2010 Games: As Carbon Neutral as a Cow’s Fat Ass

Today the David Suzuki Foundation released its report reviewing VANOC’s oft-stated claim that the 2010 Vancouver Olympics will be the first ever carbon neutral Olympics ever staged. While the Suzuki found many things to praise in VANOC’s efforts, including measuring GHC emissions for seven years (from bid to Games), the LEED Gold standard design of venues and the Athletes Village, and other efficiency efforts, Suzuki concludes that the 2010 efforts only amount to a “Bronze” performance.

Perhaps the most controversial part of VANOC’s performance is the shifting offset target, which was originally estimated at about 300,000 tonnes. VANOC reduced the total target somewhat arbitrarily in 2009 to 270,000 tonnes. Even more controversially, VANOC then stated that, rather than offsetting all emissions, they would only offset what they determined were “direct” operational emissions, which only amount to 118,000 tonnes, less than half of the total emissions generated by the Games.

The majority of what VANOC calls “indirect” emissions, nearly 150,000 tonnes, come from spectator air travel to the Games, and are not being offset. Obviously, an Olympic Games without spectators would be an unqualified failure, so one wonders how this key and significant component of emissions to a world event can be arbitrarily ignored?

Furthermore, other large events like the World Cup of Soccer 2006 and the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen in 2009 offset ALL travel emissions, setting a standard that VANOC chose, in the end, to totally ignore. As the Suzuki report makes clear, “without offsetting spectator air travel – which accounts for about half of the climate impact of the Vancouver Olympics (as confirmed by VANOC’s own measurement of the climate impact of the Games) – the Vancouver Olympics cannot make an unqualified claim to be carbon neutral.”

Other significant discrepancies in VANOC’s claims for carbon neutrality are also highlighted in the report:

–       Carbon Neutrality: “VANOC has so far committed to offset 118,000 tonnes of its emissions, which is substantial, but still represents under half of Games-related emissions.”

–       Quality of Offsets: “Gold Standard offsets are recognized around the world for their high quality… (but) are only part of the voluntary offset program for the Vancouver Olympics, and will likely make up a small percentage of the total offsets used.” Note: most of the offsets are being purchased through a little-known and unaccredited BC firm started in 2006 called, Offsetters.

–       Environmental Education: A huge opportunity missed: with an estimated 3 billion people watching, it is an unprecedented opportunity to educate and raise awareness of climate change solutions, yet “The Vancouver Olympics failed to create a high profile for climate solutions around the Games in its public communications.”

–       Transportation: The Games “will not leave the region with a significant legacy in sustainable transportation.” The Canada Line was built at the expense of the Evergreen Line, a much higher transportation priority for the region that would have had a much more significant impact on emissions. And, while rail travel expansion should have been a priority, “Instead, the Sea to Sky highway was widened at a cost of $600 million, and diesel buses will be brought in temporarily from across North America to shuttle spectators to and from Whistler. The new highway will encourage more vehicle traffic after the Games, exacerbate urban sprawl, and result in increased greenhouse gas emissions from transportation for the region.”

–       Lack of Transparency: VANOC claims to have reduced emissions by about 15% through efficiencies over “business as usual” practices, however “VANOC’s assumptions about what constitutes “business as usual” have not been made public, so it is not clear how they arrived at 15 per cent.”

See the press release and full report at:

http://www.davidsuzuki.org

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