04/15/2008, 00.00
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China pollutes more than the United States but the air will be “clean” for the Olympics

A study by the University of California suggests that pollution levels in mainland China has been underestimated and that it might be undermining emission cuts by industrialised countries. For the Olympic Games factories will be shut down to improve the air in the capital but the IOC threatens to cancel some competitions.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China is probably the top carbon dioxide and green house gas producer in the world ahead of the United States. On the short run though the authorities are planning to shut local factories in an attempt to clean up the air for the Olympics in Beijing.

When released research results by a University of California team will show that the mainland’s greenhouse gas emissions have been underestimated, warning Beijing that unchecked future growth will dwarf any emissions cuts made by rich nations under the Kyoto Protocol.

The team admits there is some uncertainty over the date when China may have become the biggest emitter of CO2 since their analysis is based on 2004 data, but it indicates that previous studies underestimated the problem, thus re-launching the issue of environmental degradation in developing countries.

With the backing of the United Nations developing countries want the opt out of emissions controls to fight poverty; they also want help to develop cleaner energies.

Beijing for instance has pointed out that US emissions are five to six times greater than those of China on a per capita basis.

Experts note however that the fight must be global and that Chinese pollution is equal if not greater than that of industrialised countries without reaching the same pro-capita income.

In the meantime months before the Olympics, Beijing air is still too polluted.

Nineteen polluting factories were given until 20 July to temporarily close or slash output. The sweeping measures will last until 20 September, three days after the Paralympics end, said Du Shaozhong, deputy director of the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau.

Five provinces and municipalities surrounding Beijing will also be closing factories, although plans have not been released. They are Tianjin City and Hebei, Shanxi and Shandong provinces as well as Inner Mongolia.

“All coal burning power-plants should increase their cut [in emission levels] by a further 30 per cent to reach national standards. If they cannot reach this, they will, in principal, be ordered to cease production,” said Du.

The capital’s three million-plus car owners are also facing a vehicle ban but must wait longer for details.

Sticky and hot August weather could keep polluted air over the city. For this reason Mr Du said that even tougher measures would be taken “in case of extremely negative meteorological conditions”. They include asking more companies to shut down in an effort to make the Games safe.

However, no figures were given and Mr Du was unwilling to discuss the little time left to achieve the goal, except to say that the air was cleaner in Beijing by the day.

Still, the city yesterday was under a cover of smog during a hot day despite a 140 billion yuan (US billion) investment over the last ten years.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has warned it will cancel some endurance events if the smog persists during August. (PB)

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