Hopes high that Winter Olympics may help Beijing beat air pollution

By Kou Jie Source:Global Times Published: 2015-12-17 20:48:01

Top: A skier performs at the Genting Secret Garden Ski Resort in Chongli county, Hebei Province on December 8, the first day of the 15th China-Chongli International Skiing Festival. Photo: IC

Smog appears in the morning on December 11 after the Beijing government ended its red air pollution alert a day ago. Photo: CFP

 The Beijing Organizing Committee for the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games was inaugurated on Tuesday in Beijing, a move experts believe may mark a new phase in the capital's air pollution control, efforts after the city has been regularly engulfed by heavy smog in recent years.

Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli addressed the launch ceremony, stressing the government's desire to hold a "green" Olympics, as well as pushing for improving the ecological environment of Beijing and its neighboring cities.

China attempted a "green" Olympics seven years ago, as efforts to curb pollution ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games significantly improved the city's air quality during the Games.

Analysts pointed out that the upcoming Winter Olympics will renew the push in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region to reduce air pollution, especially considering the experience gained in the last seven years regarding curbing air pollution during large-scale international events.

Yearning for blue skies

Beijing has ensured blue skies several times when large-scale events took place in the city, but the good air quality rarely lasts long.

To guarantee blue skies for grand events such as the major military parade in September, Beijing adopts effective but pricey measures including taking half of the city's private cars off the road and closing 1,927 heavy industrial facilities.

Such measures dramatically improve the city's air quality. Beijing's average density of PM2.5 - airborne particles measuring less than 2.5 microns in diameter that are the most unhealthy - was 19.5 micrograms per cubic meter of air from August 20 to 24, ahead of the parade on September 3, the lowest level since monitoring began in 2012, the Xinhua News Agency reported in August.

Wang Gengchen, a research fellow from the Institute of Atmospheric Physics at the Chinese Academy of Science, told the Global Times that "this extraordinary result was created under the premise of sacrificing economic benefits. As a developing country, China cannot normalize measures that cause economic losses in exchange for permanent blue skies, thus the Winter Olympics is unlikely to eradicate air pollution once and for all."

However, Wang noted that the Games are likely to improve the air quality in Beijing and its neighboring cities, as well as offer the region a greater chance of making blue skies a regular feature even after the Games.

China aims to create a new economic and environmentally-friendly zone, incorporating the surrounding Hebei Province and Tianjin, a port city to the capital's southeast, Xinhua reported on Tuesday.

"Unlike previous big events held in Beijing, the Winter Olympics will occur in one of the most polluted regions in China. By hosting a big event here, the area may expect large-scale industrial restructuring and reforestation, which will reduce sources of air pollution," Wang said.

The Chinese government has attached great importance to dealing with air pollution over the next seven years.

Beijing authorities have vowed to curb air pollution, cutting PM2.5 by 20 percent by 2017, and by 45 percent in 2022, while Chongli, one of the Winter Olympic venues in Hebei's Zhangjiakou, has closed mines to clear the smog, Xinhua reported in August.

Scientific solution

Apart from the positive outcomes of the upcoming Olympics, China needs more data and scientific analysis to make an effective plan on curbing air pollution in the future, Dong Liansai, a Greenpeace air-pollution observer told the Global Times.

According to an AFP report on Sunday, by using a computer program, the authorities can make three-day pollution forecasts with a resolution of up to one square kilometer and detect trends up to 10 days out.

China is working hard on deploying big data analysis to fight against air pollution, collecting not only airborne particle data, but also information such as meteorological conditions and traffic, Wang said.

Wang added that big data can help authorities make better air pollution forecasts and implement countermeasures in a more timely manner.

However, it's too early to use big data as a powerful weapon against air pollution, since China has limited number of monitoring stations, while a scientific data-analysis system has not been created yet, Wang said.
Newspaper headline: Smog-free skiing

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