Houston Community News >> Olympic Visitors to Breathe China's Green Dream

8/2/2007-- China has some of the world's most serious environmental issues but is committed to prioritizing economic development for its 1.3 billion people. Problems include water pollution, algae, chemical-spills and surging greenhouse gas emissions from coal burning and exponential growth in the number of vehicles on its roads.

All of this big, bad industrial China will be hidden from view during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, as the government prepares to showcase the Chinese and foreign environmental high-technology that may have an impact in the country in the decades to come.

Beijing has little heavy industry and its main steel plant will stop production before the games. The city has ceased much of its coal burning in the last 10 years but its biggest problem remains its chronic air pollution, now stoked by construction dust and a growing number of vehicles.

The city government aims to remove temporarily about one million of the estimated three million vehicles registered in Beijing during this month's one-year countdown to the start of the Olympics, in a trial run for next year.

'According to the preliminary estimates, combined with other cities' experience during an Olympics, we need to cut 20-30 percent of the traffic load at that time so that we can guarantee the normal operation of Olympic traffic,' Liu Xiaoming, deputy director of the Beijing Traffic Committee, said in April.

That would mean reducing the number of vehicles on the city's roads by about 1 million to 1.2 million, Liu told reporters.

Liu said the city government would set limits for the usage of government vehicles and vehicles with high emissions during the games, and encourage private car owners to reduce time on the road to achieve the cut of up to 30 percent.

'From the measures we are studying now, we could completely achieve such an objective,' he said.

Traffic congestion and air pollution are two of the main concerns highlighted during visits to Beijing by the International Olympic Committee.

IOC coordination commission chairman Hein Verbruggen said in April that air pollution remained a challenge for Beijing, but he echoed Liu's optimism that the city's 12.3-billion-dollar budget for environmental work before the games would pay dividends.

'No one can deny that the backdrop of such a rapidly developing economy has brought challenges which may need contingency plans so that top level athletic competition is not adversely affected,' Verbruggen said during an inspection tour of Beijing.

'We are encouraged, therefore, to see the appropriate plans being drawn up to tackle this,' he said, adding that both traffic controls and suspension of construction projects were among the measures under consideration for next year.

Verbruggen said earlier that the IOC would 'make absolutely sure that there will be no problems for the athletes' from poor air quality.

A recent study by US and Chinese scientists supported his view that Beijing's efforts would work, estimating that traffic reduction measures used during a China-Africa forum in Beijing last November had produced to a 40-percent decrease in the nitrogen oxides that are formed during combustion in vehicle engines.

'I don't think a proper analysis has ever been made before of such a remarkable shift of environmental policy in such a short period of time,' Harvard University researcher Michael McElroy said in a statement by the team, who used data from the Dutch-Finnish Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) to assess the drop in emissions.

Last year's measures by the Beijing government included restrictions on public vehicles trucks and taxis; use of dedicated lanes; early closure of schools; and promotion of public transport and cycling.

A fleet of 50 battery powered buses will carry athletes and officials around the Olympic Village next year, running a total distance of 10.4 kilometres in three loop lines.

Recycled water will be used for non-drinking supplies at the village, while sparkling new underground trains will serve the Olympic Green area.

The athletes' quarters and the main venues will be surrounded by green areas and bounded by a forest park, minimising the chances of airborne pollutants reaching the competitors' well-developed lungs

McElroy and the other Harvard scientists believe the temporary traffic measures will have a big effect on Beijing's air quality, though of course the city is likely to see a big rebound in pollution and congestion as soon as the Olympic spectators and athletes have left.

'I think the real value here is that these kinds of restrictions can really bring about significant change,' McElroy said.

Verbruggen said the IOC always expected air quality problems in Beijing but believed the Chinese government had the right formula to tackle them.

'It won't be the first time such measures have been used during Olympic Games - Los Angeles and Seoul are two examples where air quality measures were successfully adopted,' Verbruggen said.

'We knew from the bid phase that there was an environmental problem in the city (Beijing),' he said. 'We are pretty confident they will work it out.'

(Contributed by Tajisktan News.com)