The average daily API in Beijing during the Olympic Games was 36% lower than the average during the preceding eight years. (see www.cleanairnet.org/caiasia/1412/article-72991.html for a more comprehensive analysis).
The Beijing Olympic Games were actually the best thing to have happened to air quality in Asian cities over the last 10 years. Environmental campaigners, like us, have spent years explaining what PM10 is and why it is harmful. Now, we had international media like CNN and BBC showcasing experts explaining the difference between acute and long term effects of PM10. Presenters were juggling daily API (Air Pollution Index) numbers as if were they stock exchange quotes.
Although this plentiful attention given to air pollution is most likely short-lived, it will at least have helped to place air quality on the minds of people across China and Asia in a manner never achieved before.
A lot of attention was given to the temporary measures taken to clean up the air in Beijing; the cars being taken off the road, the factories being closed, and the construction being halted.
Hanmin Shi, Director General, and Da-wei Wang, Chief of Ambient Air Management Division, Beijing Municipal Environment Protection Bureau explained in an interview with CAI-Asia that: "We should remember, however, that Beijing started preparing its Olympic air quality management strategy in 1998, three years before it was awarded the Olympics." Beijing has since then expanded its air quality monitoring and modeling capacity, put in place vehicle emission and fuel quality standards that are at par with Europe, taken thousands of old polluting vehicles off the road on a permanent basis (not just for the Olympics), and expanded and upgraded its public transport system. It has relocated over 200 polluting industries, retrofitted more than 16,000 small coal fired boilers from polluting coal to cleaner natural gas and increased the use of natural gas for power generation fifteen-fold.
These measures are permanent improvements that will benefit the population of Beijing well beyond the Olympics.
Several of these permanent measures have become part of national policy in China and are now also being adopted in other cities in the country. Based on the lessons learned in Beijing, China is now experimenting in several parts of the country with a sub-regional approach - involving several cities - to air quality management. Da-wei Wang: "the Olympics really gave us the chance to mobilize the surrounding provinces and cities. We start the cooperation on air quality management through Olympics, but the relationship will continue. The leader of the cooperation still should be the MEP, they need to scale up the air quality management from city to regional level, this through example setting up a department of regional cooperation."
During the first week of the Olympics, the Ministry of Environment in China announced that as part of its commitment to keep up anti-pollution controls after the Olympics it would start the regular monitoring of PM2.5 and ozone next year, which would lead to measures to deal with these issues.
Europe and the United States adopted a PM2.5 standard only in 2008 and 1997, respectively. Perhaps surprisingly to the outside world, China is now starting to become a role-model for other Asian countries in finding ways to go beyond the mere formulation of air quality laws, standards and policies and to make a start with their actual implementation.
Of course, all is not well. Air pollution levels in Beijing and many Chinese cities are still well beyond acceptable levels. As their economies continue to grow, China and other Asian countries will have to continue to clean up their air. We should, however, not forget that it has taken Europe and the United States over 40 years now to clean up their air and their job is by no ways finished.
In 2010, Shanghai will organize the World Expo, Guangzhou the Asian Games and New Delhi the Commonwealth Games. If these cities demonstrate the same commitment as Beijing in addressing air pollution, and, if the Olympic Games for 2016 or 2020 are awarded to India, we can be truly hopeful that air pollution will remain on the political and media agenda and that sports will help to clean up the air in Asian cities.
For further information contact: Cornie Huizenga, Excutive Director, [email protected]
Jiming Hao, is the Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of the Clean Air for Asian Cities (CAI-Asia) Center and a member of the Olympic Air Quality Monitoring, Forecasting and Assessment Experts Panel established by the Chinese Ministry of Environment and Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau. Cornie Huizenga is the Executive Director of the Clean Air for Asian Cities (CAI-Asia) Center.
CAI-Asia (www.cleanairnet.org/caiasia) was established in 2001 by the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank and the United States - Asia Environmental Partnership. In 2007, the CAI-Asia Center began operating as an independent organization with headquarters in Manila. For the full interview with Hanmin Shi, Director General, and Da-wei Wang, Chief of Ambient Air Management Division, Beijing Municipal Environment Protection Bureau on Beijing and Air Quality at the Olympic Games see www.cleanairnet.org/caiasia/beijing2008.