Reducing The Carbon Impact Of This Year’s Olympic Games

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The Olympic Games are a series of athletic events with medals awarded to winners, with this year’s Olympic Games occurring from July 26th to August 11th! Games like these originated in Greece nearly 3000 years ago, with the most famous of these types of organized events becoming the Olympics. It was originally held in Olympia, a town in ancient Greece, hence the name “Olympic Games”. In more modern times, these Olympic Games were revived in 1859 and are now held in a different city around the world every four years, requiring large amounts of renovation and supplies to prepare the area to accommodate various events and a large crowd. This is not only extremely expensive but also quite environmentally harmful, with all of the unnecessary use of materials as well as the excessive plane trips taken by people coming in to see the Games. 

How Much Waste Is Usually Produced By The Olympics?

This year’s Paris Olympics aim to reduce the emissions produced by the Games, halving their impact on the environment. The last Summer Olympic Games caused 3.5 million tonnes of CO2 to be produced, and this is being used as a baseline to try to cut emissions in half for the 2024 Olympics. In previous years, the Olympics did aim to reduce emissions and engage in counteractive measures, but they did not meet their initial targets. An impact study on the London 2012 Summer Games showed that for seven of 67 indicators considered, the Games were considered negligible. This included water quality in the River Lee, air quality, and land use. The Games were given a 0.56 out of 1 sustainability rating by the study, which was concluded three years after the games.

How Does The Olympics Intend To Improve Their Carbon Footprint?

The Paris 2024 Olympic Games originally intended to reduce emissions and use other methods to completely compensate for the emissions produced by the Games, creating a positive carbon contribution. This was later determined to be too ambitious of a statement, so it was amended to just cutting the emissions in half. The expected carbon emissions total around 1.58 million tonnes of CO2. This includes emissions associated with transportation (accounting for 34%), various operations and logistics (26%), and construction. For the most part, existing facilities will be used for the Paris Olympics, apart from the construction of one building – the Olympic pool.

Are These Claims To Improve Genuine?

There are major concerns that the Games are making overly ambitious goals and being purposefully opaque surrounding the specifics of their carbon reduction process. This is seen in the fact that they initially over-promised and claimed that their counteractive measures would outweigh the emissions produced, creating at least a net zero effect. The Olympic Games have not been transparent about many of the specifics about how they intend to meet their proposed goals, leading to a lot of speculation about the feasibility of these ideas.

In general, the ARO approach is being used to reduce the carbon impact of the Paris 2024 Games. ARO stands for Avoid, Reduce, Offset:

  • Avoid: By aiming to reuse existing infrastructure and avoid building new structures, environmental impact is reduced.
  • Reduce: Paris 2024 is using low-carbon structures, trying to use renewable energy and sustainable catering sources, and more.
  • Offset: Emissions that are caused indirectly by the Games, such as travel emissions from the audience, are offset by projects that have been implemented that started in 2021.

A major step to decreasing the impact of the Olympics on climate change would be to downsize the event. This would decrease the major costs associated with it, including the required materials costs, transportation, and general logistics costs. Another reasonable way to reduce carbon emissions would be to make sure that the Olympics is only alternating between a set number of cities, rather than occurring in new cities most of the time. This would drastically decrease the amount of infrastructure required to accommodate the Olympics since the city should already have everything necessary to do so.

As individuals, the main way that people can decrease the environmental impact of the Olympics is to not go in person unless they can get there without too much carbon emission (i.e. without taking a plane). Transportation costs account for about a third of the carbon emissions associated with the Olympics, so this would be the main way that regular people could avoid worsening the issue.

Conclusion

It seems that based on evidence from previous Olympic Games, the bold promises initially made by the Games are unlikely to become reality. The Games consistently over-promises and later pulls back their ambition, making their targets more and more reasonable as time goes on, in hopes that they will be able to realistically meet targets. It seems that to some extent, the Games may be attempting to use greenwashing tactics to make their events seem more environmentally sustainable than they truly are, which is primarily suspected due to their lack of transparency surrounding the actual progress that they may make toward their goals, and the fact that they keep shifting their targets to make them increasingly easy to meet.

If you are someone who typically goes to see the Games in person, consider enjoying the Olympic Games this summer from the comfort of your home. This helps to decrease emissions associated with flying to the city where the event is being held, as transportation costs comprise a fairly large proportion of the emissions associated with the event. 

References

​​Abrahams, H. M., & Young, D. C. (2024, June 19). Olympic Games | history, locations, & winners. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/sports/Olympic-Games

Choukroun, M. (2023, June 20). Paris 2024 Olympics: a greenwashing nightmare or a genuine effort to save the planet? Earth Day. https://www.earthday.org/paris-2024-olympics-a-greenwashing-nightmare-or-a-genuine-effort-to-save-the-planet/

Delaplace, M. (2024, June 20). Can we really measure the ecological footprint of the Olympics? Polytechnique Insights. https://www.polytechnique-insights.com/en/columns/planet/can-we-really-measure-the-ecological-footprint-of-the-olympics/

Halving the carbon footprint of the Games. (2023, October 18). Olympics.com. https://olympics.com/en/news/carbon-neutral-games

About Post Author

Aliyah Knetsch

Aliyah is a fourth year BSc Psychology student at the University of Waterloo, and she is a Research Assistant with EnvironFocus.
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