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Beijing Holds Breath

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I wonder how many CEOs at Asia’s top corporations recycle all their paper, water bottles, and soda cans. And how many government leaders practice waste segregation?

Governments and enterprises can draft all the green policies they want and generate all the PowerPoint presentations they wish to promote them — but what are the chances that any of it will go past lip service if chiefs down to middle managers don’t practice what they preach?

If you’re doing business in Asia and still don’t give a hoot about the environment, wake up and smell the emissions. And learn from the experience of host China in preparing for the Summer Olympics.

The impending threat of suspension by the IOC of certain events left Beijing Games officials with no other choice but to rapidly shape up, environmentally speaking. They did everything, short of moving the Beijing Games to still-pristine Weihai City, to ensure that the world’s top runners didn’t choke on sulfur dioxide emissions and faint a few inches from the finish line. (Story on page 13)

Even Chinese environmental officials admit that local chiefs have chosen economic over environmental development. (Outspoken, page 4)

But now things have changed. It’s almost like a student cramming for his midterms. Just a few months shy of the big midterm exam that is the Olympics, China released its five-year plan for the environment for 2006 to 2010. Belated, perhaps (the plan was only adopted last September), but when China crams, she crams with a passion.

For the next three years, China will invest 1.35% of its yearly GDP to protect the environment. To give you an idea of how serious China is, its 2006 GDP was 20.94 trillion yuan (US$2.84 trillion); 1.35% of that is 28 billion yuan (US$3.8 billion). Forecasts have China’s 2007 GDP increasing by over 11%.

The new plan also mandates an assessment mechanism so local governments can be monitored. What’s more, the State Council will publicize results — a veritable who’s who of enemies of the environment.

Isn’t it nice that a country can throw a hefty percentage of its GDP at its pollution problem to wipe it out (as opposed to throwing it at debt service as the Philippines does, for instance). But what happens when all the money in the world can’t solve an irreversible pollution problem?

With even the IOC admitting that its all systems go for the Beijing Games, it looks like China will be passing its midterms. Whether it can pass the finals test of recouping its (literal and figurative) Olympic hosting expense and turning a profit remains to be seen.

print ed: 12/07


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