China Environmental News Digest

Daily updated Environmental news related to China

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Public transport slows Beijing car-free days - NGO

By Timothy Gardner NEW HAVEN, Conn., Nov 7 (Reuters)

Car-free days could help cut smog ahead of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, but tight public transport capacity has made such efforts difficult so far, experts said. Emissions from coal-burning power plants, factories and millions of cars regularly cover China's capital with smog. The European Space Agency said last year that the world's largest amount of nitrogen dioxide, which some scientists link to lung damage, was hanging over Beijing and northeast China. Beijing has had some succes reducing pollution by measures such as converting buses to run on liquefied petroleum gases, which are cleaner than petroleum products. And it could take steps to reduce emissions during the 2008 Summer Olympics. "I think air quality will be improving," said Dr. Jentai Yang, president of the U.S.-China Association for Environmental Education, who worked as a China expert at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for 28 years. "I think most cars will be banned (during the Olympics) and the factories will be shut down to reduce point source pollution," he said at Yale University late Monday. But convincing drivers in Beijing, where some 1,000 new cars hit the streets every day, to curtail their use of cars could be difficult. Sheri Xiaoyi Liao, who in 1996 founded Global Village Beijing, one of China's first environmental nongovernmental organizations, said her group worked with government agencies to bring an international car-free day to Beijing on Sept. 22. "It's very difficult because public transportation is very crowded," she said at Yale. "When people stop using their cars, there's no way for them to go," added Liao, who also serves as environmental ambassador to the 2008 Olympics. Beijing's population has grown from 13.7 million to 15.4 million in the past five years. And the city is expecting a big boom in transportation use for the Games. The government expects to sell about 7 million tickets for various sporting events and ceremonies during the Olympics. The city is spending about $40 billion to revamp its subway system, as well as build new roads and highways ahead of the Olympics. A car-free day organized in Beijing during a China-Africa summit over the weekend boosted public transport use to about 40 percent of commuters, as opposed to just under 30 percent at other times, an official at Beijing's traffic and transportation administration said in China on Monday. The government sent mass text messages to cell phones to inform people about driving restrictions during the summit. Du Shaozhong, the deputy head of Beijing's Environmental Protection Bureau, said Beijing could expand that program ahead of the Games.

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