His eyes opened for a second and closed again. Still in bed, Wo Niu reached out for the tiny alarm clock on the desk. He squinted at its round surface. The black short hand pointed at seven. It WAS time to get up! But how come it looked so dark outside?
Wo Niu dressed up and approached the window. He smelled a strong scent of mud and got some idea: the dust storm must have hit again. Still, Wo Niu was shocked when he went out of the building and saw the ground covered by a solid layer of yellow sand. And the cars parking around, of varied colors before, now all looked the same, just like scattered mounds of loess.
It was on the morning of April 16, 2006. The Beijing Meteorological Station later said the dust storm, the 8th for this year, was the worst in recent years. An estimated 336,000 tons of dust and sand had fallen on the city proper overnight.
Frustrated, people questioned the "intensified" environmental protection efforts reportedly made by the government in recent years. Some voiced worry that the scenario of a Green Olympics in 2008 might not materialize.
Addressing the public concerns, experts with the State Forestry Administration (SFA) said climate conditions varied from year to year. The dust storm did not necessarily indicate the environment was getting worse. Afforestation efforts had been fruitful. And historical records showed dust storm was not likely to occur in Beijing in August and September.
"The 2008 Green Olympics will not be affected by the dust storm," said Liu Tuo, director of SFA's Desertification Control Office.
In Moscow on July 13, 2001 Beijing was awarded by the IOC the right to host the 29th Summer Olympic Games. In its bid China pledged to stage a "green" event that will contribute to the protection of the environment. The task is formidable, but Beijing looks determined to live up to its words.
Returning from Moscow, officials in Beijing immediately reviewed the city development and environmental protection planning. They vowed to attain the city's environmental improvement goals -- previously set for the year 2010 -- three years ahead of schedule. The city was to conduct the giant project in line with the concept of sustainable development, through protecting the environment and resources, and maintaining the ecological balance, said a document prepared by the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad (BOCOG).
According to BOCOG, much progress has been made in the past few years and some of the "green goals" have already been achieved.
In 2005 Beijing spent a total of 17.9 billion RMB yuan (US$2.2 billion) on the environment. Relocation work commenced for the city's two major polluters, the Capital Iron & Steel Group and the Chemical Industry Area in the southeastern suburbs.
By the end of 2005, all 20-ton furnaces and those of smaller sizes in the urban areas were made to use clean fuels. And larger furnaces were required to employ pollution treatment facilities to meet the emission standards.
Meanwhile, the city imposed the stage-3 National Emission Standards on motor vehicles. Automobiles meeting the new standards, which are compatible with the Euro-3 Emission Standards, generate 50 percent less emission than vehicles conforming to the stage-2 standards.
Thanks to sustained and effective afforestation efforts, Beijing's forest coverage reached 50.5 percent and urban green land coverage also climbed to 42.5 percent.
Last year Beijing had 234 days that reported good air quality, measured by the grade-2 national norm, five days more than in 2004.
Improvement of the environment was also seen in the rise of sewage treatment rate from 2 percent in 1990 to the present 70 percent in urban areas, and from 30 percent in 2004 to the present 40 percent in rural areas. And the safe treatment rate of domestic wastes reached 94 percent in the eight urban districts and 40 percent in the suburbs.
Beijing needs to construct 12 new sports facilities for the Olympic Games. In order to engage the "green concept" and minimize the negative impact of the event on the environment, BOCOG has worked out a number of guidelines for the design and construction of the new venues.
"The green standards stated in the guidelines are stricter in general than the existing national standards," BOCOG Venue Planning and Environment Department Executive Director Yu Xiaoxuan said.
Many new constructions or renovations relating to the Games have adopted "green technologies" or highlighted a thrifty use of resources. A total of 100,000 square meters of ETFE (ethylene-tetra-fluoro-ethylene) foils would be pasted on the exterior of the walls and roof of the National Aquatics Center, dubbed the "Water Cube". The structure is expected to help save half of the energy for lighting during the day, experts said.
A centralized AC system to be installed in the Wukesong Indoor Stadium would economize energy consumption by cooling according to the actual needs. Solar energy would be used to power air conditioning on the baseball ground and also for lighting in other parts of the Stadium. And an optical fiber lighting system would transmit the daylight to the underground parking area.
Buried underneath the National Indoor Stadium were 8,000 tons of waste steel scraps supplied by the Capital Iron & Steel Group. The heavy material served the float-combating purpose well and the utilization solved the problem of proper disposal.
In the Olympic Village, another 3,000 tons of steel scraps were used to construct the roadbed. Manhole covers made of cement glassfiber composite materials were used in the Village to replace traditional ones made of cast iron, to save the non-renewable iron resources. And solar energy was exploited to supply hot water for construction workers and also for lighting on the construction sites and in the offices.
The development of subway and light rail transport has quickened in Beijing not only for speedy traffic, but also for the reduction of car-related pollution.
At present construction is underway for subway lines No. 4, 5 and 10, as well as two special lines connecting the airport and the "Olympic Green", the official name for the Olympic park. Their combined mileage reached 115 kilometers.
By 2008 Beijing would have 202 kilometers of subway in operation, hopefully carrying 10 percent of the city traffic.
Apart from implementing strict emission standards, Beijing plans to make 90 percent of its public transport vehicles and 70 percent of local taxis adopt clean energies by the end of 2007.
Regarding the 4,000-plus vehicles to be recruited by the Games for dedicated use, BOCOG said they were expected to give zero or little emission, with the help of hybrid or fuel cell technologies.
BOCOG released the Green Olympics logo on September 24, 2005. Five days later, its Environmental Management System passed ISO auditing and certification.
In 2005 the "Green Olympics, Green Action" Promotion Team delivered more than 180 lectures in 15 districts and counties across Beijing. The audience exceeded 70,000 in number.
Green-Olympics-themed contests involving paintings by children and DV shootings by college students became popular events among the local residents. Some of the works even impressed the IOC officials.
Pal Schmitt, chairman of IOC's Sport and Environment Commission, was quoted as saying that Beijing will be able to achieve its goals for "Green Olympics."
BOCOG signed a memorandum of understanding with the United Nations Environment Program on November 18, 2005. The two sides agreed to effectively cooperate in the gathering and sharing of environmental information, and promotion and education of environmental protection.
All the green efforts are intended to bring about a successful Olympic Games, through which the Chinese hope to showcase their wisdom, culture and technological development.
However, "the Green Olympics is not the end of a story, but just the beginning," BOCOG's Yu Xiaoxuan said. "The effects would be lasting and leave a precious legacy of environmental protection to China and the world."
There is still much work to do. Before 2008, Beijing needs to construct a second natural gas pipeline, and further lift its green land coverage to 48 percent, sewage treatment rate to over 90 percent, and use-of-recycled-water rate to 50 percent.
To BOCOG, the Green Olympics is getting closer every day. Included in its list of future work are the Olympic torch relays, and the Game's opening and closing ceremonies.
"The arrangements will make sure that these events are not going to cause damage to the natural habitats for animals, to areas for water conservation, and to protected cultural heritage sites such as the Great Wall," Yu Xiaoxuan said.
All venue construction will be completed around the end of 2007, to be followed by decorations. BOCOG would make efforts to secure that the materials used for decoration are also "green", and the job is done with quality, Yu said.
An air quality security program is being developed by the city government. During the Olympic Games, Beijing will restrict the use of motor vehicles and stop all construction work. The neighboring areas of the capital city will be invited to "take coordinated action" to reduce discharge of pollutants and improve waste disposal.
"The greatest difficulty for BOCOG is the lack of experience," Yu Xiaoxuan said, "foreign successes may not readily be copied. We need to learn first, and then bring our own innovative thinking into play. We must be successful, otherwise we cannot face the people who have entrusted this important mission to us."
On October 28, 2005, a sub-station was set up in the Olympic Green to monitor the air quality. When the Games take place in less than two years, experts say, the environment would definitely be better, not only because August in Beijing is typically rainy, damp and free of strong winds, but also the "green efforts" will certainly pay off by that time.
(China Features, Xinhua News Agency October 4, 2006)