The Olympic Games, an occasion for China to go green

Last week, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) published a report on the greening of the Olympic Games that will be held next summer in Beijing, China.

This event is an occasion for the local government to become more aware of sustainable development-related issues such as pollution or waste management.

A very good news as what is beginning now in Beijing might spread to all China afterwards. I propose you here some excerpts of the UNEP report below.

Among the topics that are currently tackled by the Beijing City are air pollution, water quality, transportations and energy efficiency and so on, indeed :

Significant strides are being made to ‘green’ the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, a report issued today by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) says.

The hosting of the Games is also proving to be a catalyst for accelerating environmental improvements across the city as Beijing strives to balance rapid, often double-digit economic growth with health and environmental protection.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director, said: “The initial score card on the Beijing Olympics and Paralympics 2008 is positive in terms of the greening of the games”.

“The more than $12 billion spent by the Municipal Government and Government of China, appears to have been well spent-and will be even more well spent if the lessons learnt and measures adopted are picked up by municipalities across the country so as to leave a real and lasting nationwide legacy,” he added.

The report says environmental measures are being introduced covering waste management, cleaner transport systems and water treatment, as well as new urban green belts including a 580-hectare Olympic Forest Park.

The Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG) should also be commended for accelerating the phase-out of ozone depleting chemicals and for the provision of energy efficiency and green energy appliances at buildings and sports venues.

The report says: “An interesting innovation is the widespread use in the venues of ground, water or air source heat pumps systems to provide buildings with heat in winter and air conditioning in summertime”.

Solar power is also being extensively deployed at stadia and at the Olympic village and the organizers have well-developed plans to re-use and recycle venues after the games close.

But while the report acknowledges the significant investment and achievements of the organizers of the 2008 Olympic Games, it also highlights some remaining concerns and missed opportunities that there may still be time to rectify.

Some of these are specific to the Games themselves, while others are linked to challenges facing the city of Beijing generally as it attempts to reduce pollution and steer its development onto a more sustainable path.

Air Pollution

Air quality is among those priority concerns. The Beijing and Chinese authorities have relocated and refitted major polluting industries and there has been a switch away from coal-fired energy generation towards less polluting fuels like natural gas.

Older buses, taxis and cars have been scrapped in favour of ones powered by compressed natural gas or new vehicles and fuels that meet tougher, internationally recognized emissions standards such as the Euro III standard.

Between 2000 and 2006, concentrations of several key air pollutants including sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide have as a result fallen.


Public Transport

Another concern centres on the under-utilization of the city’s expanding public transport network. Beijing has recently installed 16 km of Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) lines giving the system a total passenger capacity of 100,000 people per day. Two more BRT lines are under construction.

Beijing is also expanding surface and underground rail lines with four completed and four more, including the Olympic Line, currently under construction. The Chinese government says the eight lines will have a capacity of nearly four million people daily.

Overall Beijing’s public ground transportation capacity is 19 million passengers per day, yet it is under utilized to the tune of around 8.5 million daily passengers.

The UNEP report urges the local authorities to adopt measures and incentives to bridge the gap in order to improve air quality and other environmental measures.

Mr Steiner said the report was a balanced assessment recognizing the achievements but also highlighting how more could be done to, for example, harness the city’s new and existing public transport infrastructure.

All this is good news as it could lead with time all China toward a green revolution.

To reinforce these moves toward sustainability and environmentally sound development, education on these issues will also be pushed forward :

The organizers have been spreading the ‘Green Olympics’ concept through a variety of measures in cooperation with the government ministries, the city council, environmental groups, schools, the private sector and local communities.

Over 550 schools including 200 in Beijing have so far been nominated as Olympic Model Schools where Olympic values including the environment are being promoted.


BOCOG has other awareness initiatives including the Green Community and Green Home campaign to promote environmental understanding in households and communities.


The report says that UNEP believes that a great deal more environmental awareness could be generated in the country and for visitors attending the Games, including incorporating the messages of the mascots on the Green Olympics website.

China moves fasts when its government decides to take into consideration local problems.

As Jared Diamond stated in his book Collapse how societies choose to fail or succeed (see my review there), the People’s Republic could well take drastic measures on environment and lead fast a sustainable growth. It already did something of magnitude when it decided to plant the green wall of China.

That’s all we can wish to this gigantic and formidable country.

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