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Can Paris 2024 really be climate positive?

March 16 2023 - News Release News Editorial

Experts have cast doubt on Paris 2024 organisers’ claims that the event will be the first-ever climate-positive Olympics Games.

Can Paris 2024 really be climate positive?

Georgina Grenon, Paris 2024’s director of environmental excellence, said recently: “We want to show that we can do these Games with half the emissions. Within the limit of what is technically feasible in 2024, we will have made every effort to cut, cut, cut.”

The Paris 2024 Board of Directors approved the Games’ climate strategy in 2021, committing organisers to delivering “the world’s first Olympic and Paralympic Games with a positive contribution to the climate”.

However, Carbon Market Watch’s Lindsay Otis Nilles told Phys.org: “To say that an event has a positive impact on the climate is misleading. The event itself generates greenhouse gases which are bad for the climate. The financial support of the organisers for external projects does not change this.”

Organisers have said they plan on halving the emissions produced by the Paris Olympics to 1.5 million tonnes of CO2, down from the 3.5 million emitted by the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Games. 

With 95% of the venues already in place, most of the carbon emissions will be linked to travel. It is predicted that 25% of total emissions will come from spectator travel alone, along with operations such as accommodation, security and catering.

Dr Sven Daniel Wolfe, a Senior Scientist at the University of Zurich, highlighted to Engineering and Technology the issue of pollution – and in particular the decision to stage the Paris 2024 surfing competitions in Tahiti. The island is over 15,000km away from the French capital. 

Wolfe said: “Is that ecologically sustainable, to fly a tonne of people out there? And then, of course, you’re going to have to build a bunch of other infrastructure to host all those international guests.”

"All sport events have an impact. The most sustainable sport event is the one that doesn’t happen." Madeline Orr, a professor at Loughborough University

Paris 2024 organisers have also said that electricity will come from renewable energy sources, with most venues located near public transport.

The Games will also finance the planting of trees to absorb carbon dioxide, as well as conservation projects to restore forests and protect the oceans.

Madeline Orr, a professor at Loughborough University in the UK, told Phys.org that the issue is around “final” statements like being “the most sustainable Games”.

She said: “All sport events have an impact. The most sustainable sport event is the one that doesn’t happen. There’s also the challenge of travel – for athletes and spectators – which is really out of the organisers’ hands.

“We’re waiting on the transport sector, mainly airlines, to sort out electric travel options. So, for now, offsetting is an acceptable option. I think the Paris 2024 organisers have the right idea here.

“My concern is when absolutist language is used, like ‘most sustainable event’ or even just ‘a sustainable Olympics’, because even if they do everything right, a big international event cannot be perfectly sustainable. Certain emissions and waste product is unavoidable, and we know that offsetting programmes are imperfect.”

Orr added: “So, there’s always a risk of overstating the accomplishments. That said, I’d always rather they try!”

Image: Alexander Kagan on Unsplash

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