Athletes for the Earth

Paris 2024 Olympics: A Greenwashing Nightmare or a Genuine Effort to Save the Planet?

Next summer, the opening ceremony of the 2024 Olympic Games will take place on the Seine River in Paris, France. Previous Olympics have had a dramatic carbon footprint, as well as a dreadful impact on biodiversity. For instance, the last two summer Olympic games where held in Tokyo, Japan and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. They released more than 2.7 million and 4.5 million tons of carbon emissions into the atmosphere respectively. Each and every one of us witnesses the effect of global warming in our day-to-day life. We can ask ourselves what regulations will the Paris Olympic planning committee implement to reduce the environmental impact of arguably the most renowned sporting event on Earth? 

A recent change in the carbon narrative 

Initially, the planning committee pledged the Olympics will have a “positive carbon contribution”. That means more carbon will be captured or compensated than emitted. Apart from misleading the public to believe the Olympics’ carbon footprint was minimal, their assertion is also unrealistic. That is why the board has reevaluated its carbon budget and committed instead to cutting the carbon emissions of the event in half. 

The Olympics will have a lower impact than in previous years, but still a significant one. Indeed, the expected carbon budget consists of the emission of 1.58 million tons of CO2. Transportation accounts for the most important share of emissions (34%), followed by operations & logistics (26%), and constructions (25%). On the latter, substantial efforts have been made. Only one building will be made (the Olympic pool). Thanks to the reuse of existing sports facilities. 

Paris 2024 will be greener than previous Olympics, but there is still a lot to do 

There is a major issue with the current structure of accountability for carbon emissions at major sporting events, like the Olympics. The lack of transparency about the carbon assessment. The Olympic Committee, despite publicly expressing environmentally conscious governance and several designated bodies, is very reluctant about disclosing the details of the carbon assessment method.

To correct this, the carbon footprint analysis used for the 2024 Olympics is based on a new approach. It focuses on integrating carbon costs beforehand instead of doing a carbon assessment afterward. Organizers have also adopted the ARO approach (Avoid, Reduce, Offset), to refrain from jumping to compensation without making the first and more complicated step of not emitting carbon.

The “old” carbon assessment model compared to the new one adopted by Paris 2024:
Changing the model: from a post-Games assessment to a pre-Games target

Efforts compared to previous Olympics Games are praiseworthy and necessary. However, several problems remain and need to be tackled for future major sporting events to make sure the athletic community does its part in the fight against the climate crisis. 

How to move toward a greener Olympics? 

Looking forward, propositions for greener Olympics have been formulated by academics, sports supporters, organizers, as well as the athletes themselves. 

The first step would be to greatly downsize the event, inherently decreasing the ecological and material footprint by reducing the size and cost of the new infrastructure required. It will also cut down the transportation’s emissions, which accounts for a large share of an international event’s carbon footprint. Another step would be to rotate the Olympics among the same cities. By doing so, all necessary infrastructure will already be in place, and the Olympics happen at a lower cost, alongside minimal social and ecological disruption. 

Other ideas formulated to reduce Olympics’ carbon footprint include enforcing stronger accountability and transparency standards, and using only renewable sourced energies during the event. As an individual, the greener action you can do is renouncing to go in person. Indeed, with transportations accounting for the greatest share of emissions, it is better to watch the competition on your TV if you live too far from the hosting city and have to take the plane. 

In the fight against the climate crisis, athletes are both an inspiration and a solution. More and more of them are expressing their concerns about the environmental impact of the competitions they are participating in, and are increasingly conscious of their interconnection with global warming. Our Earth Day Campaign Athletes for the Earth aims at amplifying their voices and connecting athletic practices with environmental stewardship.