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Will the Paris Olympics 2024 be 'Climate Positive'?

What is the environmental ambition of the Paris Olympics 2024? How will Paris 2024 ensure that the competition is sustainable?
Business
2023-06-16T00:00:00.000Z
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Having won the bid to host the multi-sport event in 2017, Paris is now gearing up to host the Olympics in 2024. The games will be held across 16 different cities in France and will take place from July 26 to August 11, drawing 10,500 Olympic athletes and 13.5 million spectators. 

With its huge international appeal and the scale of the event, one can only imagine that the environmental impact of the Paris Olympics 2024 will be sizeable. However, Paris 2024 (the body organising the world’s largest event), have pledged that the games will not only be spectacular, but sustainable too. 

👉 What is the environmental ambition of the Paris Olympics 2024? How will Paris 2024 ensure that the competition is sustainable?

What is the Paris Olympics 2024 ‘environmental ambition’?

The body responsible for organizing the Paris Olympics 2024 - known as Paris 2024 - have pledged to halve the emissions arising from the sporting event, while also offsetting more carbon dioxide emissions than it will generate.

The Rio and London Olympics generated around 3.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (on average), whereas organizers of the Paris Olympics 2024 claim the the Paris games will only result in the emission of 1.6 million tonnes of CO2. 

IOC Olympic Agenda

The decision to make sustainability a central pillar of Paris 2024’s bid to host the Olympics, and now a cornerstone of its work, is really an extension of the climate and environmental considerations that were formalized by the IOC’s Olympic Agenda in 2020. 

The IOC (International Olympic Committee), through its ‘Olympic Agenda 2020’, set the roadmap for the IOC and the Olympic games for the foreseeable future. Published in 2014, the agenda included 40 different recommendations, amongst which were sustainability ambitions. 

👉 The IOC Olympic Agenda 2020 embedded sustainability across its operations, with the target of all Olympic games being climate positive from the year 2030 onwards.The IOC is working with organizing committees to ensure that upcoming Olympic games are carbon neutral and have a significantly reduced environmental footprint. 

Climate positive means that you reduce emissions by more than you produce.

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Paris 2024’s environmental ambitions

Following on from these ambitions, Paris 2024 is assessing each stage of the Paris Olympics 2024 to ensure that climate and environmental considerations are incorporated into every aspect of the sporting event’s planning. 

Organizers of the Paris Olympics 2024 have broken emissions down into three different categories, namely: travel, construction, and operations (this includes accommodation, security and catering). Let’s take a closer look at how organizers have approached reducing emissions across these categories and how they are working to ensure that the Paris Olympics 2024 are the most environmentally friendly games to date:

Frugality and utility

Often when a country becomes host to the Olympics they construct new buildings, new sporting venues and other structures to facilitate the Olympic games. This can create a large carbon footprint - building materials, machines, lighting, heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, amongst other factors contribute to emissions. 

Paris 2024 however, chose not to construct completely new structures and where possible they have prioritized re-using and updating existing landmarks and sporting arenas. In fact, 95% of the structures are either existing or temporary venues. And not only this, when selecting existing venues, organizers also considered the venues accessibility by public transport so as to reduce transport emissions.

The Athletes Village (where the Olympic athletes will reside during the games) is one of the few new constructions. Based just North of central Paris, the village will host around 15,000 athletes and sporting officials. The design of the village has real focus on nature, biodiversity and carbon neutrality. And after the Olympics and Paralympics are over, the area will be turned into an eco-friendly residential and commercial neighborhood, providing accommodation to 6,000 new residents.
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Carbon footprint

Despite best efforts it's impossible to completely eliminate emissions, which is why Paris 2024 have adopted a voluntary compensation plan to cover all emissions related to the Paris Olympic games - including emissions resulting from the international travel of spectators. 

The compensation plan covers carbon capture projects which predominantly focus on restoring and protecting the Earth’s oceans and forests, alongside carbon avoidance projects. 

👉 Paris 2024 has pledged to offset more emissions that they produce by supporting additional projects located in France, to ensure that Paris Olympics 2024 is the most environmentally friendly games to date.

Innovation

Alongside frugality and efficiency, the Paris Olympics 2024 games will also be based on innovation. Paris 2024 has promised to trial and develop new and innovative solutions that support their goal of a climate positive event. 

Examples of some of the innovative initiatives that will be adopted for the Paris Olympics 2024, include using 100% renewable energy during the duration of the games, the adoption of low carbon menus and prioritizing dishes without meat, biodiversity and water management, the promotion of public transport and environmentally friendly methods of transport, clean energy solutions for Olympic fleet transportation, responsible digital technology, and the adoption of principles of circular economy. 

Perhaps one of the more headline grabbing initiatives (especially given the increasing incidences of heatwaves in Paris) is the pledge to avoid using air conditioning at the Paris Olympics 2024. Instead organizers have installed an underground water-cooling system beneath the Athletes Village. Alongside the geothermal energy system, insulation has also been used to ensure that the cool air is not lost during the warmer days.

In order to achieve these targets, it’s hoped that the Paris Olympics 2024 will encourage SMEs and startups to develop innovative solutions.
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Collective effort

There are a multitude of stakeholders involved with the planning, development, and the running of the Paris Olympics 2024. The ambitious environmental ambitions set by Paris 2024 ask these stakeholders (including contractors and suppliers) to step up to the plate in terms of matching these targets. It is in this way, that Paris 2024, hopes to leave a lasting legacy.

Games Environmental Transformation Committee

The Games Environmental Transformation Committee performs an advisory role. Made up of nine experts specialized in climate, energy, biodiversity, catering, circular economy, digital technology, resilience, construction and innovation, the Committee supports Paris 2024 through the provision of advice and the monitoring of the implementation of environmental commitments.

Can Paris 2024 deliver on its environmental aims?

By offsetting even more CO2 emissions than those we are going to emit, we will become the first major sporting event with a positive contribution to the climate. - organisers of the Paris Olympics 2024

While organizers of the Paris Olympics 2024 may want to make the games the greenest ever, talk about the Paris Olympics 2024 being ‘climate positive’ may be overreaching. 

While it’s true that organizers have managed to significantly reduce emissions resulting from construction through the prioritization of repurposing existing venues, it’s impossible to eliminate emissions entirely, particularly when it comes to those resulting from spectator transport. 

As much as organizers attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it’s impossible to completely eliminate them all and so Paris 2024 have pledged to offset residual emission and to finance projects that offset the effects of any emissions. 

However, critics are quick to point out that offsetting projects are difficult to qualify, and don’t always deliver on environmental promises. 

In response to this Paris 2024 have promised to rigorously assess their carbon offsetting projects and have stated that offsets will only be used to compensate for emissions that absolutely can’t be eliminated through sustainability initiatives. 

Despite these assurances, critics maintain that claims of being climate positive are misleading. The event will generate carbon emissions which are bad for the environment, despite any efforts to offset emissions.

Absolutist language such as ‘sustainable Olympics’ or ‘sustainable event’ is inaccurate because despite all best efforts, a big international event simply cannot be completely sustainable. Certain emissions and waste is unavoidable, and carbon offsetting projects are imperfect.
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How can we ensure that future Olympic events are sustainable?

There can be no denying that Paris 2024 are truly trying to ensure that the Paris Olympics 2024 are as sustainable as possible. But the next question is - how can we ensure that future Olympic games not only match this, but surpass the Paris Olympics 2024 in terms of sustainability?

One of the biggest hurdles to ensuring that the Olympic games are sustainable is spectator transport. While a host can ensure that local transport from accommodation to sporting venues is clean, it’s impossible for organizers to control how spectators travel there from overseas. And unfortunately for the time being air travel is not sustainable - there are currently no airlines that run commercial flights on electricity or other renewable energy sources. Therefore, until the air industry is able to advance technologically to solve this issue, there will always be resulting carbon emissions. 

One proposed solution to this, is that spectators are encouraged to enjoy the Olympics from the comfort of their own home. Many point to the Tokyo Olympics which took place during the Covid19 pandemic without spectators - the event was still a success despite the fact that people had to tune in to watch on TV. 

Other factors that experts have pointed to as ways to make the Olympic games more environmentally friendly include: reducing the size of the event, rotating games between the same cities so that new construction of facilities is lessened, and adopting independent sustainability standards.

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Round up

The summer Olympic games are the world’s most significant sporting event, attracting viewers and spectators from across the globe. It’s an incredible privilege for a country to be able to host the games, and Paris is currently in the midst of preparations for the summer 2024 Olympics. 

However, the event leaves behind an environmental footprint - one that despite best efforts, is impossible to completely neutralize. The Paris Olympics 2024 are taking this issue very seriously and have placed sustainability at the center of their work. Through a number of initiatives and measures they aim to halve the amount of carbon emissions, and any unavoidable emissions will be offset through carbon offsetting projects - something that has led to the term ‘climate positive’ being attributed to the event. 

However, critics argue that this is misleading because no matter how hard Paris 2024 tries, the games will inevitably have an environmental impact, and carbon offsetting projects are not a perfect solution. 

Yet, despite the validity of this critique, no one can deny that Paris 2024 have taken an important step forward in terms of sustainability, and have set the bar for future Olympic games.

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What about Greenly? 

At Greenly we can help you to assess your company’s carbon footprint, and then give you the tools you need to cut down on emissions. Why not request a free demo with one of our experts - no obligation or commitment required. 

If reading this article has inspired you to consider your company’s own carbon footprint, Greenly can help. Learn more about Greenly’s carbon management platform here.

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