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Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

The Olympics Will Become Carbon Positive From 2030

From 2030 onward, the Olympics will become climate positive - and each of the future host cities already have ambitious sustainability plans.

From 2030, the Olympics will become climate positive, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) recently announced at a meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland. What does that mean, you may be asking? The IOC defines it as carbon savings created by the host cities that exceed the potential negative impacts of their operations.

The IOC lists measures host cities must take, including minimizing and compensating for direct and indirect carbon emissions and implementing lasting zero-carbon solutions for the Olympic games. The contract with each city hosting Olympic games will include these requirements.

The organization wants “to do more than reducing and compensating our own impact,” said IOC President Thomas Bach. “We want to ensure that, in sport, we are at the forefront of the global efforts to address climate change and leave a tangible, positive legacy for the planet."

Investments from forests to renewables

As part of its efforts to offset emissions, the International Olympic Committee will support the Great Green Wall project, Africa’s initiative to fight desertification. The African Union leads the project, with the aim to create 8,000 kilometers of green landscapes across Africa. The project is a decade in and about 15 percent underway. Once completed, it will be the largest living structure on the planet, about three times the size of the Great Barrier Reef. The IOC will also plant an Olympic Forest from 2021 onwards in Africa’s Sahel region. “Creating an Olympic Forest will be one way in which we will work to achieve this goal,” Bach said.

Such projects are one example of how sustainability is embedded in the IOC, according to the organization. There are three pillars to the Olympic Agenda 2020, and one of them is sustainability. The IOC says it is already carbon neutral, as the organization’s estimated emissions from 2017 to 2020 have been offset already. Renewable energy powers most of the organization’s headquarters, the Olympic House, in Lausanne. And the IOC’s vehicle fleet in Lausanne includes eight hydrogen cars and the Olympic House features a hydrogen refueling station.

Dow is the official carbon partner of the IOC and aids in enabling the organization’s Olympic 2020 Agenda and sustainability strategy. The collaboration is the first one under Dow’s Leading Blueprint 2025 Sustainability Goal. As part of the partnership, Dow launched cross-sector programs balancing emissions in previous Olympic games. The programs are projected to reduce carbon emissions by 4 million tons.

Future Olympics venues have received the sustainability memo

All upcoming Olympic Games are committed to being carbon neutral. Tokyo (shown above) will host the Olympics this summer. All electricity used at the competition venues and Olympic Village will be 100 percent renewable. The official vehicle fleet of Tokyo 2020 will feature zero-emission vehicles, including hydrogen cars. And any remaining carbon emissions will be offset. Further, at least 65 percent of waste generated from the operation of the Olympics will be either recycled or reused, and smart water strategies are in place, including using rainwater and recycled water.

The Dolomite Mountains above Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy, host of the 2026 Winter Games
The Dolomite Mountains above Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy, host of the 2026 Winter Olympics

Photo: The Dolomite Mountains above Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy, host of the 2026 Winter Games

Beijing hosts the Olympics in 2022 and made a commitment to use 100 percent renewable energy for all venues. Organizers plan to transplant trees in the mountains after the completion of venues. Plans are also in place to preserve and reuse waste materials after the completion of construction. The Shougang district in Beijing, which will host various venues and training centers for the 2022 Winter Games, was the site of an industrial complex until 2008: Cooling towers are now Olympic venues, and a former iron ore storage tower is home to the 2022 Games’ organizing committee.

Paris hosts the Olympics in 2024 and brags it will be the first host city to align with the Paris Agreement. Existing and temporary venues will comprise 95 percent of the venues, with any new construction being low in carbon emissions. All materials will be bio-based, electricity for the venues will come from 100 percent renewable energy, and only sustainable and certified food sources will be used. 

Milano-Cortina 2026 and Los Angeles 2028 have also committed in their Host City contracts with the IOC to achieve carbon neutrality.

As for the 2030 Winter Games, we won’t know the host city until the IOC awards those games at a 2023 meeting in Mumbai. Based on various press sources, cities that could end up bidding for those games include Sapporo, Japan; Liviv, Ukraine; Salt Lake City, Utah; Stockholm- Åre, Sweden; Vancouver, British Columbia; and Lillehammer, Norway. But the host city will have two huge items on their agenda: minimize and compensate direct and indirect carbon emissions. The host organization committee will have to deploy zero-carbon solutions for those Winter Games as well. 

Image credits: Pierre Blaché/Pixabay; Michal Kmet’/Unsplash

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

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