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Beijing goes for the Olympic green. (Built Environment).

When Beijing was awarded the 2008 Summer Olympics, critics wondered if Chinas capital city would be environmentally ready for the big event. But reports indicate that the municipal government and the organizing committee for the 2008 gaines are moving aggressively to address the environmental problems that plague Beijing.

"Beijing is like a lot of big cities that are developing rapidly," says James Longhurst, director of the Centre for Research in Environmental Systems, Pollution, and Remediation at the University of the West of England, who recently spoke at the International Environmental Protection Congress in Beijing on air quality management. "It faces serious environmental risk so long as environmental and enforcement practices don't keep pace with the rate of change."

Coal burning and automobile and industrial emissions, for instance, are so unregulated that the air pollution sometimes makes it difficult for residents to see more than a few hundred yards. For years industries and homes dumped untreated waste directly into the city's rivers, and today the city has limited dean water resources and the capacity to treat less than one-quarter of its sewage, according to Beijing's vice mayor Yue Fuhong.

But the games bring new hope to beleaguered Beijing. By 2007 the city will have spent US$ 12.2 billion on improving its environment. "China is confident it can showcase an environmentally healthy Beijing to the world by the time the Olympic Games begin," says Rick Hirsekorn, vice president for the Denver, Colorado, environmental consulting company CH2M HILL, which advised the Beijing organizing committee.

The Beijing Action Plan for the 2008 Olympic Games, made public last April, reveals many improvements China expects to make by 2007. For example, 14 new water treatment plants will be built in Beijing. Pipelines will be extended to import natural gas from other provinces, and about 90% of buses and 70% of taxis will be retrofitted or purchased new to use natural gas. Some 83% of Beijing's energy will come from natural gas, and coal will be used only in a few large power plant boilers. Thousands of hectares of green belts will line the major rivers, roads, and city borders.

"China is an authoritarian government that operates via central planning," says Pamela Gordon, author of Lean and Green: Profit for Your Workplace and the Environment and president of Technology Forecasters, an Alameda, California-based company that consults to the global electronics industry. "That means the country's leadership can make tough bigticket decisions and implement them quickly."

Experts hope the environmental consciousness sparked by the Olympics will rub off on the rest of China. "Hosting the games will be very beneficial for China environmentally," Hirsekorn says. "It should serve as a catalyst for environmental improvement and help to promote sustainable development."
COPYRIGHT 2002 National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
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Author:Chepesiuk, Ron
Publication:Environmental Health Perspectives
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Sep 1, 2002
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