Zhangjiakou: China is using the Winter Olympic Games as a platform to promote environmental sustainability, but Beijing, a smog-prone capital, is still preparing for the worst as the opening ceremony approaches. 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, a ministry spokesperson, told reporters that contingency plans had been put in place. He said that Beijing and Hebei would be guided to take reasonable environmental protection measures, in accordance with the law, “when the time comes”. He said that rumours that polluting heavy industry in the area would be shut down starting January 1 were “not true”.
Critics warned that the Winter Olympics could become overshadowed by dangerous smog from a region dominated heavy industry in 2015. Xi Jinping, Chinese President, promised to lead a “greener” Games. Hebei also promised to “transform” and “upgrade” its industrial economies.
China has since planted thousands upon thousands of hectares of trees around Beijing and Hebei provinces, built sprawling 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 believe the air quality at Zhangjiakou’s ski resort is better than some other foreign 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 micrograms for the first three quarters. This is in line with China’s 35-microgram standard. However, it was higher than the recommended World Health Organization level (5 micrograms) and will likely rise significantly over winter.
The Washington-based International Fund for China’s Environment stated earlier this year that China will win many medals at Winter Olympics but that the smog could cause serious problems.
Officials stated this week during a government-organized tour that all 26 Olympic venues in Beijing, Hebei province, and Hebei would be 100% powered from 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 declared that the Games would be “carbon neutral” for 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 when it comes to artificial snow and/or ice.
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 “We are all self-sufficient” and “eco-circular”.