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|Olympics, smog and China|
Ushio - September 2007
At eight o’clock in the evening of the eighth of August, the eighth month of the eighth year of this decade, the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games will begin. All those eights in the time and the date are supposed to be auspicious for this important milestone in
The main measure of that success for
That growth is coming, however, with a new bad image. I saw it as soon as I arrived in
The smog cleared only when two successive nights of thunderstorms freshened up the air. The fact that on the second of those nights I was catching a plane from the city of
Naturally, the Chinese government is not simply going to rely on rain to clear the air in August next year. There will be tough measures to restrict the use of cars and trucks during the weeks before and during the Games. And some polluting factories will be closed down during that time in order to improve the air quality.
This year’s ghastly smog showed that the government’s task will not be an easy one. But no doubt there will be some improvement if the temporary controls are properly enforced. The national importance of the Games makes it likely that enforcement will be strict. That does not, however, apply to the long-term problem of environmental damage in
This local preference for growth over cleanliness is partly driven by a desire for modernisation and the creation of higher-paying jobs for local people. But it is also driven by a desire for personal enrichment, given the many opportunities for corruption. Moreover, it is encouraged by the system of job evaluation used by the Communist Party for the promotion of officials, which rewards GDP growth.
That job evaluation system is supposed to be changed soon to encompass environmental targets as well. But there has been no agreement among the party’s leadership on how this should be done. An attempt to calculate “green GDP” statistics, taking account of environmental costs, which was meant to be used for this new job evaluation system has been abandoned. Targets have been set for reducing air pollution by 10% and increasing energy efficiency by 20% by 2010. But even the Vice Minister at SEPA, Pan Yue, says he thinks it is unlikely that these targets will be achieved.
All industrialising countries eventually encounter environmental problems and have to bring in new controls in order to tackle them.
So far, however, the fear of such protests has not convinced enough local officials or the central government to make the environment a real priority. Later this year, the Communist Party’s 17th National Party Congress will be held, an event which takes place every five years. In principle, it is possible that during this occasion the party leadership will strengthen its position sufficiently in order to build a consensus over the need to clean up
Other pressures on