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August 8th, 2008:

Rogge Calm About Threats Before Kickoff

Peter Simpson in Beijing – Updated on Aug 08, 2008 – SCMP

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said last night that he remained “extremely calm” as the rocky road to the 2008 Beijing Olympics neared its end.

With protesters threatening further disruption on the mainland, Dr Rogge said the Olympic movement could only “wait and see” what happened over the next 16 days of competition. “We are just staying extremely calm” about the threats, he said after the IOC’s three-day executive board meeting.

Dr Rogge again warned athletes who planned to express dissent inside Games venues to abide by the IOC’s tough laws on political, religious or commercial propaganda, and demonstrations. But he also said sports stars had a “right to be heard”.

Addressing the media for the final time before tonight’s opening ceremony at the National Stadium, he said China had done everything humanly possible to clear the smog that again shrouded the Olympic Green yesterday.

“Pollution levels are coming down. It is not yet perfect, but it is safe for the athletes,” Dr Rogge said of the one issue that has plagued the IOC and the host organisers since Beijing was awarded the 29th Olympiad seven years ago.

“What they have done is extraordinary,” he said, adding that the cleanup measures were “long-term”.

However, the argument over what is smog and what is fog is likely to rumble on.

The Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau described yesterday’s air as safe, with the PM10 level – that of the most prominent airborne pollutants – reading 96mg per cubic metre. This figure is in the category the bureau terms “moderate”.

It is inside the World Health Organisation’s interim safety level of 150 for developing countries. The recommended target is 50.

Like millions of sports fans in Beijing and the 10,500 athletes hoping to win medals, the Olympic movement and the Chinese people are eager for the welcome distraction that competition will bring.

“I believe that the spotlight put by the Olympic Games on China will help both the world to understand China better and maybe for China to understand the world better,” said Dr Rogge, a 65-year-old Belgian and former Olympian in sailing who will step down from his post in October next year. “I feel like the athlete who knows that he or she has done everything that was needed and what was possible before the competition.”

For more stories and pictures about the preparation for the Games visit

Firms Face Ecological Deadline

Around the Nation

Updated on Aug 08, 2008 – North/Northeast – SCMP

SHANXI – Provincial officials have given 201 companies until December 20 to phase out equipment and facilities that do not meet government pollution-reduction targets. Another 36 would be ordered to cease operations entirely, according to the Shanxi Wanbao.

Pollution Threatens To Overshadow Opening Ceremony

Shi Jiangtao in Beijing – SCMP – Updated on Aug 08, 2008

Pollution, one of the major concerns Beijing has had to contend with since it was awarded the Olympic Games seven years ago, threatens to overshadow tonight’s extravagant opening ceremony.
A shroud of smog is expected on opening day, today, after the air pollution index hit a 10-day high yesterday. That cast a cloud over Beijing’s hopes for a worry-free event and its much-touted ability to manipulate everything involved, including the weather.

Despite authorities’ massive last-minute cleanup efforts and promises of clear skies, the smog yesterday mixed with sweltering humidity and oppressive heat.

The air pollution index, which measures air quality from noon to noon, reached 96 – still considered “moderate” by national standards. But many of the 27 monitoring stations around the city recorded pollution figures close to or over 100 – in categories labelled “slightly polluted” or “unhealthy for sensitive groups”, which includes athletes.

“Unless there are marked changes in weather conditions, the pollution reading for Friday is expected to remain around the same level as today,” said Zhu Tong, a leading environmental expert at Peking University.

Du Shaozhong, deputy director of the capital’s environmental bureau, agreed that air quality today would not show much improvement given the “unfavourable weather conditions”.

The country’s top meteorologists have forecast cloudy skies and high humidity, along with a strong chance of showers, for this evening.

Data from the past three decades shows the probability of rainfall is 47 per cent in Beijing today and 41 per cent in the area around the National Stadium, or “Bird’s Nest”, site of the opening ceremony.

Games organisers and meteorological officials have talked about their weather-manipulation technology and determination to ensure a dry opening ceremony, but last night they refused to say if it would be used. Instead, they seemed to shift the emphasis onto the limits involved in trying to manipulate weather.

“Cloud-seeding to disperse rain clouds remains a global challenge, and we are still carrying out research on it following a few experiments in the past,” said Yu Xinwen, spokesman for the China Meteorological Administration. “Whether we use it will depend on the needs of the Olympics.”

Beijing’s pollution has worsened in the past four days, after the city basked in rare sunshine and blue skies on the first three days of August.

Yesterday’s pollution reading ranked fourth highest on a list of 86 major mainland cities – far worse than in many industrial hubs, according to the Ministry of Environmental Protection.

Beijing has promised all along to meet both national standards and the World Health Organisation’s 2005 air quality guidelines.

But a Greenpeace report said Beijing’s air quality still fell short of the much stricter WHO standards for healthy air, and was of concern to competing athletes, especially those in endurance sports such as the marathon.

In a desperate attempt to cut pollution, Beijing officials implemented a slew of measures in recent weeks such as pulling cars off the road, stopping construction and closing factories. But despite these all-out efforts, Mr Du admitted things had not gone well.

“Our monitoring shows that the accumulation of pollutants has slowed in the past week. Although the pollution figure is at a high level, the conditions are remarkable because of the up to 90 per cent relative humidity, and little rain and wind – which hinders the dispersal of pollutants,” he said.

“Our stringent pollution-control measures have shown results,” he insisted, adding that officials had no immediate plans to activate their contingency measures.

But the high pollution figures remained a cause for concern among environmentalists.

“Apart from the weather, the economy’s high growth rate and energy consumption also contribute to the high pollution level,” Professor Zhu said.

Authorities have announced additional traffic restrictions for today, which will see the city’s main streets – including those leading to the city centre, Olympic venues, the airport and the luxury hotels where foreign dignitaries stay – virtually cordoned off.

One thing might help the emissions from cars today: Beijing has announced a holiday for all public servants, and many businesses have closed to avoid traffic congestion and security concerns.

But the sweeping traffic bans have also been questioned by many residents, who say it has done little to ease traffic gridlock but has made their daily commute inconvenient.

Beijing’s Murky Pollution Numbers

August 8, 2008, 9:55 am – The Wall Street Journal

Beijing’s Air Pollution Index, also called API, is being closely watched this week as the Olympics begin. It’s being reported daily in dispatches about air quality and visibility in the city, and is included on the Online Journal’s Olympics page. But several factors make the index a questionable gauge of the air quality experienced by Olympians. And China’s translation of the index into “blue sky days” tends to understate the level of pollution, as journalists on the ground have noticed.

China considers any index number at 100 or lower to be acceptable. This is in line with developing nations, but would be considered inacceptable in developed countries, according to Kenneth A. Rahn, professor emeritus of oceanography at the University of Rhode Island. If the U.S. used a scale similar to Beijing’s, east coast cities typically would have index levels around 10 or 20; Beijing’s index has hovered near 100 in recent days. “In U.S. terms, that’s a ridiculously high concentration,” Prof. Rahn said.

For that reason, calling sub-100 days blue-sky days, as China does, is an arbitrary choice, Prof. Rahn said. “When you have a fixed point like 100, that you should not exceed, that creates an artificial duality. This is a legalistic argument. It has nothing to do with what’s going on in the atmosphere.”

The problems extend to what is measured, and how. Beijing’s index covers just three types of pollutants, according to Bill Scotti, who works with international companies on environmental issues in China as director of risk and compliance for Meradia Group. That contrasts with six in Hong Kong. Beijing doesn’t measure carbon monoxide, ozone or respirable suspended particulates — all of which are included in Hong Kong’s index. “Air pollution is measured differently in different regions of the world, and even differently within China itself,” Mr. Scotti told me.

As a practical matter, Beijing’s index really is based only on a single indicator: the concentration in the air of particulate matter with diameter less than 10 micrometers (or millionths of a meter). That’s because like some other indexes — including the U.S. air quality index — the Beijing index is equal to the highest index for any single pollutant. And in Beijing, particularly in the summer, the highest index value is usually the one for particulate matter, according to Prof. Rahn.

That’s an unfortunate choice for the index, Prof. Rahn told me, because environmentalists prefer to measure only particles with diameter less than 2.5 micrometers (the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency changed its standards in 2006). The larger particles are “not considered particularly dangerous to one’s health,” Prof. Rahn said. Including them clouds the pollution number further.

Including them doesn’t make the China index more stringent; the scales are raised to account for the inclusion of the broader group of particles. It just leaves the index a few years behind current standards in pollution reporting, and clouds the issue further.