From gold to green: Can the Paris 2024 Olympics slash emissions?

Tourists stand on the Sacre-Coeur Basilica stairs painted with the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games design at the Butte Montmartre in Paris, France, April 17, 2024. REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier
explainer

Tourists stand on the Sacre-Coeur Basilica stairs painted with the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games design at the Butte Montmartre in Paris, France, April 17, 2024. REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier

What’s the context?

Organisers of the Paris Games have pledged to cut planet-heating emissions in half but how will they deliver on this ambition?

  • Paris 2024 Games aim to halve carbon emissions
  • No AC for athletes and plant-based food on the menu
  • Climate groups warn of gaps in strategy

LONDON - This summer, up to 15,000 athletes will descend on Paris in search of sporting glory but the organisers of the 2024 Games have added a fresh ambition to the Olympic motto of "faster, higher, stronger" - they want to be greener too. 

As global sporting bodies face increased scrutiny over their environmental impact, the Paris organisers have vowed to halve the carbon footprint of this summer's Games compared to previous years - they say the event, which begins on July 26, will be "historic for the climate".

The Games are expected to attract around 10 million spectators, who, alongside athletes from around 200 countries, require transport, food and accommodation. Then there is the carbon footprint of new facilities built to host the different events.

Previous Summer Games emitted an average of 3.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. The Paris organisers have set a target of not exceeding 1.5 million tonnes.

So what does Paris plan to do and will it work?

What measures are in place to cut emissions? 

The ambitious pledges of the Paris organisers are in line with the wider sustainability goals of the International Olympic Committee, which has committed to cut emissions by 50% by 2030.

The 2024 Games' organisers say they plan to avoid emissions from construction by mostly using buildings that already exist or temporary structures. They will only build new facilities that can be used after the Games, using low-carbon materials such as timber, and they will use recycled plastic for seating.

Work is underway to connect venues to the public electricity grid to scrap the need for diesel generators and get power from renewable energy sources, a spokesperson for the Games told Context.

The athletes' rooms will not have air conditioning but officials are confident that the buildings' insulation will keep them cool, amid concerns about increasingly frequent heatwaves in Europe.

The largest share of the Games' emissions - nearly 40% - is expected to come from transport. To mitigate this, most venues will be within 10km (6 miles) of the Olympic Village and accessible by public transport for spectators. 

Toyota will provide a fleet of more than 2,650 electric vehicles for transport between sites. 

With digital activities making up nearly 7% of the total carbon footprint for the Games, organisers say they will lease equipment and use smaller screen sizes. 

During the Olympics and Paralympics, more than 13 million meals will be served and 60% of the food will be vegetarian, with twice as much plant-based food as previously, while 80% will involve produce sourced in France.  

Single-used plastics will be banned and there will be a deposit return scheme for food and drink containers. 

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Will these measures work?

Climate groups have praised the Paris organisers for trying to hold a greener Games but some environmentalists are sceptical that the ambitious target of halving emissions can be met.  

A report from Carbon Market Watch and not-for-profit research group éclaircies, released on April 15, said the organisers' sustainability plan only covered around 30% of predicted emissions.  

While the construction and food sustainability strategies were robust, more should be done to address the impact of international travel, according to Benja Faecks, co-author of the "Going For Green" report.

Asked to comment, a spokesperson for the Paris organisers said that the Carbon Market Watch report was factually inaccurate and didn't take all the available information into account.  

The report said organisers should offer discounted tickets for people travelling by train or include chartered train travel in ticket prices.

The Games' organisers said they recommended train travel in their communication with ticket holders, and the British, Dutch, and Belgian delegations have all committed to travel to Paris by train.

Official partner Air France has pledged to match contributions to its Sustainable Aviation Fuel scheme made by customers flying to France during the Games.

While commending the organisers' efforts to avoid greenwashing, the Carbon Market Watch report said they needed to be more transparent about plans to purchase carbon offsets -  a controversial practice that allows a nation or company to buy carbon credits to pay for actions to cut emissions elsewhere, like buying and maintaining a forest or planting trees.

The Games' organisers say they plan to support reforestation, forest preservation and renewable energy development projects. 

Climate analysts say carbon offsets are being overused as the primary basis of net-zero claims for sporting events

What would a Green Olympics look like?

The Olympic Games would need to slash 60% of its emissions by 2036 to align with the ambitions of the Paris Climate Agreement to keep global warming below 1.5C, according to Carbon Market Watch. 

For some environmentalists, the answer lies in downsizing and updating the whole model. 

Carbon Market Watch recommended assigning sporting events to different countries and limiting attendance to local spectators. 

A similar strategy proposed by advocacy group Earthday.org said the Games should be rotated between a few host cities. 

Environmentalists have also called for the creation of an independent body to monitor sustainability standards and have suggested that sports federations that are not carbon zero should be excluded from future Games.

(Reporting by Beatrice Tridimas; Editing by Clar Ni Chonghaile.)


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