ClimatePULSE: Green Beijing?

CC_logo_small.jpgThis week we’ll take a quick look at one of the summer’s biggest events – the Summer Olympics in Beijing. Now less than two weeks away, the Olympics will bring approximately 10,500 athletes from over 200 nations to Beijing to compete in over 300 events (which take place at over 30 different venues). While the focus of the Games is, and should be, the athletic competition, it is interesting to consider the effects of such an event in terms of its impact on climate change.
The issue of climate change as it relates to the Olympic Games has been largely overshadowed by Beijing’s poor air quality. Understandably, Olympic organizers have had their hands full in an attempt to decrease local pollution and improve local air quality over the short-term, leaving little resources for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This is unfortunate given the scale of GHG emissions associated with the Olympics.

To name a few related GHG sources:
* A great deal of travel (primarily air) for teams, employees, media, promoters, diplomats, and fans to and from Beijing
* Transportation between venues during the Games
* The construction of 12 new sporting venues and a high-rise apartment building for athlete housing, as well as renovations to existing facilities and the development of temporary venues
* The energy required to operate all of the facilities, including heating swimming pools, facility HVAC, extensive lighting, etc.
The Olympics are certainly a GHG-intensive event, but they are also capable of showcasing emission reductions on a global scale. Although not a theme for this year’s Olympics, future games including the 2010 Games in Vancouver are taking an active approach to reducing their effect on climate change. The 2010 Olympic organizers are improving the local transit system for the Games, building venues following LEED standards, and much more. In addition to reducing emissions wherever possible, the Vancouver Olympic Committee has also published plans to invest in further projects to offset the GHGs from the Games.
Carbon neutral activities are slowly becoming commonplace in sports. This month’s MLB All-Star Game in New York featured players and icons walking down a 95,000 square foot red carpet made of 100% recycled content and manufactured in a LEED certified facility. Past Super Bowls have been carbon-neutral through the use of offsets. Unbeknownst to many, the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino had an aggressive plan to offset approximately 100,000 tonnes of CO2 – that’s equivalent to removing 20,000 American vehicles off the road for a year.
Athletes themselves can also take action to reduce their environmental impact. Over 500 professional hockey players in the NHL have taken part in the NHLPA “Carbon Neutral Challenge”. A key part of this challenge is for players to offset the GHG emissions arising from their extensive air travel. It is important to note that Olympic athletes do not have the multi-million dollar contracts that many professional athletes do, but offsetting emissions from air travel is still quite achievable.
To put this in perspective:
* Straight-line, round-trip distance from New York to Beijing is approximately 22,000km (13,644 miles)
* The GHG Protocol emission factor for long-haul business air travel (>1600km) is 0.11kgCO2 per passenger km
* That comes to only 2,420kg CO2 per athlete (2.42 metric tons of CO2)
* While rates for carbon offsets vary greatly, the cost to offset 2.42 tonnes of CO2 would almost certainly be less than $50
While not a significant concern of this summer’s Olympic Games, one of the most important aspects of emission reductions is that they can have a part in just about any of our activities. Organizers of major athletic events have been incorporating carbon-neutral activities more and more frequently. The organizers of the 2010 Games in Vancouver have done an excellent job thus far in considering the carbon footprint of their games and hopefully this attitude will be shared by the participating nations and athletes to make that event the greenest Olympics in history. The Olympics Games carry with them great tradition and honor, but one must wonder: how will a carbon-constrained world change global events like the Olympics in the near future?

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