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Neighbors to Help Tidy Up Beijing's Air
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Faced with the threat of substandard air quality, Beijing has set up a regional coordinating group to ensure blue skies during the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, the capital's environmental director told a news conference yesterday.


Municipalities and provinces around Beijing, such as Tianjin, Hebei and Shanxi, will take part in the group to help control trans-boundary air pollution, said Shi Hanmin, director of the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau.


"2007 is a year of decisive battle for the Olympic Games," Shi said.


Beijing has set a target of 245 days of blue skies this year, or about 67 percent, four more days than last year.


In addition, the capital has committed to ensuring that the amount of pollutants like sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, nitrogen monoxide and inhalable particles in the air will be within the national standard in August 2008, when the Games are due to be held.


"Except for inhalable particles, Beijing's air is already within the national requirement," Shi said.


However, reducing the amount of inhalable particles in the air remains a difficult problem, which is why Beijing is seeking cooperation from its neighbors, Shi said.


Detailed plans about how the coordination will work are still in the pipeline.


Last year, the capital focused efforts to improve its air quality by relocating a coking plant from downtown, eliminating heavy exhaust-emitting automobiles, and replacing coal with natural gas as a major source of energy.


As a result, sulphur dioxide emissions fell by nearly 8 percent last year compared with 2005.


"But Beijing's air quality is still not within the requirements of the green Olympic Games," Shi said.


Automobile exhaust has become a major source of air pollution. There are about 300,000 automobiles that emit high levels of exhaust on Beijing's streets.


"The pollutants from one such car are equivalent to exhaust emissions from 14 cars of the EU III standard," Shi said.


The EU III standard is an emissions standard set in the European Union.


Shi said the capital would get more than 60,000 high-emission taxis off the streets and equip 10,000 buses to run on clean fuel before the Games.


"The battle to improve the city's air quality has hit a bottleneck," Shi said. "The capital has implemented almost all the measures it could possibly adopt."


Last year, Beijing spent 20 billion yuan (US$2.5 billion) on environmental protection. During the 11th Five-Year Plan period (2006-10), the capital will invest 72 billion yuan (US$9 billion) to improve its environment.


(China Daily January 25, 2007)

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