4-day traffic trial in the city of Beijing was probably the biggest ever trial to ensure clean air during the next year's 2008 Olympics. On one of those days, I arrived in Beijing; cars with number plates ending with odd numbers were banned from the roads. I could reach my hotel from the airport in no time, as nearly 50 % of Beijing's 3 million cars were off the roads. The taxi driver looked happy, as there were no traffic jams. Even the airport expressway looked more beautiful with thick trees on both sides, which about a decade ago looked so thin and sparse. The Chinese government has taken air pollution seriously, especially in view of the 29th Summer Olympics that will take place exactly one year from now.
I was in Beijing to give an opening presentation at the International Congress of Refrigeration. But I took the opportunity to meet with the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee at its multi-storied headquarters. This was my third visit to the Beijing Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games (BOCOG), since UNEP signed an agreement with the Committee to assist them in making the games 'Green Games'. I met with the head of Construction and Environment Department which has just issued a report called "Beijing 2008: Environment Protection, Innovation and Improvement".
I recalled OzonAction's first conference call with BOCOG who visited Nairobi in 2004 and later a meeting in Paris where we succeeded in convincing BOCOG that "Ozone layer protection friendly Olympics" - as BOCOG calls it now - should be part of the overall theme of 'Green Olympics'. At that time we debated that avoiding CFCs could probably be not that difficult, because China would be accelerating its phase-out of CFCs by more than two years, i.e. by 2008. However, phasing out of HCFCs which are scheduled for 2040, e.g. 32 years after the Olympics, would be a formidable challenge. Mr Yu Xiaoxuan, Deputy Head, was enthusiastic. He decided to take the challenge head on. We even discussed that BOCOG could consider buying products for catering that will be free of methyl bromide treatment during the soil fumigation.
Both OzonAction & BOCOG were determined to use this global event as a key awareness raising tool for the Ozone Layer Protection. BOCOG was enthusiastic to demonstrate that China is not just the most populated country 'fully geared for the games', but it is also the "largest developing country which will become an example of environmental heritage for the Olympic event!"
And here comes the amazing news that made my day! Beijing Olympics will be HCFC-free! Even for the athletics village and apartments HCFCs were not used in air conditioning. And for the athletes' dining hall, lithium bromide absorption systems with solar energy will be installed in place of HCFCs. HCFC coolants are being increasingly used by developing countries as short-term alternatives to CFCs. It does not violate the stipulation in the Montreal Protocol, but Beijing Olympics have gone for the high jump! Such long-term vision of BOCOG has sent a strong message. I was amazed to see what this 'awakening dragon' has done! I went through the review report, talked with industry suppliers and noted that China has leap-frogged! It has successfully avoided the use of HCFCs, 32 years ahead of the Montreal Protocol schedule.
The main Olympic stadium has the architecture that resembles a bird's nest! It literally looks like a gigantic nest, a nest caring for the planet and the environment, I thought.
What BOCOG has done is like crossing the borders and going beyond environmental standards set out for developing countries by raising the bar! Beijing Olympics has introduced the new environmental event in the games, called leap frogging! China has already won the Gold Medal in that event!
NOTE: BOCOG recently received 20th Anniversary Ozone Protection award from the UNEP Ozone Secretariat.