Third Runway for airport to harm environment while benefits uncertain

Plans for a third runway for Hong Kong International Airport are proving controversial. Environmental harm is certain, so too massive expenditure. Benefits are by no means so certain, particularly as there appear to be constraints on air traffic growth, including crowded airspace over the Pearl River Delta, and limits to overall growth of global air traffic that may arise as oil extraction proves tougher and prices rise (with Peak Oil here or soon).

From a joint statement by green groups including including the Conservancy Association, Green Peace, Green Sense, Friends of the Earth (HK), Clean Air Network, Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society (HKDCS) and Greeners Action:

We are disappointed with AAHK's lack of neutrality during its public consultation. A large amount of resources were used to promote the need for the third runway. We find it unacceptable that the AAHK deliberately trivializes the impact of the third runway on Chinese White Dolphins by altering the distribution map of Chinese White Dolphins published by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department without authorization.

A large part of the Hong Kong ocean would be permanently gone if the proposal were carried out, since the three-runway system would require about 650 hectares of land reclamation. Dolphin expert, Dr. Samuel Hung, pointed out that the proposed third runway is located at the intersection of three core areas visited by dolphins which is very important to them. The proposed adoption of environmentally-friendly reclamation methods is not going to help much when such great damage is done to the marine ecology.

The aviation industry is a polluting industry which emits large amounts of carbon dioxide and air pollutants as part of its operation. The industry accounts for around 4% of Hong Kong's total carbon emissions. For carbon dioxide that is emitted at high altitudes, the resultant greenhouse effect caused is much greater than that emitted at ground level. However, AAHK spared no paragraphs on explaining the projected increase in carbon emissions in the consultation documents.....

Green Groups Joint Statement
Urging Airport Authority Hong Kong (AAHK) to acknowledge the environmental impact of the third runway project

WWF Hong Kong has concerns focusing on impacts on the Chinese white dolphin, fisheries, and carbon emissions:

 

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Martin Williams's picture

From S China Morning Post Laisee column today, indicating that while it boasts of being "green", Airport Authority is hardly so in practice:

We wrote yesterday about the motion that was passed by Legco's environmental affairs panel recently asking the Hong Kong Airport Authority to undertake a Social Return on Investment (SROI) study, a carbon audit and a strategic impact assessment on the proposed third runway. Legco motions of this kind are not legally binding so we asked the authority what arrangements it was making for these studies, and how long it expected them to take. We received the following snotty reply: "The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is adopted by most developed countries as a statutory requirement, including [the] US, the UK, Canada, Germany and Australia. However, there is no widely recognised methodology for conducting social costs assessments. The Airport Authority (AA) will ensure full compliance with the prevailing statutory EIA requirements, which are of international standard. In developing … a three-runway system, the AA will study and handle environmental issues in a highly prudent manner as always, and will explore every possible way to avoid and mitigate any environmental impact that might arise, including marine ecology, noise and air quality." From this it doesn't look as if the authority has any intention of carrying out any of these studies. Not only does it have the temerity to wave two fingers at Lai See but it's also giving the same salute to Legco.
On its website the authority describes itself as "a responsible corporate citizen". The United Nations and the World Bank consider these studies best practice so you would have thought "a responsible corporate citizen", could come up with a better response than this. Yesterday, the authority held a ceremony in which it bragged about its pledge to make the Hong Kong International Airport "the world's greenest airport".
The Legco motion was supported by all the main parties, including Liberal party member Miriam Lau Kin-yee, who is also a member of the authority's board. When we told her that we didn't think the authority was planning to act on the motion she said she would inquire what it planned to do, adding that although she supported the third runway, "I think they ought to do more than what is just legally required. I understand that infrastructure of this massive nature needs to have the support and understanding of the wider community." If the airport authority is so convinced of its green credentials why won't it carry out an SROI study? Over to you, Stanley Hui Hon-chung.

Martin Williams's picture

SCM Post laisee again on the third runway case today:

Airport Authority's green credentials may never take off
Howard Winn  SCMP Lai See
Updated on Jun 02, 2012
Hong Kong's green groups are planning on sending a joint letter to the Airport Authority asking it to conduct a social return on investment study (SROI). The letter will note that at the Environmental Policy Forum organised by environmental groups ahead of the chief executive's election, Leung Chun-ying supported conducting social and environmental cost assessments for economic development and large infrastructure projects such as the third runway. It will also note that the Legco environmental affairs panel unanimously passed a motion on April 23 demanding an SROI, strategic impact assessment and carbon audit be conducted before the runway is built. The letter will invite the authority to respond, possibly, within two weeks. If it decides against the SROI, the green groups say they will boycott the focus groups that the authority wants to set up as part of its environmental impact assessment process. This would be a blow for the authority since in the press release that accompanied the publication of its project profile, it makes great play of involving green groups in the EIA process.
So far the authority has said nothing on the subject other than respond to a query from Lai See in which it said it would comply with the law. Since it is not legally required to conduct an SROI study, we took that as a no. The authority has backed itself into an awkward corner because while it is refusing to conduct an SROI, which is considered best practice by organisations such as the World Bank, a few weeks ago it pledged to make itself the "greenest airport in the world". Unless it treads carefully it will find itself undertaking the massive project without the support of the green organisations. This may not have mattered a few years ago, but the political climate has changed and the signs are that environmental issues will play a more important part in C.Y.'s thinking than they ever did under Donald Tsang Yam-kuen.

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SCM Post today:

Leung aide sees no need for third runway
City can't cope with more visitors disrupting our daily lives, says former Observatory chief
Cheung Chi-fai
 
A former Observatory director and adviser to the incoming chief executive has questioned the need for a third runway and the scope of the environmental impact study proposed for the huge project.
Lam Chiu-ying, who helped incoming chief executive Leung Chun- ying develop his environmental platform, said the HK$130 billion project was not sustainable.

The city simply did not have the capacity to deal with more visitors, he said.

"Does the airport need to grow indefinitely? Can it? I don't think it fits into our reality. The number of tourists visiting Hong Kong is approaching capacity. If we want to avoid our lives getting further disrupted, I don't see any incentive for us to expand the airport."

The extra runway is forecast to generate HK$900 billion in long-term economic benefits. But Lam believes it shouldn't be built because it will trigger a string of negative chain reactions in the daily lives of Hongkongers.

Lam also questioned whether the Airport Authority would weigh the environmental impact carefully enough. The project calls for the reclamation of 650 hectares of sea north of the two existing runways.

Lam fears the reclamation will lead to irreversible changes in the flow of water between Tuen Mun and Lantau, degrading the water quality.

Lam's comments, made on his personal blog, come just a few days before Monday's deadline for public comments on the profile of the runway project.
...
Friends of the Earth made its submission yesterday, demanding that the profile include studies of air pollutants including nitrogen dioxide and fine particulate matter.

The group also criticised the profile for omitting any mention of the potential health impacts of increased air, land and marine traffic on the more than 200,000 residents of Tung Chung new town.

The Clean Air Network shared those concerns. "Many important issues are not explored in depth in this profile, and that gives us a great deal of concern," campaign manager Erica Chan said.


I've just submitted a brief response to EIA, including:

The third runway is unnecessary, and will overall have a negative impact on Hong Kong.

It will be hugely expensive, will forever destroy a huge expanse of waters within the Pearl River Mouth – home to wildlife including the Chinese White Dolphin, which is already in trouble and could be severely affected by this massive project.

Air pollution impacts are likely to be severe; these need fuller consideration, including at regional level – including existing air pollution (bad at Tung Chung now anyway), plus the bridge to Macao and Zhuhai, highways etc associated with Hengqing Island and other development areas, incinerators in Shenzhen [and Hong Kong]

Also need fuller consideration of whether increased flights are possible – including given constraints on landing rights, future of air transport in near term with Peak Oil and concerns re carbon emissions.

Seen claims HK will build world’s greenest airport; but also the Airport Authority hasn’t a clue how to measure just how green the airport is. Some carbon reductions here and there don’t make for a green airport, especially if create such a monstrous addition.

Martin Williams's picture

Hong Kong Standard report includes:

The Airport Authority has suffered a setback over its plan to build a third runway, as the government demands it should provide more project information before an environmental assessment can be carried out.
The authority said it received the request from the director of Environmental Protection on Friday, and the additional information should cover ecology, noise, health and hazards.
...
12 green groups renewed their calls for a more detailed profile yesterday. They stressed that the profile is very important as it will determine how the environmental assessment should be carried out.
Clean Air Network's campaign manager Erica Chan Fong-ying said that the submitted profile does not mention three important pollution indicators that will be brought by the third runway construction - nitrogen oxide, fine suspended particulates and ozone.
"These have the biggest harm to human body," Chan said. "But they are completely not mentioned in the profile."
She pointed out these elements are essential because, for example, the pollution monitoring station in Tung Chung recorded the worst pollution of all the 14 stations in the city.
WWF's terrestrial conservation manager Alan Leung Sze-lun said the authority makes use of outdated figures to assess the runway construction's impact on Hong Kong's rare pink dolphins.
Leung said although the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department issues the number of dolphins in Hong Kong every year, the authority makes use of 2007 and 2008 figures in its profile.
"The number of dolphins was still quite stable in 2007 and 2008, but the number has dropped a lot last year," Leung said.

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S China Morning Post's Lai See column today:

Greens dig in over third runway
Hong Kong's green groups are playing hardball with the Airport Authority Hong Kong over efforts to get them to attend a Green NGO roundtable meeting with the AAHK to discuss environmental aspects of the proposed third runway. The airport authority, which is endeavouring to become the world's greenest airport, is desperate to get the green groups onside.
However, a meeting scheduled for Tuesday has had to be postponed until next month following concerns expressed by eight green groups in a letter to the AAHK.
Their letter points to a "divergence of opinion" with deputy director Kevin Poole and others over what components should be included in a proposed social return on investment (SROI) study. The signatories have included the elements they want to see included and say: "We feel that it is essential to have your agreement on these fundamentals ahead of the roundtable meeting to ensure that we are all on the same page regarding the fundamental scope of such a study..."
The AAHK was initially opposed to such a study and even when the Legco environmental affairs panel called for it to be conducted together with a carbon audit, it maintained a deafening silence. However, since the green groups have dug their heels in on this, and the AAHK wants them onside to sustain its green credentials, it is reluctantly getting dragged into agreeing to do one.
An SROI conducted for the third runway at London's Heathrow airport concluded that Britain would be £5 billion (HK$62.6 billion) worse off if it was built, and contributed to the decision not to proceed with it.

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More from SCM Post:

Green groups spar with AAHK
The sparring between the green groups and the Airport Authority over a study to consider the social return on investment (SROI) of the third runway rumbles on. The green groups and the legislative council want the authority to carry out this study. The authority, which talks of wanting to become the greenest airport in the world, is prevaricating by saying that it, too, wants to study the social and environmental impact of the runway, but says it has yet to find the best method. It has so far ignored the SROI that was conducted for a third runway at London's Heathrow airport which contributed to the shelving of the project. This is not the outcome the authority is seeking. The green groups intend to hold their own meeting to discuss the carbon emission audit and the SROI, and to invite the authority to attend.

- seems to me the Airport Authority cannot really come up with environmentally sound plan for third runway, other than scrapping it(!)

Martin Williams's picture

The plot thickens... In today's Lai See:

Does new position turn the poacher into a gamekeeper?
Howard Winn  
A few eyebrows have been raised at Mike Kilburn's decision to change jobs. It's not so much because he is leaving the think tank Civic Exchange, where he was head of environmental strategy for four years, but because he has joined the Airport Authority. There have been murmurings about this being a case of "poacher turned gamekeeper".
In his work for Civic Exchange, Kilburn says he always wrote from a perspective of neutrality, though elsewhere he has written some fairly trenchant articles. In CleanBiz Asia he wrote about the desire of green NGOs and the Legislative Council's environmental panel for a "social return on investment" study on the third runway.
Kilburn highlighted the authority's initial position, which was to do the legal minimum and carry out an environmental impact assessment. He described the authority's stance as "out of touch". People have observed that in offering him a job as senior manager environment, the authority has "taken out" a potentially influential critic.
But Kilburn assured Lai See that this was not the case. The position he applied for was established, he said, to help the airport to become the world's greenest and to manage the sustainability reporting process. He says he won't be working on the third runway project or be involved in the environmental impact assessment. He also says that after years of writing reports on what needed to be done, his new job is a chance to try to implement some of these ideas.
He believes the authority has a platform to do certain things that will have a positive effect on the city's environment. "The fact that it has set itself the challenge of becoming the world's greenest airport creates a driver for change which I am eager to make the best of," he said.
There were similarities between doing policy research and sustainability reporting in that each involved trying to change prevailing mindsets, he added. "The corporate world in general has a great part to play in improving the overall sustainability in Hong Kong. I certainly do not think that the green groups are the only place … where you can try to be influential." He sees it as a different platform to work on the same issue.

"senior manager environment ... won't be working on the third runway project or be involved in the environmental impact assessment"    !!!!

Martin Williams's picture

Letter in today's S China Morning Post:

I read with amusement the report ("International pilots back plan for third runway at Hong Kong Airport", December 3).

Why do you find this interesting or newsworthy? Of course they would, wouldn't they? International Formula 1 drivers would no doubt back a plan to turn the whole SAR into a racetrack, but that is no reason to do so, and no reason for the taxpayers to pay for it.

Far more to the point was the letter by Clive Noffke ("Shipping statistics sound a warning on airport runway three", November 30). This shows that the Hong Kong government's standard methodology of forecasting by simple extrapolation is fatally flawed - it was proved wrong with the proposed container terminal 10, and with the 2004 super prison. Falling container shipping numbers, taken with Cathay Pacific's falling cargo numbers, show that the fundamental drift of exporters away from the Pearl River Delta is accelerating.

Add in the fact that passenger numbers are unlikely to increase, as more mainland airports open up direct flights to the rest of the world, and the case for a third runway starts to look very shaky.

But don't worry, it will only cost HK$130 billion, and the cost will be passed on to the taxpayers, so of course "international pilots" are clamouring for it. And of course, when cargo and passenger volumes fail to materialise, it can always be used as a go-kart track, and the officials who backed it will have retired, so they won't mind.

R.E.J. Bunker, Lantau