An Olympic Air Promise

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From Gracye Cheng, a look at the state of Beijing’s air:

Beijing’s manifold approach to cut down on pollution–limiting vehicle use, suspending construction and shutting down factories in the city and across 6 provinces–has certainly prompted changes in the everyday lives of its residents, but these sweeping measures seem to have produced limited differences in the one area where it matters. During the past few days, the city has continued to experience mostly smoggy skies.

Officials have said that clearing the air would have to depend on more than just cutting emissions. The weather would have to cooperate as well. A lack of wind or rain over the past week hasn’t helped improve air quality.

But despite the slow start, Du Shaozhong, vice-director of Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau, declared yesterday that Beijing would have clean air during the Games. “We can guarantee the air quality during the Olympics,” Du told reporters.

Officials are recognizing that current measures might not be enough, though. “The government is preparing an emergency plan to deal with very high air pollution conditions,” says Zhu Tong, a Peking University professor and adviser to the Beijing Olympic committee. “There is still a possibility that we could have high levels of air pollutants in the sky.”

While various options are being discussed, it is likely that the new plan would call for the banning of even more vehicles. An example Zhu says is being considered is to allow a car on the road only when the final digit on its license plate corresponds with the date. The implementation of the plan will rely on air quality forecasts during the next few days, he says.

Beijing has taken several long-term steps to improve its air quality, like adding urban railways. But the results have been limited, according to the environmental NGO Greenpeace, which today released a report on the environmental legacy of the Games.

“Air quality is probably not up to standards of what the world will be expecting from an Olympic host city,” says Lo Sze Ping, a Greenpeace representative. Lo acknowledged the initiatives made by the Chinese government, like raising vehicle emission standard to that of Europe, but added that “sports teams have reason to be concerned with air quality.”