Houston Community News >> Clean Air for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing

10/12/2007 (AP)-- Beijing's air will be clean during the Beijing 2008 Olympics thanks to rules that will keep automobiles off the road during the games and the relocation of factories that cause smog, a top Chinese environmental researcher said Friday.

"Currently, the environmental condition is not too bad,'' said Xia Guang, director general of a research center in China's State Environmental Protection Administration, during a translated speech at Brown University. "I'm sure the city will be ready for the Olympics by August.''

He acknowledged that Beijing still needs to work to control its smog problem ahead of the competition.

China has one of the world's fastest-growing economies, but is paying for it with severe pollution. Xia said that since China began industrializing, national policies have encouraged financial growth over environmental conservation.

Xia said more than half of China's cities are permanently overcast and many of its waterways are polluted.

"This type of change has very serious consequences in the long run,'' Xia said.

China's central government is trying to force local officials to balance economic growth against the need to preserve natural resources.

In the past, local leaders were promoted based largely on whether they met financial targets, Xia said. Now, they are evaluated on a broader mix of factors, including whether environmental laws are enforced in areas they control, the quality of health care and the effectiveness of the welfare system.

Xia said China's environmental agency is also opening new branches across the country to broaden its influence.

"It is unfair to put all these pressures on the local government,'' he said.

Speaking on the same day former U.S. Vice President Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize for his campaign about climate change, Xia said he couldn't answer questions about whether China would support restricting emissions of greenhouse gases.

While answering an audience question, Xia said China would cooperate with neighbors like Japan to address regional and global environmental problems, but he did not offer specifics.

China signed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which caps carbon dioxide emissions in industrialized countries. But China is exempt from reductions because it's considered a developing country, a situation often cited by the U.S. and Australia for rejecting the treaty.

Xia said that while stricter environmental standards can raise production costs, they can also help business. For example, forcing Chinese automobile manufacturers to build cleaner exhaust systems will raise costs, but also permit those vehicles to be sold abroad. 

(Contributed by AP)