of the Yangtze account for 33 percent of the country’s total farmland and 83 percent of the country’s water resources. North of the Yangtze, however, lies 67 percent of national farmland but only 17 percent of water resources
Exacerbating the problem, the country is the globally the largest consumer of pesticides and this has contributed heavily not only to aquifer and waterway pollution but to depletion of farmlands.
Meanwhile, as environmental and labor regulations tightened in the West pushing up prices at home, Foreign Direct Investment has flooded into China, fueling the factories, building the industry that is now feeding, clothing and housing the world.
Last year, FDI was estimated at $105.7 billion, surging 17.4 percent over the previous year. This is also helping build a huge middle class and affluent consumer market in China that is expected to almost triple to 400 million by 2020.
According to a September HSBC report, already next year China will replace Japan as the world’s largest consumer of luxury items – something unthinkable just a decade ago.
A joint report published in 2007 by the World Bank and the Chinese government estimated the combined health and non-health cost of outdoor air and water pollution at approximately $100 billion a year, or about 5.8% of China’s GDP.
Water pollution, meanwhile, worsens China’s severe water scarcity problems, with the overall cost of water shortages estimated at 1% of GDP.
The weight on economic growth is certainly of concern to Beijing, but equally concerning is the growing discontent in China related to pollution incidents and scarcity. In 2005, the last year for which government figures have been released, there were an estimated 50,000 protests nationwide related to pollution incidents.
This comes in response to significant growth of so-called cancer villages, or clusters of cancers invariably located near heavily polluting factories, fast-growing rates of urban cancers and outbreaks of illness or poisonings related to drinking polluted water.
Many of these protests have been centered around specific polluters and in several instances have forced factories or power plants to close. This then involves not just reputational risk but threatens serious economic losses for polluters.
There are also additional considerations around political risk. Concern is that as climate change potentially exacerbates the country’s water shortages, the government sees the need to exert further control over domestic water resources with far-reaching consequences.
Of the 261 International rivers globally, 15 originate in China, including the Mekong, Ganges, Brahmaputra and Indus rivers. These international rivers span 16 nations and China has no formal agreements or treaties regarding the use of these rivers with any of its neighbors.
What is patently clear, is that no investor or business leader can step into China without carefully considering the water challenges facing each industry and then positioning to mitigate risk. At the same time, don’t investors and business leaders want to position themselves to take advantage of potentially huge opportunity?
That trendy shirt or pair of jeans, the underwear we buy these days mostly comes with a “Made in China” label. When choosing clothing presumably we think first about style and second about price. Can we afford the style and quality? We rarely think about the environmental or social cost of the item, the “true” cost of manufacturing a coveted dress.
We don’t know about the dye that washes into the local rivers where the item is made, the chemicals spreading downstream from manufacturing plants, contaminating water supplies and making local people sick. We want, we can afford, we buy. But should we without knowing how our clothes are made and the damage they do in the process?
Last year, according to the American Apparel and Footwear Association, Americans spent about $340 billion on clothing and shoes, accounting for 75 percent of the global market. Of that, 99 percent of shoes and 98 percent of clothing was made abroad, where environmental and social laws are less stringent and enforcement of those that do exist is significantly looser.
The trouble is, many of the clothes we wear, particularly the cheapest, are highly polluting to produce at the low cost-point. According to the World Bank, 17 to 20 percent of industrial water pollution comes from textile dyeing and treatment, and there are at least 72 toxic chemicals in our water that originate solely from textile dyeing. Of these, 30 cannot be removed.
That’s a real problem for the textile industry: In China, Polluted water causes 75 percent of diseases and over 100,000 deaths annually, the World Health organization has said. Meanwhile, cancer rates among villagers who live along polluted waterways are much higher than the national average.
Estimates are that 70 percent of lakes and rivers in China are polluted, as well as 90 percent of the groundwater. In all, an estimated 320 million Chinese do not have access to clean drinking water – more than the entire population of the United States.
It used to be that clothing was made close to home, so we knew when a textile mill or garment manufacturer was polluting the local water or air and U.S. mill towns experienced some of the same problems China now faces, with local rivers often fetid and colored by dye. With greater awareness of the hazards, then years of battling, government regulatory authorities set tougher environmental and labor standards to make sure production wasn’t exploitative or damaging to our air and water. Manufacturers were forced to comply, installing capture equipment on smokestacks and treating any wastewater before pumping it into rivers.
But that made clothing more expensive to produce and then with the opening of China in the mid-1970s and the growing availability in the 1980s of cheap labor along with manufacturing capability, most of the production process gradually shifted there. Eventually, environmental and social laws were put in place in China too but often local enforcement is limited and corruption rampant.
That has meant many factories and textile mills have been able pollute at will. When they have been fined for violations, the fines are often insignificant relative to profit. That, and the fact that an abundant migrant labor force comprised of some of the hundreds of millions who previously lived below the poverty line and were willing to work for cheap, meant clothing could be produced at prices that didn’t factor in either the real cost of labor or the environmental damage.
Those costs were left for future generations to cover in health care, clean-up and other forms of support.
The result is that we are all now hooked on the irrationally cheap. Prices on fabric and clothing imported to the U.S. have fallen 25% since 1995, partly due to the downward pricing pressure brought by discount retail chains, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal.
Still, in China, the future is now. While migrant workers, now with a better standard of living, want fair wages and benefits such as health insurance, the Chinese government recognizes that the holy grail of economic growth at the 10 percent plus levels seen over the past two decades is unsustainable if the rampant environmental degradation continues apace.
Unrest has been growing across the country, particularly around perceived labor and environmental violations, with tens of thousands of mostly small protests annually, many of them unreported.
Besides the cost of cleaning up contaminated water, land and air, pollution will cost China billions in additional health care, lost productivity and early mortality, dragging down growth, the government recognizes. The World Bank in a 2007 report estimated China’s environmental costs at around $100 billion a year, or about 5.8 percent of GDP, including the impact on mortality.
So any way you look at it, those clothes we like to buy in abundance, and have been taught in recent years to purchase and throw away without thought because prices are so cheap and styles constantly new, are a real problem for the environment, for workers who make them and ultimately for China’s economy.
In a report released in December, Greenpeace recounted time spent in two textile industry towns in Guangdong province: Xintang, the “Jeans Capital of the World,” and Gurao, a manufacturing town 80% of whose economy is devoted to bras, underwear, and other clothing articles.
Greenpeace testing found five heavy metals (cadmium, chromium, mercury, lead, and copper) in 17 out of 21 water and sediment samples taken from throughout Xintang and Gurao. In one sample, cadmium exceeded China’s national limits by 128 times.
Xintang, known as the “Jeans Capital of the World”, produces over 260 million pairs of jeans annually, equivalent to 60% of China’s total denim production, and 40% of the jeans sold in the United States each year.
Gurao, “the capital of sexy,” in 2009 produced 200 million bras, or enough for every third woman in China to have one. But this prosperity has come at the cost of the degradation of the local river, the Xiao Xi.
Villagers told Greenpeace that the dirty, fetid river is no longer fit for drinking or laundry. Fish no longer live in the river and people living nearby complain that they must endure the stench from the wastewater. When the river overflows, their yards and homes are flooded by wastewater.
Unfortunately, Gurao and Xintang are not unique, representing just 2 out of 133 textile manufacturing cluster towns where there exists unregulated or at least tolerated hazardous chemical use and release – all in the name of economic growth and jobs.
True, the rise of China over the past few decades has been startling, and the achievements not to be forgotten. In no other time in history has one government accomplished a similar feat: Pulling some 300 million people out of poverty. The questions remain, however, around the price of that transformation and how the government will choose to address this looking forward.
Indeed the 12th five-year plan, unveiled in March, includes provisions for reform that involve working to rebalance China’s Economy and improve livelihoods. The government is keen to shift the growth model from export and investment driven to domestic consumption drive, and will focus on the quality of economic growth, not just the growth rate itself, perhaps reducing GDP targets to around 7 percent. There will be additional investment in alternative energies and a push toward promoting less-polluting industries, with a shift away from more polluting producers.
As wages rise in China, however, this is a trend that is already underway, with some of the dirtiest factories moving to Bangladesh, Pakistan and Vietnam, where regulations are even lighter and costs less. Once again, rather than cleaning the supply chain and charging higher prices to reflect cleanup costs and higher wages, some brands are just looking further south.
Luckily, this is not universally the case. There are retail brands that are looking to improve their own supply chains and influence the industry more broadly.
In March a coalition of retail companies, apparel and shoe manufacturers, fashion houses, non-profits, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency launched a new organization that seeks to reduce the environmental and social impacts of the clothing industry worldwide.
The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), which includes Wal-Mart, Hanes, J.C. Penney, Nike, Gap Inc, H&M, Levi Strauss, Marks & Spencer, and Patagonia, among others, will help to develop improved sustainability strategies and tools to measure and evaluate sustainability performance. The group of thirty organizations began working on this informally last year.
The group announced it was developing a database of the environmental effects of every manufacturer, component and process in apparel production, with the aim of using the gathered information to give the garments a sustainability store.
Part of the problem for the apparel industry is the complexity of the supply chain. There are many bits and bobs that go into producing our clothes and each piece may be produced in a different factory and then assembled in yet another. That means accounting for the environmental impact of any one item of clothing, tracing the zippers, the buttons, the natural fabric, the dyed fabric, is quite a feat.
Still, for the new coalition, tracing the various parts that make up one jacket or pair of trousers is the goal, along with conveying that information to the consumer. The idea is that eventually there is a label that allows shoppers to see how well their coveted item of clothing is produced and learn about its impact on both the planet and people.
And as consumers we all have a responsibility to think about how much and how we consume. Are our expectations around price and how long we use an item of clothing unrealistic?