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Smog Is Result Of ‘Failed Growth Model’

Greenpeace says Beijing’s develop first, clean up later plan is not working

Shi Jiangtao in Beijing – SCMP – Updated on Jul 29, 2008

The persistent smog that has shrouded the Olympic host city for the past five days despite sweeping contingency measures to cut pollution was the result of a decades-long pursuit of development at the expense of the environment, an international green group said.

In a report on Beijing’s environmental performance for the Games issued yesterday, Greenpeace expressed concerns over the impact of pollution on competing athletes, who are much more sensitive to air-quality problems than the public.

Entitled “China After the Olympics: Lessons From Beijing”, the report gave a mixed assessment of the capital’s environmental efforts over the years, compiled a long list of missed opportunities for the host city and voiced dismay at authorities’ lack of transparency in handling environmental information.

It came as the city was shrouded in heavy smog again yesterday, which left the Games’ organisers struggling to find a solution with 10 days left before the opening ceremony. “Despite all the efforts, Beijing’s air quality today is probably not yet up to what the world is expecting of an Olympic host city,” said Lo Sze-ping, campaign director of Greenpeace China.

“This shows China’s growth model of ‘develop first and clean up later’ is wrong and should be dropped as soon as possible. It is easy to pollute but much harder to clean up the damage.” Beijing’s smoggy skies for the past five consecutive days were a good case in point.

“Despite the series of long- and short-term plans by Beijing, air pollution remains one of the toughest challenges for the city,” he said.

Visibility throughout the city was very low in the morning because of thick smog. The city was also hit by sultry heat, over 70 per cent humidity and little wind, although pollution readings were slightly improved from the four preceding days.

The reading for particulate matter, a key pollutant in the city, yesterday was 99 micrograms per cubic metre, while the figures for the previous four days were all above 100, which were officially classified as “slightly polluted”.

Under the air quality guidelines of the US Environmental Protection Agency, a reading of particulates in the 51-100 micrograms per cubic metre range is “moderate” air quality; 101-150 is “unhealthy for sensitive groups”.

Environmentalists and residents cast doubts over yesterday’s official pollution reading, saying they did not sense any marked improvement in either air quality or visibility.

Official figures partly backed their claims up, with 13 out of 27 monitoring stations across the city recorded “slightly polluted” figures, according to the website of the local environmental bureau.

Pollution readings of 86 mainland cities for Sunday showed the capital’s air quality was far worse than that of many industrial hubs and ranked the third most polluted on the mainland, the Ministry of Environmental Protection said.

While average concentration levels of particles 10 microns in diameter (PM10) in the past 28 days of the month were all below 150 micrograms per cubic metre and thus met national standards, they fell far short of the much stricter standards for good air quality set in the World Health Organisation 2005 guidelines, according to Mr Lo. “Beijing had only two days in July when its PM10 readings were below 50 micrograms per cubic metre as recommended by WHO,” he said. “It is fair to say that the air quality in Beijing is of concern, particularly on PM10. There are reasons for the world to be concerned with the PM10 situation in Beijing.”

Marathon world-record holder Haile Gebrselassie pulled out of the Olympic event in March because of concerns over air pollution, although he is planning to compete in the 10,000 metres event. Many have also expressed fears over the pollution’s impact on health and performance during the Games.

Greenpeace said it was regrettable Beijing had not included ozone and smaller airborne particles – which were believed to have impacts on health – in its pollution parameters, as the WHO had recommended.

The report noted that air pollution remained a serious problem despite a host of pollution-control measures Beijing has taken over the years.

“We recognise the long-term initiatives made by Beijing’s government in improving air quality, such as increasing investment, opening subway lines, promoting public transport, introducing tougher vehicle emission standards, and retrofitting coal-burning factories with clear technology,” Mr Lo said.

While Greenpeace said many of the efforts the developing country had made for the goal of a green Olympics were “commendable”, it said Beijing had missed “golden opportunities” to use the Games as a platform to promote more ambitious environmental initiatives.

“Although Beijing has undertaken factory upgrades to improve air quality, more could have been done to move the city towards clean production methods. In many areas, Beijing failed to take the opportunity of the Olympics to adopt the world’s best environmental practices,” it said.

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