INTERNATIONAL: China is using the Winter Olympic Games to drive its efforts to improve the environment, but smog-prone capital Beijing is still preparing for the worst as the opening ceremony looms. Beijing has improved its air quality since China won its bid to host the Games, but the Ministry of Ecology and Environment has said winter smog risks remained "severe" and contingency plans were in place. Rumours that polluting heavy industries in the area would be shuttered from January 1 were "not true", however, a spokesperson from the ministry said.
Critics warned in 2015 -- when China won its bid -- that the Winter Olympics could be overshadowed by hazardous smog in a region dominated by heavy industry. Chinese President Xi Jinping subsequently vowed to run a "green" Games, and Hebei promised to "transform and upgrade" its industrial economy. Since then, China has planted thousands of hectares of trees in Beijing and surrounding Hebei province, built sprawling wind and solar farms, and relocated hundreds of enterprises.
In Zhangjiakou city, 200 km (125 miles) northwest of Beijing and host to skiing and snowboarding events, 26-year-old amateur skier Deng Zhongping said he has already felt the difference.He says it is very obvious because he has rhinitis. And this year, he has returned to Beijing and found that the sky has become noticeably bluer, and he has not been affected by rhinitis again.
Officials said during a government-organised tour this week that all 26 Olympic venues in Beijing and Hebei province would be 100% powered by renewable energy. More than 700 hydrogen-fuelled vehicles will also be deployed, despite the government falling short of a hydrogen production target.Preparations have included a tree-planting programme that increased forest coverage in Zhangjiakou to 70%-80%, up from 56% previously.
China has also said it would make the Games "carbon neutral" for the first time. Environmental group Greenpeace, though, said without more data it would be hard to evaluate whether the goal was actually met. Water scarcity is another concern, especially when it comes to creating artificial snow and ice. Organisers said the Games would not put additional pressure on local water supplies and rely instead on cisterns that collected mountain runoff and rainfall during the summer -- in line with China's wider efforts to create a "circular" economy in which resources are fully utilised and recycled.