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Blue Skies for Beijing

Blue Skies for Beijing Need Marathon Plan That May Slow Economy

By Lee Spears

Aug. 25 (Bloomberg) — Zhang Guoqing says the air quality in Beijing is better since the government clamped down on tailpipes, smokestacks and construction cranes for the Olympics.

“The traffic condition became less crowded and the air quality also improved,” Zhang, 58, said while watching ice skaters at the China World Trade Center. “I don’t want the government to stop those measures.”

Beijing officials say the city experienced its best air quality in 10 years this month after authorities implemented odd- even driving days and shut down factories and building sites before the Aug. 8-24 games. More than half of 2,000 Beijingers surveyed said traffic control measures should continue after the games, state-run China Daily reported.

Yet they won’t get their wish. The world’s most populous nation needs to create 10 million new jobs a year to maintain economic growth and social stability, so business will return closer to usual once the upcoming Paralympics end Sept. 17.

“These temporary measures are meant to address the issue temporarily,” said Tao Dong, chief Asia economist at Credit Suisse Group AG in Hong Kong. “You can’t prohibit people from driving their cars. You’re going to have a riot.”

Slow Growth

China, the world’s No. 4 economy, may have lost as much as 3 percent of its estimated 4 trillion-yuan ($585.3 billion) gross domestic product by shutting down factories in Beijing and surrounding areas for two months, Tao said. Some factories, including Beijing Shougang Co., the nation’s fourth-biggest steelmaker, were evicted from the capital.

The affected regions generate about 26 percent of China’s economic output, so the world’s fastest-growing major economy will slow during the next two months, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said in an Aug. 8 report.

GDP growth has slowed for four straight quarters, prompting President Hu Jintao to say Aug. 1 that his priorities were maintaining steady, fast growth and controlling inflation.

There was such concern about Beijing’s air quality that International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said some outdoor events could be postponed if necessary. World-record holder Haile Gebrselassie, an asthmatic, pulled out of the marathon because of the pollution and heat.

The city spent about $70 billion to improve air quality and build subways, sports stadiums and an airport terminal for the games. Chinese officials say the measures worked.

`Itchy Palms’

The average daily pollution index this month was about 31 percent lower than August 2007, the city’s environmental protection bureau said Saturday. Major air pollutants were an average 40 percent lower, with nitrogen oxide emissions from automobiles down 61 percent, the bureau said.

Even Gebrselassie said he noticed the change.

“I was here in February, I don’t see no blue sky,” he said. “To keep such clear air, that’s fantastic.”

Still, levels of particulates known as PM10 were up to double the World Health Organization’s recommended levels on some days. China’s pollution index doesn’t measure smaller particles called PM2.5, which can penetrate deeper into lungs and create greater risk for developing asthma and bronchitis.

Several riders in the 245-kilometer (152.2-mile) bicycle road race on Aug. 9 said they were affected by poor air quality.

“First few days when we went out, I was coughing a lot after,” said American George Hincapie, who finished 40th.

Even the archers suffered.

“I didn’t like the pollution,” bronze medalist Yun Ok-Hee of South Korea said. “My palms and hands were itchy.”

More Emissions

China’s release of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming is increasing more than previously forecast and will swamp pollution cuts planned by the U.K., Germany and other industrialized nations, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in May. It surpassed the U.S. as the world’s largest emitter.

Air pollution-related illnesses and deaths may cost China an additional 3.8 percent of GDP, a World Bank report said. Beijing’s 15 million residents face higher incidences of asthma, respiratory infections and lung cancer, said Hans Troedsson, WHO’s representative in China.

“The government is taking measures in the right direction, but it needs to be scaled up,” Troedsson said.

For the games, the government said cars with license plates ending in odd numbers could drive only on odd-numbered days, and vice versa for even numbers. Beijing has about 3.3 million cars and adds about 300,000 a year.

Controls Continue

City officials said Saturday that normal traffic patterns would return next month.

“They should at least try to continue some of these measures,” said Ricardo Browne, 41, a Brazilian pilot working for Shenzhen Airlines Co. “It’s hard to see the sun.”

Steps are being taken. China will restrict factory discharges and may not let some polluters reopen, and last month it imposed cleaner fuel standards to reduce auto emissions. The government will double the tax on large vehicles to spur demand for more fuel-efficient cars.

“They are meaning business in terms of structural changes that will positively influence the climate and the environment,” Rogge said yesterday.

Beijing editor Zhou Min, 27, said she, like Zhang, wanted the driving restrictions to continue, even though it meant more crowded buses and subways.

I fully support the environment-friendly measures since the air quality has been improved, which puts me in a good mood,” she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lee Spears in Beijing at
Last Updated: August 24, 2008 17:01 EDT

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