It was meant to showcase the crystal clear air sports fans and
athletes will enjoy during the Beijing Olympics.
But environment expert Yang Fuqiang fears the capital's air
quality didn't improve enough during the Games test period.
"Pollutants caused by car waste dropped between 15 to 20 percent
during the four-day car ban in August, but I am thinking about 50
to 60 percent decrease of pollutants for next year," said Yang, who
has lived in the capital for 14 years.
Yang spent seven years in the 1970s and 80s in the capital as an
energy researcher, and has lived here for another seven since 2000
as chief representative of the US-based Energy Foundation in
"We wouldn't like the first Olympic experience most of us have
to turn sour," he said. "We need stronger measures now, rather than
Beijing's fast-growing economy has partly come at the price of
its ecology. Old-fashioned factories and thousands of new cars give
citizens a hard time, leaving the skyline smoggy and regularly
blowing sandstorms into town during the spring.
Measures to combat pollution began in 1998 when the capital
realized the urgency of cleaning up the air, with the government
alone spending 120 billion yuan ($16 billion) in the intervening
years on environmental work.
During the week-long National Day holiday that ended on October
7, countless drivers headed out of the city for countryside breaks.
Statistics from Beijing's environmental bureau show air quality
during the holiday was three times better than usual.
But for Zhang Lian, a 46-year-old cab driver, the difference
"Seven days don't make a big difference," he said. "If we can
remove cars for a month or two, that would be quite something."
A more stringent plan shielding the Olympic city from major
pollution before and during the Games is under final revision at
the national and local environmental authorities, Beijing-based
Caijing magazine reported in its latest issue. If the second draft
gets the green light from the State Council, it will become the
most serious move by China to guarantee air quality so far.
According to a draft released, Beijing will bring down coal use
to 25 million tons a year from over 30 million, update
energy-consuming production techniques at major polluting
factories, and apply recycling procedures at over 1,000 gas
stations throughout the city before officially opening the Olympic
Village by the end of July 2008.
From July 24 to September 20, the city, which will have over 3.3
million vehicles on the road by then, plans to remove 70 percent of
government vehicles and half the private cars. Chemical, steel and
building materials plants will also suspend operations, while power
generating plants will be forced to reduce coal burning during the
58-day Games period.
There is also an unprecedented plan for regional governments in
neighboring industrial clusters such as Hebei and Shanxi provinces
to join in measures ahead of and during the Games.
"I think the rules can be understood and carried out," said
Yang. "After all, the purpose is for athletes to feel pleasant and
comfortable to compete.
"We don't want athletes to be angry about Beijing's air and
lower their expectations."
Beijing Yanshan Petrochemical Company, which provides about half
of the city's 5 million tons of gasoline each year, will become the
first and only provider of gasoline under the EURO IV standard from
next New Year's Day pending a government order.
If implemented, the move will cut 1,400 tons from the 180,000
tons of sulfur dioxide emissions which escape into the sky above
Beijing every year.
The company is also proposing to the municipal government to
install nitrogen dioxide control at their key production areas,
said Ma Chenghua, a senior manager.
"Certainly we support the government plans because the Olympics
is an exceptional event. However, although Beijing can stop steel
production, it can't do without a minimum of gasoline needed to
keep the city operating safely," he told China Daily.
It has been reported that power plants around the city are
concerned about the impact of a 58-day suspension. But in the long
term, another problem looms for the environment watchdog: catching
up with what many other cities consider the starting line.
"In our current air quality index, nitrogen dioxide density is
not considered a major factor and ozone air pollution is totally
excluded," said Yang. "In western cities, where these things are
measured, even unpleasant days are better than some of the best
weather we have here."
The environment expert said Beijing may need a little help from
the weather to keep the air flowing during the Games.
We are completely confident that Olympic athletes will be able
to take part in their competitions normally next August," Liu Qi,
Beijing Party chief and head of the Beijing Olympics Organizing
Committee told the Financial Times last month, citing the focus on
implementing environmental rules instead of short-term
"The main thing is to strengthen factories' management of gases
and reduce emissions," Liu said.
Yang said he agreed with Liu's plan to develop more
energy-saving technology and public transport.
"In the end, Beijing has a leading role to play and this is an
opportunity to show the country that the government cares about the
health of the general public as much as the health of international
athletes coming for the Games," he added.
(China Daily October 11, 2007)