With the 2022 Winter Olympics looming, there are only two significant impediments to China’s efforts to host the Games in Beijing: Almaty, Kazakhstan, and the notorious smog that chokes the Chinese capital.
This isn’t the first time China has had to struggle against itself to make sure that an international event isn’t overshadowed – literally and figuratively – by nearly impenetrable air pollution. Smog was a significant factor in whether the International Olympic Committee would award the Summer Games to Beijing in 2008, a prize that China eventually won.
And last November Beijing hosted the 26th annual summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Community (APEC), providing the group’s leaders with what became known as “APEC blue” – clear skies instead of the usual gray pall that congests the air around the Chinese capital. The term, coined in earnest, is now used sarcastically to describe any brief experience of something unusually pleasant.
Clearing the air was relatively easy for the 2008 Summer Games – banning auto traffic on roads in the area and shutting down factories – and similar remedies were applied for the APEC summit. But the Winter Games will be held in bitter February, when generators are working overtime to keep homes and office buildings warm. You can’t just turn off these generators during a Beijing February.
Nevertheless, the odds look good for Beijing to hold its second Olympic Games in 14 years. Already four candidates have dropped out of the running – Krakow, Poland; Lviv, Ukraine; Oslo, Norway; and Stockholm, Sweden. It’s not clear how strong Almaty’s bid is, but China recognizes that its biggest hurdle is smog.
“I think this is a fact – Beijing’s air at the moment has a problem. We all know it. This is a problem that we have great determination to resolve,” Wang Hui, spokeswoman for the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games Bid Committee, told a news a news conference on March 21. “The measures we have taken are the toughest.”
Wang said the government is spending $7.6 billion to fight smog but didn’t associate that effort directly with China’s bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Evidently one element of that effort is China’s decision to shut down by next year four coal-fired power plants in Beijing that now provide electric power and heat to the capital and its environs. These generators will be replaced with cleaner-burning gas-fired plants with a goal of reducing sulfur dioxide emissions by 10,000 tons, nitric oxide by 19,000 tons and eliminating 3,000 tons of dust each year.
But closing these power plants alone won’t make skies blue over Beijing. The former director of the China Meteorological Administration, Qin Dahe, says the effort will require China to transform its energy and industrial infrastructure, and the public must contribute with personal conservation efforts.
The question, though, is whether even those efforts will be enough to clear the air by 2022.
Liu Xinhua, a spokesman for the Chinese Political Consultative Conference, said the Games offer a strong incentive not only for reducing smog by 2022, but also in helping the country reach its longer-term goal of blue skies over its major cities by 2030.
According to Li Ting of the Institute of Atmospheric Physics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, blue skies are in China’s future. “If the region takes the opportunity of the games and steps up their industrial restructuring process … then Winter Olympics Blue is still possible.” he said.
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