On a crisp, clear autumn day, with Olympic officials heading to town to look at construction sites for the 2008 Games, China's capital is racing against time to hit its clean air target of 227 days this year.
BEIJING On a crisp, clear autumn day, with Olympic officials heading to town to look at construction sites for the 2008 Games, China's capital is racing against time to hit its clean air target of 227 days this year.
By the end of September, Beijing had registered only 175 such days, meaning it needs clear air in 52 of the last 92 days of 2004 to meet the mark, the China Daily reported on Tuesday.
Thick smog in early October and the onset of winter, when the temperature can drop to minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus four Fahrenheit), mean environmental planners have their work cut out.
"We are now facing great pressure to realize the goal," Cheng Ying, an official at the city's environmental protection bureau, was quoted as saying. "Smoke from burning coal is always a headache for the environment at this time of year."
Beijing's normally poor air, choked by car exhaust, factory emissions, and dust clouds, deteriorates when thousands of coal-burning heat plants and smaller domestic coal stoves are lit.
Light snow or rain at any time of year cakes cars in mud smuts.
At the beginning of October, the city's skies were smothered by smog so thick it forced the rescheduling of two shows by a visiting French aerobatics team.
While Beijing succeeded in cutting coal use by boilers by 5 million tons last year, industrial coal use increased by 3 million tons in the same period, the newspaper said.
"Therefore, total annual use of coal was only cut by 2 million tons to 26 million tons last year from 28 million in 1998, when Beijing officially launched its program to cope with air pollution," it said.
Improving air quality is key to the city's huge drive to be ready to host the 2008 summer Olympics. China, already the world's fastest growing car and energy market, has earmarked US$7 billion of its total $37 billion Olympic budget to clean up the capital.
An International Olympic Committee delegation is due this week to hold two coordination meetings and visit stadium construction sites.
Pre-Olympic plans call for relocation of 200 polluting Beijing factories and treatment of more than 90 percent of sewage in the cities noxious canals by 2008.
But time may not be on Beijing's side.
"Although some large-scale enterprises which discharge vast amounts of industrial pollutants have been gradually removed from the city, the pollution, described as being severe, is not likely to see a dramatic change in the short term," the daily said.
Seven of the world's 10 most polluted cities are in China, where clean air crusaders face a daunting task.
In addition to their efforts to curb coal use, authorities also plan to introduce ethanol gasoline and ban leaded petrol in major cities.