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Going For Green: Is The Paris Olympics Winning The Race Against The Climate Clock?


The 2024 Paris Olympics promises a gold-winning climate
performance and to set the pace for future games. Our
in-depth assessment reveals that, despite improvement, the
carbon footprint of the Olympics remains far too high to be
sustainable. This calls for a radical rethinking of the
games.

With the upcoming lighting
of the Olympic flame
, the world’s eyes turn to Paris
where, this summer, the 2024 edition of the Olympic games
will take place. However, the sizzling temperature forecasts
for this summer have athletes and fans already sweating in
dread.

Aware of the impact of the games on the climate
and of record temperatures on the games, organisers of the
Paris games have pledged to break records when it comes to
reducing the impact of this mega event on the planet.
‘Going for Green’, a Carbon Market Watch and éclaircies
report assessing the credibility of these plans reveals that
if completely implemented, only 30% of the expected carbon
footprint is covered by a robust climate
strategy.

Within the existing mega event
organisational framework, organisers deserve praise for
attempting to make the most of a bad hand and for moving
away from misleading carbon neutrality language in their
communications. Ultimately, however successful these actions
may be, broader, fundamental changes must take place if the
Olympics is to comply with a future that does not hurdle
over the 1.5°C Paris Agreement temperature
barrier.

Dropping the carbon budget
baton

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Organisers have set a carbon budget of 1.5
million tonnes of CO2 equivalent for these games – aiming to
more or less halve the emissions associated with the 2012
London Olympics (3.3 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent) and
2016 Rio edition (3.6 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent). The
desire to think sustainably is to be welcomed, and the
decarbonisation objective set by this budget seems ambitious
at first glance. However, it is very difficult to assess it
as it remains unsubstantiated. No methodology or details
about calculation are disclosed, and carbon budgets across
editions might not be comparable.

Our analysis of how
the Paris 2024 carbon budget will be spent shows that the
major causes of emissions relate to construction
(approximately 32% in total) and transport (approximately
40% in total). Our investigation of sectoral strategies to
limit the impact of construction, food supply, non-food
purchases, transport and energy showed mixed
results.

Whilst decent efforts have been made to limit
emissions with reuse, repurpose and recycle principles
applied to construction, as well as the planned high
availability of plant-based menu options for spectators,
this is undermined by the fact that organiser’s hands are
bound when tackling the largest emissions sources. For
example, air-travel emissions cannot be significantly
reduced in the short- to medium-term unless the event itself
is redesigned to limit the need for such travel.

A
green Olympic vision

To host games compatible with
avoiding catastrophic climate impacts, a fundamental rethink
of the Olympics is needed.

Making
the Olympics sustainable in its current format where the
world’s best athletes all assemble in one city, stretching
transport networks to their limit and generating new,
short-term and purpose-built infrastructure is
impossible.

‘Going for green’ outlines one
possible alternative games hosting model that is compliant
with the need to protect the 1.5°C temperature barrier
identified in the Paris Agreement. For example, assigning
different sporting disciplines to different countries while
restricting physical access to attendees who can reach the
games over land.

Not only could this drastically
reduce the environmental impact of the games, it could also
substantially increase the number of people who get to
experience the games in-person, boosting the reach of
Olympic values. A reimagined games could deliver the
exciting prospect of athletics events held in Mexico City,
aquatic sports in Buenos Aires, team sports in Nairobi,
combat sports in Seoul, racquet sports in Warsaw, cycling
sports in Ankara, gymnastics in Jakarta, and so
on.

How to win gold

The first step that the
Olympics could realistically take to speed towards an
environmentally sound model is to drop and avoid sponsors
pursuing a negative climate pathway. For Paris 2024, each
brand listed as an ‘Official partner’, including
Aeroports de Paris, ArcelorMittal, AirFrance and AccorHotels
is contributing significant negative impacts on the climate
and the environment.

Although the Paris Olympics has
avoided FIFA’s egregious error of labelling the mega-event
as ‘carbon neutral’, the term still appears 27 times in the
technical documentation. Fortunately, their language use
evolved over time featuring the honest yet non-grandstanding
tagline of “Olympic and Paralympic Games in tune with
society and its realities.”

The
Paris Olympics have completed the warm-up lap for climate
action but the real race is now on. The IOC must cut the
flab and lift the pace of change to get the games across the
1.5°C finish
line.

© Scoop Media

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