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They're doing it again - Forest at Beijing Nature Reserve to be cut down for Beijing2022

They are at it again. The International Olympic Committee, which allegedly considers the Environment to be its Third Dimension, having already cut down the sacred forest at Mount Gariwang for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics is about to repeat this vandalism at the Songshan National Nature Reserve for the Winter Olympics at Beijing in 2022. The news was met with opposition on Chinese social media. One concerned ecologist, Wang Xi, who recently received his PhD and works at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shanghai, overlaid the map of the Nature Reserve with an image of the proposed ski run.

Songshan National Nature Reserve by Wang XiSongshan National Nature Reserve by Wang Xi

However, postings by objectors like doctoral student Lei Gu and Wang Xi on Weibo are said to be no longer available and, typically under these circumstances, neither the Olympic authorities in China nor the IOC would comment on the reports.

A British bird watcher and environmentalist, Terry Townshend, wrote about the Nature Reserve:

'The slopes below this peak contain many rare species, including Beijing’s only Shanxi orchids (Cypripedium shanxiense), not to mention the breeding habitat of several endangered and range restricted birds including Grey-sided Thrush (Turdus feae), Chinese (Green-backed) Flycatcher (Ficedula elisae), Chinese Thrush (Turdus mupinensis) and “Gansu” Red-flanked Bluetail (Tarsiger cyanurus). And it was in late May this year that I enjoyed a fantastic afternoon’s birding at this site with visiting Dick Newell, Rob Joliffe and Lyndon and Hilde Kearsley (here for the Swift project), during which time we encountered 7 species of phylloscopus warbler – Chinese Leaf, Claudia’s Leaf, Eastern Crowned, Hume’s Leaf, Pallas’s Leaf, Yellow-browed and Yellow-streaked as well as brief views of Grey-sided Thrush and ‘heard only’ Slaty-backed Flycatcher and White-throated Rock Thrush.'

He wrote to the IOC and was told he would receive a response but has heard nothing further.

Just as at Pyeongchang, the authorities have tried to make out that the impacts will be mitigated, in this case by enlarging the area of the reserve. However, critics have pointed out that this will make no difference to the fact that this destruction will affect the most sensitive part of the existing reserve. The usual doublespeak was employed by the local Mayor in Yanqing county in Beijing who justified the destruction on the grounds that it was “to provide the necessary space for local sustainable development and to promote interaction between ecological protection and economic society”.

Once again, as in South Korea, ecologists point out that Government rules on development in protected areas are being overturned without proper regard to the rules. In May, for example, China's environment ministry released a notice, signed by ten government agencies, that stated that any development at odds with a reserve’s function is “strictly forbidden”. President Xi Jinping said:

“We are going to punish, with an iron hand, any violators who destroy ecology or environment, with no exceptions.”

However, this project has pushed ahead regardless of these assertions.

Supposedly to overturn these protections under rules issued in 2013 a public notice has to be issued along with environmental assessments but ecologists can find no evidence that this was ever done. According to one of those posting on social media, Lei Gu, this means “it will be easier for local governments to give construction projects higher priority than conservation issues. The real impact is the breaking of Chinese laws and policies on nature reserves.” Just as with Pyeongchang2018 there is an alternative site at a nearby city, Zhangjiakou, a city in neighbouring Hebei province, which will also host some winter Olympic events, where the impact will be limited as development has already occurred. But that option has been ignored in favour of cutting down this part of the protected forest.

There is no evidence that either the Chinese authorities or the IOC are paying any attention to the concerns of ecologists or local people. Mr Townshend was told that further consultation would occur but the reality is debate online has been curtailed by the removal of accounts and postings. The IOC has never shown any regard for such expressions of public concern and has repeatedly turned a blind eye to this kind of environmental destruction despite claiming in its factsheet: 'The IOC ensures that the Olympic Games take place in conditions that take into account the environment in a responsible way'.

The 2022 Winter Olympics attracted an extraordinary level of opposition in Europe with Munich, St Moritz, Lviv, Krakow, Stockholm and Oslo either refusing to bid or pulling out in the face of public hostility. The IOC was left with Beijing, which will have to import snow to an arid site and suffers from serious air pollution, and Almaty in Kazakhstan. Both hosts are renowned for their lack of respect for human rights. But given the IOC's lack of commitment to any aspect of its own charter and its authoritarian character that has never proved to be a barrier to choosing a host city. Dictators and the IOC are a good fit.

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