Jacques Rogge, IOC president
Yesterday was a good day for Greenpeace to give Beijing its report card on greening up for the Olympics. Due to low winds, emissions from Beijing's burgeoning, if temporarily restricted, car population along with smog from some distant factories was trapped over the city, making it hard to see down the street. Officials said they might need to implement an emergency contingency plan on top of the existing anti-smog measures if pollution lingers closer to the Games. Thanks to overnight thunderstorms, today was dramatically better, like a nice blue sky day in New York.
The sharp difference a sign of Beijing's tenuous environmental situation, at a time when it's desperate to look good for an audience of billions. The two of those issues together have clearly led to some long-term policies that are part of the kind of sustainable future Beijing and Olympic officials hoped the Games could promote.
On the air pollution score, that's meant excellent new subway and bus lines, high emissions standards (Beijing has lately moved to stringent Euro IV) and cleaner energy in and around Beijing. Greenpeace lauds that in its report, "China After the Olympics: Lessons from Beijing." But Beijing's desperation has also led to many temporary patch-work measures, like car bans, factory closures and rainmaking, which mostly serve to just put lipstick on the pig.
If Beijing doesn't continue down it's hyper environmental path, as Jeremy pondered here, the city may not be the only one that deserves blame.Greenpeace says the Beijing Organizing Committee (BOCOG) didn't make its various environmental initiatives binding, a choice that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) didn't require either. "It is crucial that the [IOC] requires host cities to set comparable and mandatory environmental standards, thereby ensuring that environment is honored as the third pillar of the Olympics, after sports and culture," said Lo Sze Ping, Greenpeace China's campaign director.
But Beijing, says Greenpeace, missed a number of opportunities, from better civil society engagement to improving water management. Just keeping alive all of the city's newly installed plants and flowers requires Beijing to sip an excessive amount water from drought-stricken neighboring provinces.
Despite Greenpeace's lament that Olympic officials didn't demand lasting change, IOC president Rogge has claimed that he was able to win major victories for the environment, along with human rights and press freedoms. "Quiet diplomacy," he said, led to three new bills to protect children, media rights and the environment, Dr Rogge told AFP. "I could have earned instant popularity by mounting the barricades and rebuking [China]. But it wouldn't have achieved anything."
But he did not specify which laws he was referring to. And from where I sit, I can see no law passed as a result of pressure from the Olympic Committee. The temporary measures for cleaning up the city during the Games are just that, temporary.
Greenpeace makes a good point: instead of lauding themselves for securing improvements in China that China would have undertaken anyway as a result of the international attention, and instead of staying silent on big issues due to "reasons of State," the IOC ought to act like the Games are as big a game-changer as they say they are, and integrate sustainability into their mission.
Greenpeace had many good things to say about Beijing. "We are glad to see that Beijing has improved its infrastructure in its preparation for the Olympics. It has made public transport more convenient, upgraded home heating methods, improved water treatment and, to some degree, reduced its reliance on fossil fuel," Lo said at yesterday's press conference to launch the report. He added that he hoped that one of the Olympic legacies would be the emulation of Beijing's successes by other parts of China.
But while the city was moved to improve for its big event and beyond, if the IOC is truly interested in improving the lives of its host cities and the rest of the world, it might consider better ways of helping host cities like Beijing make those improvements not just in the service of the Games.
At the moment though, the IOC's priority is more about making sure that the athletes are healthy, the sponsors happy, and the Olympics look good on TV. As long as those concerns are met, the IOC will say they are content with whatever Beijing has done. And they will be content. And if they are not, they have acknowledged, there's not much they can do. (Just read what officials said last year.)
As Rogge said recently of the environmental improvements, "There is still hard work to do, but that hard work will continue until the closing ceremony."
And then what Jacques?
Here's a run down of Greenpeace's report card:
The group praises Beijing for
• Using state-of-the-art renewable energy saving technologies in the Olympic Village
• Setting new vehicle emissions to the very stringent EURO IV standard ahead of schedule.
• Building five new subway lines to encourage public transportation
• Launching a fleet of 3,759 buses running on compressed natural gas.
• Helping 32 000 households to convert from coal heating systems to electric heating systems.
• Establishing the Guanting wind power station, Beijing's first wind power generation station capable of generating 100 million kWh of electricity a year.
• Improving its wastewater treatment plants, sewage and water reuse systems.
Greenpeace is disappointed that Beijing did not:
• Make environmentally-friendly policies for the Games in the areas
of procurement and construction binding
• Apply water saving technologies across the city
• [Pursue a zero-waste policy instead of building] more landfill sites and incinerators
• Introduce an internationally recognizable timber procurement
policy, such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standard, for the
construction material used during the Games
• Eradicate climate-damaging HFC technology in some Olympic
• Make environmental data and certification of Olympic venues fully
via Greenpeace China
Photo from AP