Generation 40s – 四十世代

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Let’s face it: Hong Kong will never fix its illegal parking problem

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-03-24

Yonden Lhatoo shares readers’ sense of despair and disgust over the city’s total inability to bite the bullet and do what it really takes to curb illegal parking

I watched a sad little circus in our Legislative Council this week. Stopping short of calling the performers a bunch of bozos, I would say they might as well have put on clown costumes and make-up to complete the picture.

Lawmakers from across the political spectrum stymied the government’s long-overdue proposal to raise penalties for illegal parking by 50 per cent from next June.

It wasn’t enough for them that this is already a ridiculously benign effort to crack down on a problem that is a scourge of Hong Kong when it comes to quality of life. The plan is to raise penalties for different kinds of parking offences from HK$320 and HK$450 to HK$480 and HK$680. The amount will be commensurate with the severity of the offence, with drivers who pick up or drop off passengers in a restricted zone, for example, paying the stiffest fine.

This city hasn’t toughened its illegal parking penalties since 1994. For added context, the fine for littering is HK$1,500, and it’s a draconian HK$2,000 for jaywalking. Go figure.

In a jaw-dropping, twilight-zone moment, someone even called for fines to be lowered

Anyway, back in the big top, the argument presented by our elected representatives in favour of maintaining this ludicrous status quo was that the main reason for the problem was car ownership increasing faster than the growth of parking spaces. In a jaw-dropping, twilight-zone moment, someone even called for fines to be lowered. Yep, that ought to do it, Einstein.

Some problems in Hong Kong are just unfixable. This isn’t one of them. But it will never be fixed because of vested interests and a total lack of guts or will on the part of those in a position to do something about it.

Instead of my own commentary this time, let me quote our readers to break it down for you.

“90 per cent of Hong Kong residents don’t have cars. They are the sane ones – or the poor ones. Those with cars should have a fine of several thousand dollars for illegal parking. The fine could be reduced for delivery vehicles.

“HK$680 is what these people pay for dessert. Proportional fines would work best; with Inland Revenue already having access to your tax returns, it shouldn’t be difficult to coordinate with the police/courts over fines. They could even be automatically stacked up on top of your tax next year.”

“Make it easier for police and traffic wardens to issue tickets; give them an app with GPS and they can photo the offender, issue ticket by email. At the moment they have to handwrite in triplicate, and most appear too lazy to do so!”

If affluent Hongkongers are fearless in the face of fines, why not simply start deducting points from their driving licences? The threat of losing their right to drive ought to make these incorrigibles toe the line. Or start a vigorous culture of towing away offending vehicles to teach them a lesson.

It’s so simple, but try running that past our feeble-minded politicians and weak-willed transport authorities. And don’t forget that the police may be part of the problem, with their half-hearted enforcement.

“Traffic police simply ask the drivers to move on and all they do is drive around the block and park back in the same place as the police officers have simply walked on.”

“An offence is 24/7, 365! Not a one-week advertised crackdown. That must be the dumbest law enforcement tactic. No wonder drivers constantly break the law.”

Conclusion: it’s hopeless. I’ll just leave you with this little gem seen online that would sum up the attitude of so many Hong Kong drivers: “Somebody actually complimented me on my driving today. They left a note on my windscreen which said, ‘Parking Fine’. That was nice …”

Yonden Lhatoo is a senior editor at the Post


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Hong Kong needs a realistic vision in setting its power goals

CommentInsight & Opinion
2016-09-02
John W. M. Cheng says the city must consider not only the lack of suitable land but also energy security, equity and environmental sustainability, as it works towards a low-carbon future

 

Hong Kong has, for decades, been a majestic international city, thriving and shining on the southern tip of China. Its success can be partly attributed to a world-class electricity supply system, one of the most sophisticated and reliable infrastructures in Asia, if not the world.

As global and local communities aspire and work towards a more sustainable and low-carbon future – and with a population of over 7.3 million living within only 1,105 sq km but consuming over 43 terawatt-hours of power in 2015 – what are the realistic options for Hong Kong when we look to 2030 or even 2050? Undoubtedly, our aspirations must be visionary and yet realistic.

Wind and solar technologies have improved significantly in recent years in terms of cost and performance. Solar panels on land and rooftops are surging by the millions globally. Wind turbine technologies for land-based applications have also matured. The key question is, how viable is it to build solar and/or wind facilities in Hong Kong?

Based on wind and solar resources data from US space agency Nasa, and taking into consideration today’s commercially available technologies, the percentage of land area required to displace all local generation in 2015 would be 54 per cent for solar and up to 270 per cent for wind. Alternatively, if 5 per cent of local generation is to be displaced by solar, we will need about 30 sq km (roughly 2.7 per cent of land in Hong Kong or half of Sha Tin District) of unobstructed space.

Land requirement for power generation is measured by the power density, that is, how much power can be produced in a unit area (watts per square metre or W/m2) by a given generation means. Coal-fired power is around 1,400-2,500 W/m2, gas-fired power about 5,900-14,000 W/m2 and nuclear around 1,100-3,700 W/m2. Solar and wind generation are around 4-16 W/m2.

The numbers probably speak for themselves. With such orders of magnitude of difference, if we want local generation while our land areas are scarce, we will have limited choice. This is one reason why gas-fired generation is considered a viable transitional option, as its carbon dioxide emissions are about half those of a similar coal-fired facility and yet it has a power density higher than coal.

Wind and solar generation are inherently uncertain and intermittent. To maintain a continuous and reliable system, we need the grid connection or local energy storage to back up renewable generation.

For grid connection, often taken for granted, we rely on a supply system that must be highly controllable and yet economic to maintain the power balance. Fossil-based generators are by far the most practical and affordable means unless you have many hydro plants like in Norway. Storage by means of pumped-hydro is by far the most popular and practical. However, it requires the coexistence of suitable terrain, abundant energy at times and available water resources (river or sea).

Today, battery technology for bulk storage is still expensive. According to the International Energy Agency, battery investment cost in 2015 was about US$400-US$500 per kilowatt-hour. Even if we go to 2025, the projected cost will be no less than US$200 per kWh. Innovation and major technological breakthroughs must take place to make batteries the holy grail.

But before such breakthroughs do happen, when we think of wind and solar, we must also think of the times without them. How should the backup system work to ensure continuity of service, high reliability and low cost?

Installing distributed and small-scale solar and wind facilities has also received much attention globally. Existing meters, at least in most residential units, are traditional electromechanical devices with simple capabilities. If widespread installation of solar (or wind) facilities takes place, smart meters with the necessary intelligence would be needed to accommodate the feed-in tariff, which will pay for renewable energy at a higher price.

Some may argue that financial support for feed-in tariffs can come from existing “energy subsidies”. While the energy sector in Hong Kong in general does not receive direct financial transfers or preferential tax treatment, we have yet to understand whether such subsidies really exist in Hong Kong or are calculated fairly. More importantly, we must carefully study what should be a fair feed-in tariff and how often we should revise it; what should be a fair rate of grid connection; and, how building codes should be amended to incorporate more solar rooftops.

The UN-accredited World Energy Council defines a sustainable energy system as one that considers three core dimensions simultaneously: energy security, energy equity and environmental sustainability. These goals constitute a “trilemma” and one must strike a balance among these three goals to ensure a sustainable energy future.

Each year, the council publishes an Energy Trilemma Index report and Hong Kong has always ranked quite high – it was in the top 30 among 130 jurisdictions rated in 2015. We are also within the top five in the Asia-Pacific region. In particular, Hong Kong was ranked eighth globally in terms of energy equity, meaning that we are not only maintaining a good balance in the overall trilemma assessment, but we also excel in making energy affordable and accessible to our citizens.

A wind farm alongside a highway in Turpan, in the Xinjiang region. In drawing up its energy road map, Hong Kong needs to take into account the future direction of the mainland. Photo: AFP

Energy is a unique industry and is fundamental to the very fabric of society. Our history, culture, available resources, economic strength, technological know-how and social needs are also unique in Hong Kong. We must ensure all stakeholders are reasonably aware of the impact and implications of any policy changes and subsequent developments.

Therefore, our energy vision, road map and targets should also be designed and implemented to strike a balance among the trilemma, considering past global experiences and the future direction of the Chinese mainland.

Dr John W. M. Cheng is general secretary of the World Energy Council – Hong Kong, China, and CLP Research Institute’s senior manager


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Who can save the world from being trampled by Trump?

CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-02-03
Kevin Rafferty says the US president’s apocalyptic policies pose a grave risk, not only for the future of America as a nation, but the fragile planet itself
Commentators and pundits, American and foreign, have sadly misunderstood US President Donald Trump. They expected him to calm down and become presidential, at least when he became the unlikely ­Republican candidate, or when he beat Hillary Clinton – or, at the very least, when he went through the solemn pomp and panoply of the inauguration and he took possession of the Oval Office.

It is now clear that Trump must be taken both literally and seriously, however outrageous his demands, however personal, dark and unrealistic his world view. He will not let it stand in his way that he was the choice of only 27 per cent of eligible voters or that he lost to Clinton by 2.8 popular million votes.

He believes that if he promised or threatened it on the campaign trail, victory gives him the mandate to do it. And he has set to work like a Force 13 hurricane, caring little about anyone standing in his way.

For America itself, there will be a price to pay as Trump’s hyperactivity in producing executive orders, firing people and hectoring bosses to bring factories back raises heavy protectionist costs. But the rest of the world has greater reason to beware. Being “Trumpled”, that is, trampled by Trump, is a real danger not only for other countries but for the fragile planet itself.

In his inaugural address, Trump thumped out his determination to “Make America Great Again”. With little grace or eloquence, he let out an angry patriotic roar vowing to recreate brilliant shining America, improve education, bring back industry, create jobs, get rid of crime and restore power to the people, not the corrupt elite of Washington.

He went to work immediately. His now notorious refugee and immigration ban even on people vetted and given visas was only the culmination of the first week of his hurricane. Trump claimed that all he wanted to do was keep the US safe from the “bad dudes” out there. But terrorists from the countries banned were responsible for zero American deaths between 1975 and 2015, whereas terrorists from Saudi Arabia killed 2,369 Americans, and those from the United Arab Emirates killed 314. Both these countries were missing from Trump’s list.

For a sense of perspective, jihadists have killed 94 people in the US since 9/11, but 301,797 Americans have been shot dead by other Americans in the past decade, 21 of them by toddlers. Between 2005 and 2014, nine Americans were killed by Islamic jihadists – who in most cases were US citizens, not immigrants.

Trump started with an order to undermine Obamacare; he went on to authorise building the infamous wall with Mexico, and perhaps impose duties of 20 per cent on Mexican goods to pay for it; to remove roadblocks from the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines; to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and promise to renegotiate the North America Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico; he expressed his personal support for torture to extract information; he promised new trade deals and pressured US firms to bring jobs back; he pledged a stronger military to crush America’s enemies; and sacked four key state department management officials with 150 years of combined experience in “house cleaning”. Dissenting bureaucrats were told to obey or quit.

In between, he attacked the media for not seeing the hundreds of thousands of invisible people really occupying the empty spaces on the National Mall at his inauguration, and for not counting up to five million fraudulent voters who had denied him victory in the popular vote.

Americans have only themselves to blame: they voted Trump into power. Foreigners are not so lucky: they clearly get no say in Trump’s world.

If Trump carries out the foreign policies he promised, the already fragile global geopolitical, economic, trade and environment system will be devastated. Economic progress made by many developing nations will be threatened as America turns inwards and protectionist.

There are bigger dangers to the Earth itself. Trump’s professed policies risk subjecting the world to a slow suffocating death as he disregards international climate change treaties [10] and encourages a new carbon economy. Or it could suffer a fiery death in war as Trump destroys old alliances and picks fights that could escalate dangerously. This, of course, is all too apocalyptic. But Trump’s policies are apocalyptic.

That’s why editors of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved the hands of the “Doomsday Clock” 30 seconds closer to midnight, now just 2½ minutes away.

Trump’s way of changing the world is equally dangerous. He continues to behave like a real estate mogul, cajoling, hectoring, bullying and shaming rivals or clients to grovel to get his way.

Sadly, it is hard to see any world leader with the stature and courage to challenge Trump in the name of the fragile Earth. World Bank and International Monetary Fund leaders, quick to give their opinions on Brexit, threats from disease and other crises, have been silent, perhaps for fear of upsetting their largest shareholder, the US.

There is talk of Trump getting together with his best buddy, Russian President Vladimir Putin, to carve up the 21st-century world as Franklin Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill divided the post-second-world-war world at Yalta.

Who gets to control Europe, China, Japan and the rest of Asia, Africa and Oceania may be up for grabs, unless China is brought into a triumvirate to control the world.

This would require an unlikely deal by the dealmaker, not least because of his strident claims that China stole US jobs and sapped the strength of its industry, and his condemnation of Beijing’s island building in the South China Sea.

Both President Xi Jinping ( 習近平 ) and Premier Li Keqiang ( 李克) have spoken up for the global commons but, to be a true world leader, Beijing would have to throw off centuries of history of the Middle Kingdom used to seeing neighbours as vassal states paying tribute. It would require China to join forces with other leaders in Asia and Europe in asserting the overriding needs of the Earth.

German chancellor Angela Merkel understands the need for global wisdom, but she and other European leaders are threatened by populist parties, encouraged by Trump and sometimes by Putin, who would happily break up the European Union.

Japan has been a great beneficiary of the peace and economic progress since the second world war. But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s sights are set on a deal with Trump and rewriting history, rather than seeking allies who could make common cause in keeping the world – including the US itself, which would suffer from protectionism – open and safe against Trump’s threats. Abe and UK Prime Minister Theresa May should understand that being America’s mistress can only end in disaster when Trump makes the rules.

The important point is that Trump is wrong: the fragile Earth of the 21st century needs leaders with global, not greedy nationalistic, solutions for our common problems.

Kevin Rafferty worked for the World Bank and reported from Washington DC under six US presidents


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In can-do Hong Kong, a can’t-do government calls the shots

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion
2016-11-22

Peter Kammerer

Peter Kammerer says we should keep in mind our officials’ record of delays and broken promises in urban planning – and political reform – particularly with the 2017 chief executive election looming

Vibrant, lively, chaotic, sophisticated; they are among the terms found in travel guides to describe Hong Kong. But what the eye sees on the street doesn’t apply to how the government responds to the needs of a city with a population of 7.2 million. Its oft-times glacial reaction, if at all, is in stark contrast to the noise, colour and energy. Little wonder that, among some people, there is dissatisfaction, dissent and even hostility.

This came to mind while waiting for a bus. We’ve got one of the world’s best public transport systems and it’s unusual to be standing at a stop for longer than a few minutes. But 15 minutes had passed and my legs were starting to ache; my thoughts turned to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s promise in his last policy address in January to have seats installed at bus shelters. That was almost 10 months ago and I have yet to encounter even one.

It takes time to request funding, approve, design, order, manufacture and install. It’s unreasonable for me to expect action so fast. The subsidised colorectal screening tests pledged in the 2014 policy address only began in September with a pilot programme for those aged between 68 and 70. There are procedures, regulations and limited resources, so it’s wrong to expect words to be turned into action overnight.

But, having seen private developers quickly turn vacant land into bustling buildings in a few years, we know that the government is very capable of foot-dragging. Our tallest structure, the 112-floor International Commerce Centre, took just eight years to build. Yet 18 years after former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa raised the idea of the West Kowloon Cultural District, we’re still years away from an opening date, and there’s no certainty about a monorail for Kowloon East, first put forward in a blueprint in 2007.

A monorail would seem to fit the idea of turning the rundown former industrial areas of Kwun Tong and Kowloon Bay into a modern business and residential zone with cutting-edge infrastructure. Walking the narrow footpaths around the Kwun Tong promenade or from the Kowloon Bay MTR to the MegaBox shopping mall highlights the public transport deficiencies of the area. But the 9km, 12-station overhead line that, in 2010, was suggested could open in 2023 at a cost of HK$12 billion hasn’t got past the consultation stage and would now need more than 50 per cent extra to construct. Perhaps it will never be built since the Sydney monorail shut down in financial disarray in 2013 after 25 years of operation and the economics of a street-level tram system makes increasing sense.

An unfulfilled promise that has me baffled is redevelopment of the old Central market; vacated in 2003, it could so easily have been turned into an oasis for Central’s office workers, yet has remained disused apart from a passageway and some shops. Wrangling over whether it should be pulled down and redeveloped or preserved was in part responsible, but the Urban Renewal Authority has also dithered over plans and costs. A decision in March put matters back on course, but there seems little excuse for so much time-wasting.

The same goes for household waste charging, recycling and construction of an incinerator. Hong Kong has serious problems with waste disposal, yet there seems little urgency about ensuring that we cut the amount of rubbish we produce. Fees and an implementation date have yet to be fixed for charging, recycling is little practised and the HK$19.2 billion incinerator to be built on Shek Kwu Chau off Lantau is mired in construction and environmental controversies; so much for the 2023 completion date.

A lot of the government’s promises that remain unfulfilled are due to cost. If they aren’t going to bring a financial return, there’s no need to rush. Which is why Leung’s manifesto when running for chief executive in 2011 is worth considering. He made all manner of pledges, including having the MPF offset mechanism scrapped and cutting the average waiting time for public housing for family applicants to three years (it was 4½ years at the end of September). But of his vows, the most striking, given events of the past few years, was: “If I am elected, I solemnly promise that I shall uphold the rule of law, enhance the standard of governance and promote democracy.”

Governments and leaders have a habit of saying things to win over citizens, especially at election time. After the rhetoric of the US presidential race and with the 2017 chief executive contest looming, we need to think twice about believing what we are told.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post


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Hong Kong needs a data revolution at the very top

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion
2016-11-22

Winnie Tang

Winnie Tang calls on the government to build solid infrastructure for spatial data, so citizens and companies can use it to devise innovative solutions for urban living

About two-thirds of the world’s population will be living in urban areas by 2050, according to the UN. The increase in demand for services in these areas will pose great challenges to governments. To meet them, we need smart and sustainable urban planning, and strategies that ensure prosperity is shared among all social classes.

How can we put these ideas into practice? How can we foster innovative ecosystems and citizen engagement to deliver urban services? These are the key topics to be discussed at an upcoming World Bank conference on smart cities, where I will speak about Hong Kong.

Open data is a crucial part of the answer. By “data”, I’m referring to spatial data or geospatial data, information about the geographic location of features, that can be mapped. It can be accessed, visualised, manipulated and analysed through the use of software.

It may seem technical but if you bring it back to basics, you will find that it already plays a key part in our daily life. It is also a key element for driving the growth of a smart city. Many countries and cities recognise spatial data as an important digital asset. The US, Singapore and some European countries have projects that integrate spatial data and make these available to the public.

Last year, the Los Angeles city council launched GeoHub, an online portal providing location-based data. It contains more than 500 categories of real-time (or near real-time) information, such as public roadworks and traffic black spots, and allows anyone to access live, continuously updated data directly from the city’s database, rather than as a static download. The data transparency empowers citizens to take part in the city’s governance. It also features Street Wize, a web mapping app that allows residents to track road-opening permits and construction activities around the city, which will help them to plan their routes.

Here in Hong Kong, different government agencies like the lands, highways, civil engineering and development departments have dedicated spatial data. However, they rarely share such information with each other or make it available to the public. That’s why the GeoInfo Map developed by the Lands Department is so encouraging, as it is open for public use and contains over 180 kinds of spatial data provided by 26 government departments. The Planning Department has also launched a Statutory Planning Portal, which allows citizens to search for planning and zoning information. It has recorded over 16 million page views in a single month.

In fact, the government has offered over 6,000 data sets in 18 categories through the data.gov.hk website since March last year. The local technology sector, however, has criticised the government for providing most of the public information in Excel, CSV or PDF format instead of the API format which can be directly used in program or app development. This forms an obstacle for public use. Furthermore, the information is not updated as frequently as it could be. To achieve genuinely open data, the government needs to improve these areas.

A recent advisory paper by the Smart City Consortium suggests that all government services should be “digital by default”, with open data and availability of APIs as the basic standard. To achieve these goals, the government should take the lead in the development of spatial data infrastructure – by collaborating with various departments and the private sector. A high-level government body is therefore required to coordinate the major tasks, including the standardisation of data and setting up a framework to develop guidelines.

In addition, the government should review the relevant regulations for the development of technology and data usage, particularly on the protection of privacy and personal information. This would ensure flexibility to accommodate technological changes and help to overcome potential risks.

A holistic approach would encourage more public engagement, which is essential in building a smart city. After all, such development should be led by citizens, not technology or the government.

Dr Winnie Tang is chairman of the Smart City Consortium Steering Committee