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March 12th, 2008:

More Promises Of Cleaner Air For Beijing

Reuters in Beijing – Updated on Mar 12, 2008

Authorities reiterated their promise of clean air for this year’s Beijing Olympics again on Wednesday, two days after marathon record holder Haile Gebrselassie said he would not compete in the race because of fears about pollution.

Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said air in Beijing, notoriously polluted by construction dust, car fumes and industrial and power emissions, would only improve.

“The air quality will only get better and better in Beijing,” Mr Yang told a news conference. “I believe athletes will have more chance to break records in Beijing if they cannot do it in other places.”

Zhang Lijun, deputy chief of the State Environmental Protection Administration, said on Tuesday he had full confidence in anti-pollution plans drawn up for the capital and five surrounding provinces.

Ethiopia’s Gebrselassie, an asthmatic who holds the world record for the 42km distance, withdrew from the Beijing Games marathon on Monday because of fears for his health.

He was the latest in a long line of athletes and officials who have expressed concern about air conditions in the city.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge said last year that events such as the marathons and distance cycling could be rescheduled if conditions were too bad.

Capital Leans On Its Neighbours To Help Clear Olympic Air

Martin Zhou – Updated on Mar 12, 2008 – SCMP

Beijing’s neighbouring provinces have been fully mobilised to help ensure visiting athletes and spectators will not have to hold their breath at the Olympics Games in August, central and provincial officials promised yesterday on the sidelines of the National People’s Congress.

Authorities in Shanxi, Hebei, Tianjin, Inner Mongolia and Shandong have vowed to roll back production in pollution-heavy industries and impose restrictions on traffic that will coincide with Beijing’s massive house-cleaning campaign. It is aimed at ridding the capital of its smoggy skyline – at least temporarily – throughout the August 8-24 Games.

Scientists said airborne pollutants from nearby areas were one of the main contributors to the foul air.

“Shanxi is fully committed to this cause,” said Zhang Baoshun , party boss of the coal-rich territory and deputy to the NPC.

To show his administration was not only talking the talk, Mr Zhang said that since Olympic air quality became part of his agenda last year, provincial authorities had closed 15 power plants with substandard air-quality checks and halted the operation of dozens of pollution-belching coking plants.

At the same time in another corner of the Great Hall of the People, Zhang Lijun , a deputy chief of the State Environmental Protection Agency, the country’s top environmental watchdog, confirmed Hebei and Tianjin would “either suspend or cut back production in some industrial sectors” to help Beijing clear its skies. The other three provinces would focus on reducing coal-related pollution.

But Zhang Lijun did not specify when the capital’s neighbours would have to put various emergency measures into effect.

Zhu Tong , a key member of a panel of scientists advising the Games organisers on tackling air quality problems, said the neighbours would take action “in unison with Beijing’s own schedule of temporary measures”.

Ji Lin , Beijing’s executive deputy mayor, last weekend said a partial car ban, intended to move up to half of the city’s 3 million cars off the streets, would begin in late July.

Beijing has also slashed industrial pollution under its own jurisdiction with a handful of large steel mills in coking plants in its suburbs due to come to a standstill in the summer.

But curtailing economic activity in the interests of the Olympics has not won universal support.

Last month, a former senior Shanxi provincial official demanded Games organisers compensate neighbouring provinces for the diversion of precious water resources to the city for the smooth running of the Olympics.

Uphill Battle To Reach Green Targets By 2010

Kristine Kwok in Beijing – Updated on Mar 12, 2008 – SCMP

China still faces an uphill battle in achieving its key environmental targets by 2010, because of an overheating economy and low motivation in the business sector, an official said in Beijing yesterday.

Critics have cast doubt on the government’s ability to reduce air pollution by 10 per cent and cut the amount of energy used per unit of gross domestic product by 20 per cent by the end of the 11th five-year economic plan. Their doubts stem from data that suggests air pollution declined just 3 per cent in the first two years of the five-year period.

Xie Zhenhua , a vice-chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission, said on the sidelines of the National People’s Congress that sulfur dioxide emissions and chemical oxygen demand (COD), a measure of water pollution, would still be higher than ideal levels even if the targets were achieved by 2010.

“To reduce the air pollution index by 7 per cent in the next three years is a daunting task. The situation is very severe,” Mr Xie said.

The targets were missed in 2006. But according to Premier Wen Jiabao’s work report to the NPC last week both pollution indicators dropped last year, with the energy used per unit of GDP down 3.27 per cent, sulfur dioxide emissions down 4.66 per cent and COD down 3.14 per cent.

Mr Xie said reliance on heavy industry and resistance from industry to adopting cleaner measures were major reasons for the slower-than-expected cleanup.

Mr Xie said an accountability mechanism would be put in place this year with investigations carried out to scrutinise the efforts of governments and some 1,000 big enterprises to reduce pollution.

Investigation results would be made public in May and June, while those for enterprises would be available later this month, he said.

The government also aimed to shut small coal-fired power plants producing a combined 1,300 MW of power, outdated cement production lines with an annual capacity of 50 million tonnes, steel firms pumping out 6 million tonnes a year and smelters producing 14 million tonnes of iron.

Clean-Air Pledge In Wake Of Gebrselassie Bombshell

Peter Simpson in Beijing – Updated on Mar 12, 2008 – SCMP

Games organiser Bocog and the mainland’s State Environmental Protection Administration formed a united front yesterday as they set about limiting the possible damage caused by the announcement by Ethiopian ace Haile Gebrselassie that he would not compete in the marathon because of Beijing’s air pollution.

Gebrselassie (pictured), the world record holder over the distance and also an asthmatic, said on Sunday he was not willing to risk his health in the capital for a marathon medal and there are fears in some quarters that his decision might cause other athletes to reconsider their participation in the August Games.

“Athletes should look again at the records we have that show the air in Beijing is getting cleaner and will be clean for the Olympics,” Bocog spokesman Sun Weide said. “They should check the facts again.”

He refused to be drawn on whether Bocog would seek to have the distance ace reconsider his decision, saying: “We welcome all athletes to the Games and remind them we have taken great measures and spent 120 billion yuan clearing up the air. Our efforts are paying off.”

His confidence was backed by State Environmental Protection Administration vice-minister Zhang Lijun, who took time out from the National People’s Congress to respond to the latest development threatening to cloud the momentous Olympic effort.

Pollution-cutting measures in Beijing and surrounding areas were being intensified to make sure the air met required standards, said Zhang. “After we have implemented all the measures, there is no problem for Beijing to meet the standards,” he said. “We can deliver on our commitment.”

Gebrselassie’s agent said the star would still run in the 10,000m race, but would wait until the London Olympics in 2012 to run in the classic event. His ultimate aim is to run a marathon in two hours and three minutes. He set the benchmark last September at two hours, four minutes and 26 seconds.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has repeatedly expressed confidence in Bocog’s ability to clean the air for the Games but did not rule out intervening and rescheduling endurance events like the marathon. Concerned by fears among athletes, it recently asked for the latest data from Beijing which IOC analysts are now scrutinising.

“We expect to make known our findings within the next week,” said IOC spokeswoman Emmanuelle Moreau.

The world’s top athletics body, the International Athletics Association Federation (IAAF), played down concerns one of the most popular Olympic events would be diminished by Gebrselassie’s absence.

“I am sure Haile has withdrawn because of his fears that the pollution will affect his asthma. But the statistics show that most top marathon runners avoid hot and humid races if they can. Beijing will be hot and humid,” said IAAF spokesman Chris Turner.

“However, if the runner pulls out of the 10,000m race, then Bocog have got a real problem with the pollution on their hands [because other athletes might pull out]. Training for the 10,000m is the same as training for the marathon, so we’ll have to wait and see what he does,” he added.

Incinerator Is Not The Answer

Updated on Mar 12, 2008 – SCMP

The Secretary for the Environment, Edward Yau Tang-wah has declared that a giant incinerator has to be built as the overflowing landfills are filling up (“HK waste crisis going Italy’s way”, March 8).

The waste-burning plant may be situated at Tap Shek Kok in Tuen Mun. Of course, nearby residents object to the plan, saying it will cause air pollution. They fear that burning refuse will lead to the release of toxic gas. They argue it will decrease visibility and contribute to global warming.

I do not think building this incinerator is the best way for us to deal with our solid waste. Hong Kong people produce about 3,000 tonnes of solid waste every day. It’s too much for this small place. The government should not build an incinerator but should instead reduce the amount of waste produced in a number of ways, including collecting a waste levy and promoting recycling.

Hong Kong citizens should work hard to protect our worsening environment and produce less waste.

Rita Leung, Sau Mau Ping

We Can All Help To Fight Pollution

Updated on Mar 12, 2008 – SCMP

Hong Kong is one of the most polluted places in the world. Exhaust fumes from vehicles pollute our air. I wonder if motorists think about this when they get in their cars. We should all feel guilty about the quantities of greenhouse gas we produce. Most motorists still do not drive a more environmentally friendly hybrid car.

They should appreciate that, when they drive, they are putting more pressure on the atmosphere. If more of us used public transport, we could help slow global warming.

Those of us who have balconies could also grow more plants, which is good for the environment, and we should all play our part in recycling. There are simple things we can do at home, such as writing on both sides of the paper. If you are already doing these things, you should encourage other people to follow suit. For the sake of future generations, we all need to work together to solve this rising problem with pollution.

We cannot rely solely on the government to introduce initiatives.

Jenora Vaswani, The Peak