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Greening the Games

David Suzuki Foundation weighs in on 2010 plans for combating greenhouse gas emissions

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Olympic organizers are taking the right steps to manage greenhouse gas emissions produced during the upcoming Games, but to reach their goal of carbon neutrality they will need to invest in offset programs.

The David Suzuki Foundation (DSF) released a 38-page discussion paper on Jan. 24, examining how to effectively manage the 328,485 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions they estimate will be produced during the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

“Previous Olympic Games have made advances in terms of environmental sustainability and now it’s Vancouver’s turn to carry the torch,” said Peter Robinson, CEO of the David Suzuki Foundation, in a press release. “As one of the world’s most high-profile events, the Vancouver Olympics has an incredible opportunity to showcase real solutions to global warming to an audience of billions.”

While VANOC has already undertaken initiatives to reduce emissions by constructing energy-efficient venues, using green power and boosting public transit during the Games, there will still be considerable amounts of greenhouse gas produced.

Deborah Carlson helped author the foundation’s paper, which focuses on three main steps to reach carbon neutrality.

“The first step is to measure your emissions, the second step is to reduce them wherever possible, and then the third step is to offset whatever emissions remain with high-quality carbon offsets,” Carlson explained.

The paper, entitled Meeting the Challenge, includes a breakdown of where these emissions will come from. Categories include the torch relay, energy use, local transportation, waste and administration, but by far the largest contributor to the overall greenhouse gas emissions is air travel.

Air travel is expected to be the largest projected emission source by far in staging the 2010 Winter Games, at roughly 226,000 tonnes according to the preliminary estimate referenced in this paper. “Of this, spectator air travel accounts for approximately 160,000 tonnes,” the paper states.

Since levels like these cannot be avoided altogether, the DSF is recommending VANOC neutralize these emissions by purchasing carbon offsets.

In 2002, Salt Lake City was the first Olympic host city to claim carbon neutrality – organizers performed a carbon emission inventory which they offset with corporate donations.

But their scope of assessment included things like energy and regional transport, and issues like air travel were omitted.

As time has gone on, Carlson says organizers have widened the scope to include more contributing factors.

The David Suzuki Foundation suggests an investment of just over $4.9 million in “high-quality” carbon offsets, which works out to about $15 per tonne of greenhouse gas produced.

During both the Salt Lake City and Turin Games, climate change programs were put into effect, and both cities used carbon offsets to balance out major sources of emissions, including energy and transportation.

The report also includes proposed financing mechanisms for purchasing offsets, which include opportunities through the 2010 Games, by adding an additional fee to tickets or a levy to Olympic merchandise, or through government-funded projects or donations.

Linda Coady, vice president of Sustainability for VANOC, says they won’t have a final handle on the actual size of their carbon footprint until the completion of operating plans later this year.

But they had an outside financial institution audit the report, which found their methodology to be sound.

“So while we can’t say today what the exact size of our carbon footprint will be, we believe (our) preliminary forecast is in the ballpark in terms of order of magnitude,” Coady said in an emailed statement.

Coady says VANOC is still developed their plan on how to deal with the emissions, and should have more information in the upcoming months.

If they decide to use a carbon offset program to offset omissions that cannot be reduced or eliminated, they will use “precautionary money” that has been set aside within their sustainability budget. They are currently working to develop a special fundraising strategy.

Carlson says the 2010 Olympics is the perfect stage to use to teach people about climate change, if VANOC manages their carbon footprint properly.

“The 2010 winter games is such a huge international event – there will be hundreds of thousands of spectators, there will be billions of television viewers – if VANOC does things right, it’s an excellent opportunity to demonstrate solutions to global warming to this audience.”

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