Air Pollution of Olympic Proportions
Countdown clock to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games (Photo: Flickr/Gene Zhang)
Chinese officials promised the summer's Beijing Olympics would be the greenest ever. They've made great strides but air pollution still remains a problem. Living on Earth host Steve Curwood talks with Nick Nuttal, spokesman for the United Nations Environment Program about UNEPs recent report on the Beijing Olympics.
CURWOOD: Chinese officials promise the Beijing Olympics and Paralympics to be held next August and September will be the greenest ever. But, the President of the International Olympic Committee says some events could be postponed when the air is unacceptable. The United Nations Environment Program recently published a report on the progress China has made to clean its environment in advance of the Olympics. UNEP spokesperson Nick Nuttal says China has come a long way….but there’s still a lot of room for improvement.
CURWOOD: So, what’s the most difficult problem they’ve had to tackle?
NUTTAL: Well it’s difficult with the energy generation, I mentioned they have been assiduously trying to switch some of the coal-fired boilers to gas. There seems to be something of an opportunity with the transport network. They have now put in railway lines and subways and rapid bus transport for a considerable number of people. Indeed, the new lines that are being put in may well accommodate, I don’t know, something like four million people daily. But, there is an estimate that overall the capacity of the Beijing public transport network is about 19 million passengers a day and yet it’s being underutilized by about eight and a half million daily passengers. So, in other words, there’s a big opportunity to get more people out of their cars and onto public transport and that may be an opportunity, indeed, to actually reduce particle emissions.
NUTTAL: Well, I mean, maybe it’s a question of the timing. Maybe they’re a scrum at rush hour whereas at the Olympics, for example, it may well be that events are going on all day and you can actually stagger in a sense the utilization of the network. I mean, that’s not unusual in many cities around the world where you get big pinpoints at rush hour.
NUTTAL: Well, you know, China and the leadership right at the top of the Chinese government has made it abundantly clear in the last few years that they are extremely concerned about the economic costs of rising pollution in their country and they have set energy intensive targets for their industry, they’ve set renewable energy targets for their country, and I think the Olympic Games is a real opportunity for Beijing, but also for China generally, to become even more aware of the environmental challenge, of the climate challenge, of so many other similar related challenges, and also for millions of people around the world, sitting in living rooms in Boston, or in Berlin, or Bogota, or be aware of what’s happening to the planet right now and the absolute urgent need to move towards a more sufficient world, one that’s far less polluting. So, hopefully the games can act as a real catalyst for that, in China and beyond.
CURWOOD: Nick Nuttal is a spokesperson for the United Nations Environmental Programme in Nairobi. Thanks so much, Nick.
NUTTAL: Yep, thanks a lot.
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