Changing China

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The Battle for Beijing’s Air (video)

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CHINA-TRAFFIC/On the first day of the Copenhagen climate change summit, Beijingers were experiencing what authorities called a ‘slightly polluted’ day.

Air quality in the capital has improved, thanks in part to the movement of factories elsewhere and new traffic restrictions first experimented with ahead of last year’s Olympics.

Official weather monitors boasted over 80 percent ‘blue sky days’ in the first half of this year – the best air quality in over a decade (though the reliability of results is disputed – see the US embassy monitor’s take on Monday’s air quality here…) 

With an estimated 1,000 to 2,000 new cars hitting the city’s roads every day, residents like Mr. He (see video) are still waiting for a breath of fresher air.

A cleaner Beijing would be perfect Olympic legacy

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bmx biking against clear skiesFor those of us who live in Beijing, the air during the Olympics has been a real treat. It smells sweet and breathes in nicely. Even better, I feel like I can see forever — buildings that are more than a mile away, even the purple outline of the Fragrant Hills to the west of the city. 

There were a lot of worries about the Beijing smog expressed by athletes and foreign journalists before the Games began. But for the last week, there has been a lovely salmon tinge to the clouds — real clouds, not smog! — in the evenings.

Smogwatch (1)

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After a promising start in the immediate aftermath of the “odd-even” car restrictions and factory closures on July 20th, the air quality in Beijing has slowly deteriorated, as this combination picture shows.

Beijing's polluted skies 

The Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau says data shows that improvements have been made, but this is surely not the backdrop that organisers had in mind for the Olympics.

Never mind the pollution, it’s the Olympic Games

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Cathy FreemanFormer Olympic champion Cathy Freeman, the darling of the Sydney Games in 2000, was in Beijing at the weekend with a few words of advice for Liu Xiang.

I also asked her about pollution and, although she is now long-retired, I think her reply might still reflect the attitude of many of the top athletes coming to Beijing. 

“Vicious cycle” of bike thefts

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A man rides a bicycle in Beijing’s central business districtChina has appealed to residents to take “green” transport ahead of the Olympics, casting the city’s pledge to provide clean air and unclogged roads as a civic “duty”.      

I used to take green transport to work, cycling a round trip of 14 miles five days a week in the cooler months, and three days a week in the summer.

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