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UNEP lauds 'greening' of Olympics by China
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The Chinese government has made significant steps in "greening" the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, the UN Environment Program (UNEP) said in a study published on Thursday.

The UN environmental agency said the hosting of the games is also proving to be a catalyst for accelerating environmental improvements across the city as Beijing strives to balance rapid, often double-digit economic growth with health and environmental protection.

The report says environmental measures are being introduced covering waste management, cleaner transport systems and water treatment, as well as new urban green belts including a 580-hectare Olympic Forest Park.

"The initial score card on the Beijing Olympics and Paralympics 2008 is positive in terms of the greening of the games," UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said.

"The more than US$12 billion spent by the Municipal Government and Government of China appears to have been well spent and will be even more well spent if the lessons learnt and measures adopted are picked up by municipalities across the country so as to leave a real and lasting nationwide legacy," said Steiner.

He commended the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG) for accelerating the phase-out of ozone depleting chemicals and for the provision of energy efficiency and green energy appliances at buildings and sports venues.

"An interesting innovation is the widespread use in the venues of ground, water or air source heat pumps systems to provide buildings with heat in winter and air conditioning in summertime," the report says.

It notes that solar power is also being extensively deployed at stadia and at the Olympic village and the organizers have well-developed plans to re-use and recycle venues after the games close.

But while the report acknowledges the significant investment and achievements of the organizers of the 2008 Olympic Games, it also highlights some remaining concerns and missed opportunities that there may still be time to rectify.

Some of these are specific to the games themselves, while others are linked to challenges facing the city of Beijing generally as it attempts to reduce pollution and steer its development onto a more sustainable path.

The report says the Beijing and Chinese authorities have relocated and refitted major polluting industries and there has been a switch away from coal-fired energy generation towards less polluting fuels like natural gas.

Older buses, taxis and cars, the report says, have been scrapped in favor of ones powered by compressed natural gas or new vehicles and fuels that meet tougher, internationally recognized emissions standards such as the Euro III standard.

Between 2000 and 2006, concentrations of several key air pollutants including sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide have as a result fallen.

But with more than 1,000 new cars being registered daily and with coal remaining a key energy fuel, some key pollutants remain stubbornly high.

"The city's geographical location exacerbates the problem. The mountain ranges that surround Beijing block air circulation and prevent the dispersion of pollutants. Compounding the problem is the high number of dust storms. In the spring of 2006 the city endured 18 dust storms," says the UNEP assessment report.

Beijing is also expanding surface and underground rail lines with four completed and four more, including the Olympic Line, currently under construction.

The UNEP report urges the local authorities to adopt measures and incentives to bridge the gap in order to improve air quality and other environmental measures.

Steiner said the report was a balanced assessment recognizing the achievements but also highlighting how more could be done to, for example, harness the city's new and existing public transport infrastructure.

The study also flags up concerns over voluntary environmental arrangements between contractors, hotels, caterers and providers of transport and the organizing committee.

"Vigilance will need to be the watchword to ensure last minute corners are not cut in the area of environment in order to meet deadlines. Meanwhile, the question of offsetting greenhouse gas emissions within China also remains an open question," said Steiner.

"However, Beijing has already achieved a great deal, an achievement even more resounding when one reflects on the enormous challenges facing one of the world's most rapidly growing developing economies and its principal cities, " he said.

(Xinhua News Agency October 26, 2007)

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