Beijing Olympics - Propelling Sustainability

Vancouver, Canada (GLOBE-Net) - Much has been said about China’s poor environmental record, however as the 2008 Olympics approach and with the world watching, China is making tremendous efforts to place sustainability at the forefront of its Olympic agenda.  The efforts being made to ‘green’ the Beijing Olympics may help move China forward on a more sustainable path for the future.

According to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the governing body of the Olympics, sustainability has been a key prerequisite for designing and constructing the Olympic Games’ events and facilities since 1991.

China is no exception.  Like every other Olympic venue in recent years, the Beijing Olympics have developed a comprehensive sustainability agenda.

Wan Gang, China’s Technology Minister, notes the City of Beijing has made great efforts to improve environment conditions over the past six years.

"The Green Olympics is one of the most important themes of the Beijing Games," Wan said. "The city has made great efforts, and succeeded in improving its environment, especially its air quality, to fulfill the environmental commitment it made when bidding for the Games." He stressed the city had also achieved a great deal in curbing water pollution, noise control and waste processing. "These efforts have laid good foundation for the ‘Green Olympics’ goal," he said.

Mr. Wang has also stated this summer’s Beijing Olympics will be carbon neutral thanks to a series of energy saving measures such as the use of solar power and a forestation programs, a senior official said on Thursday.  The event is expected to generate 1.18 million tonnes of carbon, in part because so many athletes and spectators were travelling long distances.

"The ’Green Olympics’ will take a series of measures, including technological ones, like planting of trees and controlling the use of vehicles, to reduce emissions by between 1 million and 1.29 million tonnes," Wan told a news conference.

During the Olympics half a million vehicles will be removed from the roads to calm traffic and reduce emissions particulate matter in the city.  The city has also begun cracking down on old, high emission vehicles and retiring them from use.

The Games’ organizers are also experimenting with new transport technology, including hybrid electric vehicles.

"In particular, over 500 new energy vehicles will be used, which will be the first time that central areas of the Olympics will be zero emission in the history of the Games," Wan said.

Solar, wind and geothermal power will be used on venues and other Olympic-related buildings which will be seeking LEED certification.

"We can basically ensure that emissions will be balanced," Wan added.

The Chinese government has also spent over $40 billion on revitalizing the city’s infrastructure, including a new terminal on the Beijing International Airport to help accommodate the surge of expected visitors.  Urban sewage treatment has doubled since 2001. Use of natural gas has jumped 38-fold as city officials have converted thousands of dirty coal-fired furnaces and boilers.

Factories have been shut down or relocated to the suburbs. Millions of trees have been planted.  Beijing now requires factories and power plants to burn cleaner, low-sulfur coal.

Beijing is also pushing for LEED certification for many of its new building developments but so far only one office tower qualifies under international and national energy efficiency standards as a green building.

A Good Start

China’s recent environmental efforts - in preparation for the Olympics - have been commendable particularly for a nation that in the past has made environmental protection secondary to economic growth and prosperity.

A United Nations report, Beijing 2008 Olympic Games: An Environmental Review confirms that Chinese authorities are making headway in their attempt to improve air quality.

So far China has spent $12 billion cleaning the city’s air for the Olympics.  In late February 2008, major pollutants in Beijing were reported to be down and air quality had improved for a ninth consecutive year.

Such improvements are reflected in the decrease in the annual mean concentration of all airborne pollutants: carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide levels and particulate matter. Carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide all now meet the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines for air quality.

The amount of sulphur dioxide in the capital’s air was down 60%, while carbon monoxide was cut 39% compared to 1998.  Similarly nitrogen dioxide was reduced to 10.8 per cent and particles were down 17.8 per cent, according to the latest statistics.

The number of days that met the "blue sky" standards had increased from 100 to 246 during the period and the figure is expected to rise to 256 through 2008.

Despite these positive first steps, China still has a long way to go in achieving sustainability.  The concentration of particulate matter in Beijing is still above WHO standards by as much as 200% and 16 other Chinese cities are ranked in the world’s top 20 most polluted.

Although there has been serious effort to reduce coal use, the city’s coal consumption peaked at 30 million tonnes last year.  The movement of coal-fired plants and factories out of the city has helped clean up the air, but it is only diverting the problem elsewhere.

Regardless, many believe that China’s Olympic efforts in Beijing will not go without reward and that it may open the doors to further environmental improvement.  A major focus of China’s current Five-Year Plan now involves the expansion of clean and renewable energy resources with particular emphasis clean coal technologies, wind and solar power,  biomass and large scale, high-efficiency, clean power generation.

"The more than $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 Executive General of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) Achim Steiner.

China has made enormous strides in strengthening its capacity to better manage the environmental consequences of its rapid economic growth notes Dr. John D. Wiebe, President and CEO of the GLOBE Foundation of Canada.

Speaking from Beijing on May 21, 2008, where he took part in the official opening of the Canada-British Columbia Pavilion that will run throughout the 2008 Olympic Games, Dr Wiebe stated: "The challenges facing China with respect to its environmental agenda are perhaps greater now than ever before in human history. Not only do they affect the well being of China’s huge and growing population, they have implications for the entire world. That is why it is so important that the rest of the world works closely with the Chinese government and with China’s rapidly expanding environmental business sector to provide the technologies and practical solutions needed to protect the natural and human environment of this vast country."

The opening of the Pavilion was the culmination of a trade mission led by BC Premier Gordon Campbell and included 120 Canadian clean technology, environmental, and urban design leaders.  It is expected that the BC-Canada Pavilion, which will connect Asian and Canadian businesses during the Olympics, will see 400,000 visitors from May through September.

"British Columbia has world-leading expertise in green technology and green design, and this mission will help us make valuable connections to two of Asia’s burgeoning economies who are looking for ways to become more sustainable and, like British Columbia, reduce their footprint on the planet," said Premier Campbell.

"What Beijing has learned from the games could have a lasting legacy throughout China. "We hope that it [the Olympics] will be a model for China," said Minister Wan.

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