Beijing, China, host to this year's summer Olympics, has faced a tremendous amount of international pressure to improve its air quality since it was named host city. With all eyes on Beijing, has the city made the necessary improvements to address air quality issues? In this Special Report, E&E explores the measures being taken to "green" the Olympic venues and Beijing as a whole. Click here to view the full report.
Monica Trauzzi: Beijing, China's seat of power and host of this year's green Olympics. All eyes are on this city as it struggles to improve its air quality. Has Beijing successfully set itself on a path to sustainability? The Olympic venues themselves received mixed reviews.
David Nieh: The Watercube, for example, is one of the most amazing buildings conceived, I think, in some time. It looks at retaining water and putting it in to make up water in cisterns below, looks at taking that very special wall system they have and helping to heat and warm the water, as well as create really good lighting, which reduces the energy load on the building. It uses a wall system that's very light that reduces the steel structure on the building. And the way those trusses are worked out in three dimensions makes them very flexible and also very light. This, I think, stands in stark contrast with the stadium which is right across the main access, which you have said, I think really is overall a very large carbon deposit of steel. And maybe by that difference people can begin to see some ways forward in the future. I think there are many, many commendable things about the open space systems and all the new things they've been doing. However, from a developer's standpoint, this is not a highly repeatable model and it stands as a symbol and it stands as a symbol of the government's advocacy of sustainability, which I think is the signal what I think the developers, like us, take the cue upon.
Denise Van Der Kamp: Well, I mean all these venues were designed I'm sure, with environmental attention in mind. And it's all part of the whole philosophy of the green Olympics, not just the venues themselves and the infrastructure, but also keeping the areas around them green, planting trees, making sure that they're clean, that there isn't people throwing litter around randomly.
Monica Trauzzi: It's only been 30 years since this country began to recover from the devastating effects of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Since then, China has worked to rebuild its economy and infrastructure, often at the expense of the environment.
Ruidong Jin: China just starts with a green building, the concepts, quite a few years ago. And so the U.S. has a long time, has already had a long time to educate the professional and educate the public. And that China has a long tradition of the green building standard, but so the technology and the educated people can not imagine why not.
Monica Trauzzi: LEED certified buildings have only been in development the last four years, starting first with the completion of the Agenda 21 building in 2004.
Ruidong Jin: Before the design, the planning of the Agenda 21 building, the master, the Chinese building professional are experts. They also had no idea and there was like rebuilding. But many people think that the green building means there are more trees, there are more plants, and more green color. That's the start of it, the green building myth are understandable.
Monica Trauzzi: Environmental consciousness is on the rise though and NGOs, like future generations, are hoping the green Olympics will be a springboard for change.
Yu Xiaoxuan: I think around China there's a recognition of importance of having green spaces in urban areas. And this whole tree Olympic part for the Beijing Olympics and the tree-lined streets around it is in recognition of that, that green movement or that growing desire among people.
Monica Trauzzi: But a thousand new cars hit the road every day in Beijing. Two new coal-fired power plants a week feed China's insatiable appetite for energy. Beijing's air quality is notorious for being riddled with soot. Water pollution and sandstorms from unsustainable use are problems Beijing has historically struggled to address. As a result, the government has closed nearly 200 inefficient power plants and factories. Beijing's public transportation system is being expanded to help minimize the gridlock and smog created by the exploding car market.
Zhang Jinghua: In the time leading up to the Olympics four subway lines and 20,000 buses have been added to the public transportation system. The subway lines themselves will increase the capacity for public transportation by 40 percent.
Monica Trauzzi: In addition, more than half a million trees have been planted. People are taking notice.
Yazhen Gong: Because one of the subjects of this year's games is the green Olympics, there's a lot of green work being done that's good for the environment of Beijing. And I noticed the sky had become more and more blue and this, I think, can be largely attributable to afforestation/reforestation activities undertaken around Beijing and in northern China. And we don't have much dust storm this year. Really, you look at Beijing's weather this year and it's really quite nice.
Monica Trauzzi: Organizers of the games are hoping to lay a foundation for more sustainable development in China.
Wu JingJun: The construction and conservation standards implemented for the Olympic venues are higher than national standards. It's my belief that the higher standards will be implemented in future projects around Beijing.
Monica Trauzzi: Just how confident are Olympic organizers about Beijing's air quality?
Wu JingJun: Personally, I'm very confident. I hope the international community will come here and see for themselves. I'm sure that they'll have the same understanding after they come here and see.
[End of Audio]