Olympics claims 17% carbon emissions cut

Organisers of the London 2012 Olympics believe the games’ carbon footprint will be 17% lower than an estimate published earlier this year. Most of the reductions achieved so far have been from measures originally taken to cut costs rather than carbon.

The London 2012 Olympics will produce 17% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than it would have done under a business-as-usual scenario, its organisers claimed in December.

The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) and Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) estimate in the second edition of their sustainability plan that preparations for the games will release about 1.9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e).1

A business-as-usual estimate of 3.4MtCO2e emerged in January, of which 2.3MtCO2e are from activities under ODA and LOCOG control (ENDS Report 412, p 21 ). But it has taken the rest of the year for organisers to release the full figures and their carbon management plans.

The 3.4MtCO2e reference figure covers the period from winning the bid in 2005 to the end of the games. It includes emissions of 1.9MtCO2e from construction of the Olympic infrastructure, including embedded carbon in construction, 0.4MtCO2e from staging the games and 1.2MtCO2e in associated emissions from spectators, media and sponsors.

The organisers claim a 15% reduction so far. But this has generally been through actions not specifically designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, some sports have been switched to existing venues and design changes have been made to cut costs which have had additional carbon benefits. Changes to the main stadium since the original design phase have halved its likely footprint.

Further reductions should come from the transport of materials by water and rail, an onsite wind turbine and initiatives such as a "low carbon Olympic flame" being developed with EDF. But the report does not provide a detailed breakdown of the savings.

The delivery bodies had planned to offset emissions from flights but have dropped the idea following debate over the value of offsetting. Instead there are plans - still somewhat vague - to disseminate lessons learned during the project and perhaps develop guidelines for sustainable construction. Campaigns organised by partner organisations such as EDF may also reduce emissions in the wider population, say LOCOG and the ODA.

Shaun McCarthy, chair of independent review body Commission for a Sustainable London 2012, praised the delivery organisations for their commitment to sustainability. "It is a fantastic project from a sustainability point of view. There are some very good management practices and they actually work," he said.

But the commission is concerned about some details, including the lack of anaerobic digestion facilities for treating food waste from the games.2

The onsite trigeneration plant providing heat, electricity and cold water for air conditioning will be powered by gas. Mr McCarthy says this should come from anaerobic digestion during the games, which are meant to be ‘zero-waste’.

He is also unhappy with the contracts for electricity supply to the Olympic site ensuring new homes built after the games will be supplied exclusively by the trigeneration plant, limiting the potential for onsite renewables. This does not sit well with the government’s ‘zero-carbon’ target for new homes from 2016, said Mr McCarthy.

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