Zhangjiakou: China is using Winter Olympic Games to boost its environmental efforts, but Beijing, a smog-prone city, is still preparing to face the worst as the opening ceremony. Although Beijing has seen improvements in its air quality since China won the bid to host the Games this year, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment stated that winter smog risks remain “severe”.
Liu Youbin, the Ministry’s spokesperson, stated that contingency plans were in effect. He said that Beijing and Hebei would be guided to take reasonable environmental protection measures, in accordance with the law, “when the time comes”. However, he denied that rumours circulating that the polluting heavy industries would be closed down in the region starting Jan. 1 were false.
Critics warned in 2015, when China won its bid, that the Winter Olympics might be overshadowed in hazardous smog in a region heavily populated by heavy industry. Xi Jinping, the Chinese President, promised to run a “green” Games and Hebei promised “transformation and upgrading” its industrial economy.
China has planted thousands upon thousands of trees in Beijing and Hebei provinces since then, built extensive wind and solar farms and relocated hundreds.
Deng Zhongping, 26, an amateur skier, said he felt the difference in Zhangjiakou, 200 km (125 mi) northwest of Beijing.
“When I came to Beijing a few years back I would suffer from rhinitis because of pollution, but the air quality in Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei has improved a lot,” he said. “I think that the air quality at Zhangjiakou is better than some foreign ski resorts.”
In 2016, average concentrations of PM2.5 in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region stood at 71 micrograms per cubic metre and soared to more than 500 micrograms over winter. This compares to an average of 40 micrograms per cubic metre from January to September 2016.
The reading in Beijing was 33 mcg in the first quarter, which is within China’s 35-microgram limit. It is however higher than the recommended World Health Organization level at 5 mcgs and is likely to rise even more over winter.
“China will win many gold medals at the Winter Olympics. But the smog… could put the Games in difficulties,” said the Washington-based International Fund for Chinas Environment earlier this year.
GREENING THE GAMES
Officials announced this week, during a government-organized visit, that all 26 Olympic venues located in Beijing and Hebei Province would be powered 100% by renewable energy. Despite the government not meeting its hydrogen production target of 70%, more than 700 hydrogen powered vehicles will be deployed.
Preparations included a tree-planting program that increased Zhangjiakou forest coverage to 70%-80%, an increase from 56% previously.
China also stated that it would make the Games carbon neutral for the first time. Greenpeace, an environmental group, stated that it was difficult to determine if the goal was achieved without more data.
Water scarcity is another concern, especially when artificial snow and ice are being created.
Organisers stated that the Games would not place additional pressure on local water supplies. Instead, they will rely on cisterns to collect mountain runoff and rainfall during summer – in line China’s larger efforts to create a “circular economy” in which all resources are fully utilized and recycled.
Wang Jingxian, a member on the 2022 Games planning commission, stated that “all of us are self-sufficient and ecologically circular.”