The 2022 Olympic Winter Games has kicked off on February 4 in Beijing, bringing together about 2900 athletes from 91 countries and regions. Despite the so-called diplomatic boycott led by a few western countries, the sporting gala attracted more than 30 international dignitaries from across the world, including heads of state, heads of government, members of royal families and heads of international organisations. This gathering of leaders during a time of COVID-19 showed the support of the world for the Olympics, as well as their wish for unity. The smiling faces of athletes from across the world at the grand opening ceremony showed that they were ready to enjoy the sports gala. My colleagues and I were excited to see Nigerian athletes marching and flying the Nigerian national flag at the opening ceremony while watching the live broadcasting in Lagos. We wish Nigerian Olympians excellent performances and good results.
As the world’s first dual-Olympic city which hosts both the Summer and Winter Olympics, Beijing committed to presenting the world a green winter Olympics from the bidding period and has made a valuable innovation and breakthrough. As the distinctive feature in the Beijing Winter Olympic Games, the concept of sustainability and green has been embedded in the entire process and every aspect of the work to prepare and deliver the Games.
Through careful planning, Beijing has been able to use its budget most efficiently and effectively, including utilising venues built for the 2008 Summer Olympics. This time, among all the venues in downtown Beijing to be used for competition, only one was newly built. All of the others are legacies from the 2008 Olympics. After the Games, all the venues will be further used as public facilities for sporting events, entertainment or cultural activities, benefiting people from all walks of life.
During the bidding stage, some commentators expressed doubts over pollution, claiming high levels of carbon dioxide could risk athletes’ health. Those fears have disappeared as the city enjoys clear skies and excellent air quality.
As part of the Green Olympics initiative, Beijing has prioritised ecological preservation, conserving resources and environmental friendliness. In line with the initiative, venues of the Beijing Winter Olympic Games are applying more green technologies to reduce energy consumption and the impact on the environment.
Carbon dioxide refrigerants for ice-making, the least toxic and most eco-friendly natural refrigerants, were introduced to reduce greenhouse gas emissions further. During the past Winter Olympics, the speed skating venues all used freon refrigerants for ice-making. Still, the new refrigerants made of natural carbon dioxide can help reduce carbon emissions to nearly zero. The new technology can help improve refrigeration efficiency by 20 per cent and save electricity use by 2 million kWh a year for the National Speed Skating Oval.
In Yanqing, in the outskirts of Beijing, one of the three competition zones for the Beijing Winter Olympic Games, a series of environmental protection measures have been implemented to construct new venues. Forestry experts first conducted a study to seek the best ecological restoration and venue construction practices to reduce environmental damage. They even relocated some indigenous flora and built safe passages for small animals. When building roads at the National Alpine Skiing Center in Yanqing, workers relocated fragile alpine meadows before construction started and moved them back months later after the construction was finished.
Renewable energy is used to power all competition venues, making the Beijing Winter Olympic Games the first one in history to power all its venues with green electricity. A flexible DC power grid has been made possible to bring the capital city electricity generated from the rich wind and solar resources in Zhangjiakou, the co-host city for the Beijing Winter Olympic Games. The power grid is expected to send 22.5 billion kWh of electricity to Beijing each year in the future, or around one-tenth of the city’s total power consumption. It will help save 7.8 million tonnes of standard coal and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 2,040 tonnes each year.
Apart from the venues, Beijing has moved to build a green transport system to help better connect the three competition zones of downtown Beijing, Yanqing and Zhangjiakou. The Beijing-Zhangjiakou high-speed railway line has helped cut the travel time between downtown Beijing and Zhangjiakou from three hours to one hour between downtown Beijing and Yanqing from two hours to 26 minutes. Meanwhile, all the Beijing Winter Olympic Games venues in downtown Beijing will be linked by metro lines. Beijing is also building new-energy vehicle charging facilities along the roads between Beijing and Zhangjiakou.
Beijing has upgraded industries, closed polluting enterprises, and switched to cleaner energy to reduce energy consumption and pollutant emissions in the broader green push.
As an indicator of the green drive, Beijing last year reported the lowest average concentration of PM2.5 since records began in 2013, with the reading at 38 micrograms per cubic meter in 2020, a year-on-year decline of 9.5 per cent.
The Beijing Winter Olympic Games are of special significance to China’s sports and the development of the international Olympic Movement. President Xi Jinping set out a vision of engaging 300 million Chinese people in winter sports – a goal that China has already reached. Mr Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee, called China “a new winter sports country”, saying that “the 300 million people who have now been made familiar with winter kick boxing sports will, in the end, be the great legacy of the Olympic Winter Games”.
The Beijing Winter Olympic Games are the first comprehensive global sporting event as scheduled since the onset of the pandemic, and the Games have brought hope and confidence to the world amid COVID-19. I believe the Beijing Winter Olympic Games will go down in history as a milestone for the development of the Olympic Movement and humanity overcoming crisis through solidarity.
Chu Maoming is China’s Consul General in Lagos