THE CELEBRATION IN in Beijing on September 3rd to mark the 70th anniversary of the ending of World War Two in Asia will be a breath of fresh air.
Heavy industry, power plants and construction sites in the capital, along with more in Hebei, Tianjin, Shanxi, Inner Mongolia, Shandong and Henan, are being shut down or curtailed between August 28th and September 4th to make the air less polluted. Some 10,000 factories and 9,000 construction sites will be affected, state media say. The goal is to cut pollution on the day by 40% in the capital and 30% in the surrounding region.
The measures are similar to those taken during the 2008 Olympic Games and last year’s the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings so that visitors wouldn’t have to breathe in the filthy atmosphere residents have to suffer the rest of the year. The tail end of the Athletics World Championships due to start in Beijing on August 22nd and run until September 6th will also get some benefit from this year’s effort.
One difference this time is that Beijing authorities have also ordered a complete halt to production at explosives plants and the sealing under guard of all toxic chemicals in the city. In the wake of the Tianjin disaster, Beijing wouldn’t want the 70th-anniversary parade going off with the wrong sort of bang.
China’s order to Beijing’s dirtiest gas stations just to close rather than add to the city’s air pollution is only the latest sign of the government’s determination to have the Olympics this summer run to order.
Nine oil depots in and around the capital and 144 gas stations too antiquated to be fitted with pollution minimizing nozzles will shut by the end of May. There are 1,442 gas stations in Beijing, Xinhua reports with its usual scrupulous attention to statistical detail, so the closure will affect one in 10. The stations and depots affected are mostly owned by Sinopec and China National Petroleum Corp.
Beijing’s poor air quality has been one of the biggest concerns for the Games’ organizers. The British Olympic Association said on Thursday it was considering supplying its athletes with masks at the Olympics to counter pollution. Last year, International Olympic Committee chief Jacques Rogge warned that some events could be postponed if the air pollution was too severe.
There is no way that is going to be allowed to happen. Beijing has begun shutting down blast furnaces at the iconic Beijing Capital Iron & Steel Group — the city’s biggest steel company and one of its worst polluters, and which is being moved to new mills being built on the coast 220 kms away. All construction work in the city is due to cease in May. Many cars will be ordered off the roads during the Games, and thousands of temporary residents will be given holidays to return home to cut congestion further.
Beijing then will probably seem as still as the grey pall that usually hangs over it on humid August days.