The photo taken on Aug. 1, 2008 shows the white cloud floating above the No.1 court of the Beijing Olympic Green Tennis Court in Beijing, capital of China. (Xinhua Photo)
BEIJING, Aug. 6 (Xinhua) -- The International Olympic Committee (IOC) lauded Beijing Wednesday for its efforts in environmental protection since it was awarded the right to host 2008 Games.
With just two days to go before the start of the Beijing Games, air pollution remains a concern and the Chinese organizers have been under fire from the media.
Chairman of the IOC's environmental commission, Pal Schmitt, told the 120th IOC session that China's rapid economic growth has put a strain on the environment, but the city has done its best to tackle pollution.
"The environment is much better than seven years ago," Schmitt said. "They have kept their promises."
Schmitt's remarks came one day after the IOC's medical chief, Arne Ljungqvist, said that the air quality would not prove to pose major problems to the athletes and to visitors in Beijing.
The Chinese capital has invested billions of U.S. dollars to improve its environment since it won the Olympics bid, and a number of drastic measures have been implemented to guarantee good air quality during the Aug.8-24 event, including shutting down construction sites and reducing the operations of polluting industries in and around Beijing.
IOC: Beijing's air is safe for one and all
BEIJING, Aug 6 -- Beijing's air does not pose any health risk for athletes, officials and other visitors, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said Tuesday.
Dispelling all fears over overcast and hazy skies in the city, the IOC said data on Beijing's air quality is being assessed on an hourly basis.
Haze does not mean poor quality air, a senior Beijing environmental official said a week ago.
Arne Ljungqvist, chairman of the IOC medical commission, said at the ongoing 120th IOC session Tuesday: "We are using World Health Organization (WHO) standards for evaluation ... They are fairly tough to meet, but in many aspects, Beijing does."
"I am sure and confident that the air quality will not pose any major problem to the athletes and visitors."
Praising Beijing's green efforts, Sarah Liao Sau Tung, environmental advisor to the Beijing Olympics organizing committee (BOCOG) said the city had created an "unprecedented environmental legacy", which will benefit millions of people in the days and years to come.
With just three days to go for the Beijing Olympics, a section of the international media has raised the bogey of Beijing's air quality again, saying it fails to meet the WHO standards.
But Ljungqvist said the WHO representative in Beijing has expressed "extreme dissatisfaction" with such media for exaggerating the city's pollution problem. Ljungqvist met with the WHO official recently.
"The WHO standards are not intended for temporary visitors," Ljungqvist said. "They are for permanent residents" to guard them against long-term risks.
Since being awarded the 2008 Games, Beijing has spent billions of dollars to improve its environment. It has implemented a number of drastic measures, including stopping work at construction sites and closing polluting factories, to improve air quality during the Games.
The IOC's top medical official praised China for its efforts. It has "done a lot The Beijing Olympics will be a good example of what can be done with the Games in a city".
Quoting weather experts, Sarah Liao said it was unlikely for any of the 17 days during the Games to experience a stagnant atmosphere that would trap pollutants and deteriorate the air quality. And it is least likely to happen on Friday, the opening day of the Games.
Liao said the likelihood of using any of the "special contingency measures" to improve air quality during the Games was minimum because the emission reduction efforts, such as the even-and-odd vehicle license plate number scheme, have proved effective.
Since July 20, vehicles with even and odd license plate numbers have been allowed to hit the roads only on alternate days, reducing emission by about 20 percent, the Beijing municipal environmental protection bureau has said.
Though Beijing will not retain all the temporary measures it has taken to reduce pollution, its "environmental legacy" is likely to be extended to other parts of the country after the Games.
"The Olympics is like a catalyst," she said. "Without it, Beijing would have probably taken 20 to 30 years to do what it has done in seven years."