Climate change: are the Winter Olympics going to disappear?

Change climate change: are the Winter Olympics about to disappear?

Rising temperatures, natural disasters, rising sea levels, melting snow and ice… difficult to ignore the consequences of climate change in the world. In this context, are the Winter Olympics destined to disappear, or to be renewed?

Will there still be a Winter Olympics in 2046 or 2080? And which cities will still be able to host them?

The Winter Games, which start on February 4 in Beijing, are the subject of many environmental criticisms. In the absence of natural snow, snow cannons are used to ensure the holding of sliding sports, causing overconsumption of water in a region that is experiencing major water stress. A nature reserve is endangered following the construction of the Olympic infrastructures. The issues around the sustainability of the Winter and Summer Olympics are not new (positive temperatures, rain, population displacement, water pollution, waste).

These Games are an opportunity to ask ourselves the question of the meaning and the possibility of organizing a world-class sporting event in a world disrupted by climate change. Our team of researchers in the Sciences of Physical Activity and Sport has published a review of the literature on climate change and physical activity. This allowed us to understand that doing physical activity or sport in 2030 or 2040 risks being more and more complicated due to a lack of ice, or due to temperatures that are too mild.

Where to organize the next Games?

The observation for the Winter Olympics is simple: it will become more and more complicated to find a place to organize them.

Already, many cities have declined the IOC's invitation to hold the Winter Olympics in recent years, including Lillehammer, Norway, for economic reasons.

But now it's environmental reasons which could dictate the choices. So-called modeling studies make it possible to predict snow and temperature conditions around the world with a good level of accuracy based on greenhouse gas emission scenarios.

To simplify, the scenario with very low emissions would allow us to limit the serious climatic consequences. The scenario with very high greenhouse gas emissions has serious and irreversible consequences for access to water, agriculture, air quality and the intensity of natural disasters. To date, global emissions follow this scenario.

Which of the cities that have already hosted the Winter Olympics could do so again in 2050 or 2080 with freezing temperatures and at least 30 cm of snow?

If we take a look curbing our greenhouse gas emissions right now, only about half of the 21 cities that have hosted the Games in the past 100 years could have relatively good conditions to host competitions, according to an international study conducted by Daniel Scott, from the University of Waterloo.

If we continue to grow our emissions, less than half of the host cities could host the Games in 2050 and barely a quarter in 2080.

But the results get worse if we focus only on the Paralympic Winter Games. Indeed, they take place after the Olympic Games, so in March. However, climate change is likely to reduce the duration of winter. In other words, having a lot of snow and freezing temperatures in March will become increasingly rare. There are therefore even fewer cities “available” in 2050 and 2080 to host the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

Worse for board sports

In cities that have hosted the Winter Olympics in the past, which ones might do so again in 2050 or 2080, do athletes think?

The same research team mentioned above also conducted an international online survey among more than 300 high-level athletes and coaches in winter sliding sports in order to ask them to identify the safe practice conditions that are conducive to their sport.

Low depth of snow, snow that is too wet, rain and temperatures that are too mild are unacceptable conditions for them.

So the researchers asked the same question, used the same method, but using these more specific criteria. For a scenario of very low greenhouse gas emissions, the results are similar, i.e. less than half of the cities could host the 2050 or 2080 Games. In contrast, for the current greenhouse gas scenario, only four host cities have been identified in 2050 (Lake Placid, Lillehammer, Oslo and Sapporo), and only one in 2080 (Sapporo). The results are clear.

Thus, when the criteria for practicing board sports in good conditions are taken into account, the results are even more alarming than the first study, which identified at least ten host cities in 2050.

End-to-ioc greenwashing

One might think that the efforts made by the International Olympic Committee to reduce the ecological, water and carbon footprint of future Games will make it possible to mitigate the consequences of climate change. For example, trees have been planted in China to “offset” certain emissions. However, this measure is not very effective in the fight against climate change.

Sustainability can be determined by a series of indicators that integrate the ecological, economic and social issues of the Olympic Games. When all of these indicators are combined, the sustainability of the Summer and Winter Olympics has decreased since those of Albertville in 1992. The Vancouver Games were very average, for example, and those of Sochi, in Russia, the worse. They have had a major negative impact on ancient forests, arable land, surrounding salmon populations and nearby nature reserves.

If we want to be able to experience unforgettable moments in front of the Snowboard Giant Slalom Final in the coming decades, we should drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions today, as seen in the latest IPCC report.

We must rethink the organization of the Olympic Games to make them more sustainable, with two host cities that would remain the same. For example, the Winter Games could systematically be organized in Oslo and then, four years later, in Sapporo, and then return to Oslo. In addition, pressure must also be increased on the International Olympic Committee to stop using deceptive greenwashing strategies.

The London Olympics in 2012 were touted as the greenest in history. For the first time, the organizers developed a new category of partners, sustainable partners (BP, BMW or General Electrics), but did not ask for real environmental compensation. The Vancouver Games, heralded as the first lasting games, resulted in the destruction of significant portions of Eagleridge Bluffs. Without forgetting all the abandoned Olympic sites, such as Athens or Rio de Janeiro.

The city of Paris, host of the 2024 Olympic Games, plays the sustainability card to the fullest. Tony Estanguet, the co-chairman of the Paris Bid Committee, said in November that “sustainability is not a goal, it is the very DNA of the bid that we are building with the athletes and the whole of our partners”.

But perhaps we should doubt it in view of the declining sustainability of the Games?

Bernard Paquito, Professor, University of Quebec at Montreal (UQAM)

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Climate change: are the Winter Olympics going to disappear?

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