Deborah Seligsohn writes in the World Resource Institute:
Are the Beijing Olympics a signal that China can pursue both economic growth and a cleaner environment?
When we look back at the Beijing Olympics, great sporting moments will stay with us. Watching Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt break world records made all the air quality concerns leading into the Olympics seem like distant memories. But before the world bids “zaijian” to Beijing, it’s worth reflecting on what this Olympics meant and could mean for China. This, after all, was designed to be China’s great moment on the world stage, and the Beijing Olympic Committee set the lofty goals of delivering Green Olympics, High-Tech Olympics, and People’s Olympics. So how did Beijing score in those events?
Was this a Green Olympics? Fortunately, the oppressive weather and smog that marked the run-up to the games dissipated quickly, and Beijing enjoyed the best August air quality in many years. In the end, there were no reports of withdrawals from endurance events. In fact, never before has a city come so far environmentally in the lead up to an Olympic games. Beijing raised emissions standards, closed factories, placed emissions controls on all power plants, and removed half of its private cars from the road. Probably most important and little noted, the city increased wastewater treatment from 22% in 1998 to over 90% this year.