Bhubaneswar: Climate science played a major part in the 2012 London Olympics, perhaps for the first time in a major sporting event. It was termed the greenest ever for its sustainability efforts. The result is, any major sporting event today has to factor in environmental objectives.
The Commonwealth Games (CWG) in Birmingham took place exactly a year after a major UN report warned of the need for deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions and just over a week after UN Secretary General António Guterres told governments the world is facing “collective suicide” in the face of deadly heat extremes.
The CWG in Birmingham provided plenty of challenges to the organisers, but leading them was the question of how to make a global sporting event environmentally sustainable that involved athletes from 72 nations, making it the biggest sporting programme in CWG’s history. Nearly 6,500 sportspersons and officials travelled to Birmingham for the Games, held from July 28 to August 8.
The organisers committed to make the Games the “most sustainable yet”. Global sporting events have a huge impact on the environment, be it Olympics, Asian Games, FIFA World Cup, cricket tournaments etc. There is an enormous amount of carbon emissions in the construction that goes into staging a major sporting event. Then there is lighting, pumping, air-conditioning, food and drink. There is also transport, with athletes, media, fans and officials often travelling long distances.
Construction of venues, travel, energy and food are the biggest contributors to any event’s carbon footprint. Birmingham 2022 was no exception. The Games took place across 15 venues, with a focus on renovation and development of existing sites. It meant venues such as Arena Birmingham hosted gymnastics and Coventry Arena hosted judo and wrestling. Thus, 95 per cent venues were reused, which is key from a sustainability perspective.
More important, the Games organisers adopted a robust approach to leave a “carbon-neutral legacy”. Before the event, the organisers assessed the carbon footprint using the best data available and focused on the hotspots of transport, energy and food to drill down how as hosts it can reduce those emissions.
Just an example: those purchasing Games tickets were provided public transportation, encouraging people out of their cars. That’s a great way to not only reduce the carbon footprint of the Games but also to get people thinking about using public transport generally. Perhaps Bhubaneswar, as hosts of the 2023 Odisha Men’s Hockey World Cup, can include free public transportation for those with tickets.
There was also a big focus on local, seasonal food at the CWG. Some of the caterers had carbon labels on their food making clear the environmental impact of producing a food item. There was a big focus on waste, with use of biodegradable food packaging and what to put in which bin. Small changes like that do make a big impact.
Besides, the hosts through partnerships will plant trees on over 2,022 acres over a period of time to offset the emissions of the Games. Even though carbon offsetting is controversial, with some arguing it can be a barrier to behavioural change. The current forecast is for those 2,022 acres to sequester 240,000 tonnes of carbon, which is about two-thirds of the carbon footprint. However, the organisers will measure the final footprint after the Games that will be verified by a third party. If it’s more, then the organisers will make sure to top up the 240,000 tonnes with credible carbon offsets.
Birmingham 2022 is probably doing more than many other major events have for its sustainability legacy. If the hosts of a multi-sport event with 72 countries can do it, why can’t Bhubaneswar?
If Bhubaneswar wants to host major sporting events in the future, then changes need to be made starting with the 2023 Men’s Hockey World Cup. The event will produce a good amount of carbon dioxide, more than some countries’ annual emissions. Well, there is enough opportunity for Bhubaneswar to learn from Birmingham in shaping its sustainable legacy.