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Going for green: Assessing the climate strategy and communication of the 2024 Paris Olympics

Amidst the splendour of the Olympic games lies a sobering reality: the urgent threat of climate change. The 2024 games are coming to Paris, home of the 2015 legally binding international climate agreement that set a target to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.  The Paris 2024 organising committee has implemented a climate strategy, which is a decent attempt at greening the games. However, an investigation of  the efficacy and communication of this plan raises fundamental questions, and it becomes clear that no Olympic games can truly be compatible with the Paris Agreement’s objectives unless their overall operations are fundamentally reformed.

Though commendable, the Paris 2024 climate strategy aim to minimise the event’s carbon footprint is incomplete, and falls short of achieving transparency. While setting targets and implementing logical policies across sectors – such as construction, food supply, non-food purchases, transport, and energy consumption – the strategy lacks detailed methodologies and comprehensive monitoring, and is not clearly communicated. This report recommends transparent and clear disclosure of methodologies, clear articulation of sustainability criteria, and rigorous validation and monitoring to ensure alignment with global climate goals and enhance the effectiveness of future Olympic games’ sustainability efforts.

Over time, the communication strategy surrounding the climate goals of the Paris 2024 Olympic games has evolved, initially emphasising a principle of carbon neutrality, and even introducing a  description of  ‘climate positive’. Both of these misleading claims were eventually dropped. However, inconsistencies remain between public-facing communication and technical documentation regarding the use of carbon credits and the event’s carbon neutrality goal. Transparency regarding carbon credit purchases is lacking, hindering public engagement and an assessable oversight of the event’s environmental responsibility. Additionally, many of the games’ sponsors are not climate leaders and the absence of climate criteria when selecting sponsors is a missed opportunity to influence large companies. Ultimately, if the Olympic games is to lead by example in its sustainability communication, they must publicly demonstrate measurable progress, transparency, and inspire broader adoption of sustainable practices.

The role of the Olympic games in a future low-carbon world is under scrutiny, considering what remains of the limited global carbon budget and this event’s significant environmental footprint. To align with a 1.5-degree future, transformative alternatives that challenge the conventional structure of the games are necessary. Solutions include setting a carbon budget compatible with the Paris Agreement, with pathways tailored to the unique situations of host cities and countries. Another is to spread Olympic events across different countries to reduce the size of the games and limit international travel. This would encourage participation from local spectators, giving more people access to the Olympics and reduce their overall footprint at the same time. This alternative model aims to enhance inclusiveness, reduce demand on infrastructure, and improve the overall experience of the games. While not prescriptive, this proposal urges the International Olympic Committee to rethink the games through a sustainability lens to inspire transformative change.

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