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June 21st, 2008:

Restrictions Unveiled To Cut Smog For Games

Peter Simpson and Woods Lee in Beijing – Updated on Jun 21, 2008 – SCMP

Long-awaited traffic plans to unravel Beijing’s gridlocked roads and cut choking smog for the Olympics were revealed by transport and environment chiefs yesterday.

As predicted, the capital’s 3.3 million car owners will be subjected to odd-even traffic restrictions for two months from July 20 to help ease congestion and reduce pollution during the Olympics and Paralympics.

“From July 20 to September 20, if the last number of your registration is odd, you can only drive on odd dates,” Zhou Zhengyu, deputy director of the Beijing Municipal Committee of Communications, said.

Public servants will lead by example with 70 per cent of government cars among the affected vehicles.

Mr Zhou predicted that 45 per cent of the city’s estimated 3.29 million cars would be off the road during the 62-day period, reducing emissions by 63 per cent, with the worst 300,000 polluting vehicles heavily targeted through a yellow tag scheme that starts on July 1, which bans them from daytime streets.

By way of compensation for the inconvenience, drivers will be exempted during the period from road and vehicle taxes, which will cost the city’s coffers about 1.3 billion yuan (HK$1.47 billion).

People violating the ban by either ignoring it or seeking to use false number plates would be punished “according to relevant national and local regulations” and would lose the compensation, he said.

Security, emergency services, buses, taxis, sanitation vehicles, Olympics officials’ and diplomatic cars will be exempt.

Special Olympics lanes and public transport running with greater frequency are among other measures to be adopted for the August Games and the September 6-17 Paralympics.

“Smooth traffic and good air quality are important factors in hosting a successful Olympic Games and also in fulfilling Beijing’s promises to the International Olympic Committee.”

During the events, about 4 million passengers a day are expected to squeeze on to the public transport network, which will be boosted by three new subway lines.

Pollution has long been the main bugbear worrying the country as the Games approach. Many international athletes and environmentalists have loudly voiced their concerns in recent months.

The ultimate loss of face would arise if the International Olympic Committee was forced to order a rescheduling of endurance events to prevent damage to athletes’ health – a move it has repeatedly said it would not hesitate to take.

A test traffic ban was implemented in August. To most residents, the improvement in the air quality was not immediate. However, the authorities declared themselves satisfied.

Previously announced factory closures and operating-time reductions, plus the halting of construction projects come into effect on July 20.

As a thick level of pollution made worse by high humidity blanketed the city for a second day in a row yesterday – or slight pollution according to the government – Du Shaozhong , deputy chief of the city’s environmental protection bureau, claimed that what was visible to the eye did not necessarily pose a threat to health.

“Perception is often different from the scientific monitoring statistics. We base our findings on data.”

Residents appeared prepared for the two-month-long inconvenience and said they understood the reasons for it, a recent study suggested.

A CTR Market Research telephone poll of 2,000 revealed 93 per cent understood why the traffic restrictions had been put into place and suggested most were willing to take public transport with only 16.7 per cent saying they would use private cars during the Games.

As many as 88 per cent thought hosting the Games would improve the environment of the city – a big vote of confidence and expectation of the legacies promised by hosting the 2008 Olympics.

A private car owner who has driven on Beijing roads for a decade said: “I strongly propose continuing the new policy after the Olympics. Each of us will get used to days without cars, and it’s just an issue of habit.”

Watch the Video To see the press conference on the traffic management plans, visit

Banqueter Zhou Turns Lean Green

Clara Mak – Updated on Jun 21, 2008 – SCMP

Actress Zhou Xun, who starred in Banquet, has become an eco-activist and is urging others to join her in fighting climate change.

“If only everyone on the planet were to contribute a little, the world would become a much better place to live,” she said. “Every day we see the sun, we hear birds humming, we feel the natural breeze. These are the things that are given to us by the Earth but unfortunately, our Earth is really sick now.”

Zhou said she had long been aware of the issue of climate change, having witnessed the series of sandstorms – caused by pollution – that hit the mainland in recent years, but had not felt strongly enough to take action.

However, one night, about a year ago, while channel-flipping to see what was on, she discovered a film that was to be her wake-up call – the award-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth, made by former US vice-president Al Gore in 2006. Zhou said she was horrified to learn that the planet’s future is at stake.

“The film shows how global warming can result in serious problems such as natural disasters, disease epidemics, extinction of plants and animals and so on. It also warns that we only have another 50 years to act. Fifty years is a very short period of time, 30 years [of my life] have already gone by in a blink,” the 31-year-old actress said.

Since then, Zhou is committed to setting a good example to encourage others to live a simple lifestyle. She admits that in the past, she used to buy clothes that were very similar in style. Now she asks herself first: “Do I already have this dress? Yes. Do I have a lot of these dresses already? Yes. Do I still want to buy it? No. Then I walk away from the shop.”

She also takes her own chopsticks to a restaurant, uses her own mugs and carries her own toiletries when she checks into a hotel. But her landmark decision was to give up taking the baths that she adored.

“I met Jackie Chan during relief activity for victims of the Sichuan earthquake and he told me he had been carrying around with him the same bar of soap he had picked up from the first hotel he checked into and that it had travelled with him to at least five different countries. I was amazed.

“Now, when I hear or think of anything that can save the planet, I jot it down so I will remember it. I understand it’s very difficult to ask people to change certain habits overnight and I don’t oppose people taking baths but I will suggest that they fully utilise that bathtub of water, maybe to flush the toilet or to clean other things.”

Zhou has encouraged her film crew to ban the use of disposable chopsticks and rice boxes. “Every crew consists of at least 30 people and we have three meals a day on set. If each person uses three pairs of disposable chopsticks, that adds up to 90 pairs in total each day. A film project usually takes at least two months to complete. I am not good at maths but I understand that 90 pairs times 60 days is a very large number.”

In April, Zhou was appointed a national goodwill ambassador for the UN Development Programme to promote environmental sustainability. Other ambassadors include footballer Ronaldo, tennis star Maria Sharapova and Japanese actress Misako Kono.

Zhou receives the princely sum of US$1 a year from the UN but money is the least of her concerns. “If we can make the Earth a better place to live, that’s priceless,” she said.

Watch the Video To watch highlights of actress Zhou Xun talking about her concern for green issues, visit