His eyes opened for a second and closed again. Still in bed, Wo Niu reached out for the tiny alarm clock on the desk. He squinted at its round surface. The black short hand pointed to seven. It WAS time to get up. But how come it looked so dark outside? Wo Niu dressed and approached the window. He smelled a strong scent of mud and realized the dust storm must have hit again. Still, Wo Niu was shocked when he went out of the building and saw the ground covered by a solid layer of yellow sand. And the cars parked around, of varied colors before, now all looked the same, just like scattered mounds of silt. That was on the morning of April 16, 2006. The Beijing Meteorological Station later said the dust storm, the eighth of the year, was the worst in recent memory. An estimated 336,000 tons of dust and sand had fallen on the city overnight. Frustrated, people questioned the «intensified» environmental protection efforts reportedly made by the government in recent years. Some voiced worry that the scenario of a Green Olympics in 2008 might not materialize. Addressing public concern, experts with the State Forestry Administration (SFA) said climate conditions varied from year to year. The dust storm did not necessarily indicate the environment was getting worse. Afforestation efforts had been fruitful. And historical records showed a dust storm was not likely to occur in Beijing in August and September. «The 2008 Green Olympics will not be affected by the dust storm,» said Liu Tuo, director of SFA’s Desertification Control Office. In Moscow on July 13, 2001, the International Olympic Committee awarded Beijing the right to host the 29th Summer Olympic Games. In its bid China pledged to stage a «green» event that will contribute to the protection of the environment. The task is formidable, but Beijing looks determined to live up to the task. Returning from Moscow, officials in Beijing immediately reviewed the city development and environmental protection planning. They vowed to attain the city’s environmental improvement goals – previously set for the year 2010 – three years ahead of schedule. The city was to conduct the giant project in line with the concept of sustainable development, through protecting the environment and resources, and maintaining the ecological balance, said a document prepared by the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad (BOCOG). According to BOCOG, much progress has been made in the past few years and some of the «green goals» have already been achieved. In 2005 Beijing spent a total of 17.9 billion RMB yuan (2.2 billion US dollars) on the environment. Relocation work commenced for the city’s two major polluters, the Capital Iron & Steel Group and the Chemical Industry Area in the southeastern suburbs. By the end of the year, all 20-ton furnaces and those of smaller sizes in the urban areas were made to use clean fuels. And larger furnaces were required to employ pollution treatment facilities to meet the emission standards. Meanwhile, the city imposed the Stage 3 National Emission Standards on motor vehicles. Automobiles meeting the new standards, which are compatible with the Euro-3 Emission Standards, generate 50 percent less emissions than vehicles conforming to the Stage 2 standards. Afforestation Thanks to sustained and effective afforestation efforts, Beijing’s forest coverage reached 50.5 percent and urban green land coverage also climbed to 42.5 percent. Last year Beijing had 234 days that reported good air quality, measured by the Grade 2 national norm, five days more than in 2004. Improvement of the environment was also seen in the rise of sewage treatment rate from 2 percent in 1990 to the present 70 percent in urban areas, and from 30 percent in 2004 to the present 40 percent in rural areas. And the safe treatment rate of domestic waste reached 94 percent in the eight urban districts and 40 percent in the suburbs. (1) China Features, which is affiliated with the state-run Xinhua News Agency of the People’s Republic of China, provides features to overseas print media.