China and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have presented the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics as “greenest and cleanest everBut many experts and activists criticized the host city for its unsustainable practices. Concerns about the environmental record of the Olympic Games have been mounting for years, intensifying as the threat of climate change increases.
What are the concerns about the Beijing Olympics?
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The Winter Olympics require a lot of snow on the ground for sports such as skiing and snowboarding, but the three venues for the 2022 games – Beijing, Yanqing and Zhangjiakou – have arid climates. While the reliability of snow is declining globally due to global warming, Beijing is particularly unsuitable for the winter games because it has not a lot of precipitation in the first place. The Sochi 2014 Olympics and the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics have been criticized for similar reasons.
To compensate, Beijing relies heavily on artificial snowmaking, a process that consumes large amounts water and electricity, which can lead to increased carbon emissions. Carmen de Jong, a geographer at the University of Strasbourg, estimates that snowmaking at the two outdoor games sites, Yanqing and Zhangjiakou, will require up to 500 million gallons of water. “Having games in a site or region without snow is not sustainable. Creating events without the main resource on which it depends is not only unsustainable, it is irresponsible, ”says de Jong.
Energy and environment
The snow would have resulted in the formation of water hijacked local residents and farmers, who are already strapped for resources as Beijing suffers from an endemic situation water shortage. Artificial snow too destroy native vegetation and can cause erosion and landslides, exacerbating the already damaging environmental impact of building ski slopes in natural landscapes. If Olympic venues are converted to permanent ski resorts as planned, these unsustainable practices will likely continue long after the Games. Environmentalists in China raised an uproar after learning that the planned ski slopes pass through the heart of Songshan Nature Reserve, a protected forest ecosystem in Beijing.
What did Beijing say about the environmental impact of the winter games?
Chinese officials say the 2022 Olympics will be the most sustainable ever, pointing to the widespread use of renewable energies, hydrogen vehicles and pre-existing sites. While many activists and scientists see this as a step in the right direction, they say these are superficial measures akin to “greenwashing,” a public relations effort to cover up larger loopholes. when it comes to sustainability. The high cost of snowmaking is only one of the environmental concerns regarding site construction and energy consumption.
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Like some previous hosts, Beijing also plans to use carbon offsets. These are carbon reduction measures, such as planting trees, taken to offset increased emissions. But scientists question their effectiveness and criticize the IOC for poor surveillance the fulfillment of the carbon neutral promises of the host cities.
How has the environmental impact of the Olympic Games evolved?
Studies showed that the Olympics have generally become more harmful to the environment in recent years, especially since they have enlarged in size and scale. More athletes, spectators, events and venues emit more carbon and consume more natural resources. Construction related to the Olympics has also reshaped ecological landscapes and displaced residents.
In addition, the Olympic Games are increasingly being hosted by countries where renewable infrastructure and environmental protections are less established. The allure of high-profile megaprojects has prompted some host governments to crush national opposition to the games. Experts say that the Sochi Olympics and the Rio 2016 Olympics in particular caused ecological damage due to construction, toxic waste disposal, and unsustainable construction practices. In contrast, many developed democracies are reluctant to host games because of the potential for rising costs and environmental damage. For the 2022 Olympics, Beijing was chosen as the host over Almaty, Kazakhstan, only after Oslo, Norway; Stockholm, Sweden; Krakow, Poland; and Lviv, Ukraine, withdraw their offers lack of public support.
Energy and environment
How will climate change affect the Olympics?
Scientists expect the number of cities capable of hosting the Summer and Winter Olympics will drop dramatically as the planet warms. A study found that without a significant drop in emissions, by 2080 a rise in temperatures would mean that only eight of the twenty-one cities that hosted the Winter Olympics could do so again. Meanwhile, the heat could also affect the location of the Summer Olympics. By 2085, it is estimated that only 5% of currently viable cities in the northern hemisphere would be considered pretty cool for athletes.
Can the Olympic Games be organized in a sustainable way?
To increase the sustainability of the Olympics, experts recommended that the organizers consider several actions:
- Select one or more cities to host the games each time and reuse the existing infrastructure. (Some suggested the rotation of the games between representative cities of each continent, such as Los Angeles in North America, London in Europe and Tokyo in Asia.)
- Hold the games less often.
- Reduce the number of events and competitors.
- Restrict the number of tourists to reduce the travel footprint.
However, many observers remain skeptical about the possibility that governments and the IOC could pivot, given the financial and reputational incentives. “The chance to display your nation as a great nation on the world stage is extremely precious,” says Sven Daniel Wolfe, urban and political geographer at the University of Lausanne. “I don’t think other nations will want to give up this award.”
Michael Bricknell created the map for this In Brief.