The Summer Olympic Games in Beijing kicked off on August 8 amidst competition, national pride and a Blue Sky day. Well, a ŒBlue Sky day‚ according to Beijing standards. The Detroit Free Press reports that only one percent of China‚s urban dwellers breathe air that is safe according to European norms. Accordingly, many athletes are training outside Beijing, and some have caused a stir by wearing masks.
While the world has questioned Beijing‚s environmental preparation since the city won its Olympic bid in 2001, the games have, thus far, been a success. The opening ceremonies were an amazing sight, offering a glimpse into the complexity of modern China‚s culture, customs and rapid gallop into the 21st century. Since the Chinese began modernizing with free market reforms in the late 1970s, the nation's economy has increased tenfold, and the percentage of people living in poverty has fallen dramatically.
Yet, this strong growth has laid bare the difficulties inherent in balancing rapid development with sound environmental policy.
In an effort to clean up Beijing ahead of the games, the government had to slam the brakes on its ambitious development policies. City residents were inconvenienced, as over a million vehicles were forced off the road and factories were shuttered by government fiat. Yet, even for all these extraordinary efforts, Beijing has not dramatically moved the needle.
Simply put, these band-aid approaches do not work for the environment or business. At Business Roundtable we believe smart, long-term policies that balance environmental needs with the demands of a growing economy are the best way forward. Sustainable growth is a huge part of what our member companies are advancing in the S.E.E. Change program every day. From Caterpillar's work to promote alternative fuels to Coca-Cola's commitment to preserving fresh water resources, our member CEOs are using sustainable practices to bolster their business operations. We believe Business Roundtable members can be a model for sustainable growth.
For instance, China has begun to invest in a diverse energy mix, which is one of the key principles behind our More Diverse, More Domestic, More Efficient report. With one of the largest wind resources in the world, China‚s government recently doubled its target for wind power by 2010. China is also the world‚s number one producer of solar photovoltaics, continues to invest in hydropower technology and is working to make renewable resources account for 10 percent of its energy consumption by 2010.
With nearly 45 million cars on the road and vehicle sales expected to top 10 million this year alone, China is investing in hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle technology and fully implementing its first set of passenger car fuel efficiency standards. China has also undertaken some important steps toward energy efficiency in its most recent five year plan, adopted in 2005. The plan calls for, among other things, improving the efficiency of coal power, promoting alternative fuels, upgrading to high-efficiency electrical motors and using LED instead of ordinary lights in traffic signals.
Overall, it appears China is taking sustainability seriously, and not a moment too soon.
Combating our planet‚s environmental challenges will take long-term, sustained pledges from governments, businesses and individuals worldwide. With a steady commitment to the principles of sustainable growth, China has the potential to play a significant role in our common drive for a healthy, prosperous blue sky future.