• The Olympics, the biggest global event, also have a far from negligible carbon footprint.

    Those in Tokyo are no exception to the rule, since the 15 days of trials will generate around 2.4 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent.

  • This is less than expected, due to the absence of foreign spectators.

    It is especially much less than the Games of London and Rio.

    And Paris 2024 wants to do better, by providing for the emission of 1.5 million tonnes eqCO2.

  • How to do ?

    Greenly publishes this Thursday an in-depth study of the carbon footprint of the Tokyo Games.

    One main source of emissions is the construction of infrastructure.

    But there is room for improvement for the others.

Far from us the desire to spoil the celebration that are these Olympic Games in Tokyo, which brighten up a decidedly rainy summer in metropolitan France.

Nevertheless, this planetary event generates its share of greenhouse gas emissions.

The Tokyo Olympics will emit 2.73 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, according to the official estimate measured using a methodology first used during the London Games.

A little less even with this Covid-19 pandemic, which pushed Japan to block the arrival of foreign spectators.

Bad news for the spirit of the Games, but which made it possible to avoid 340,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions.

2.40 million tonnes eq / CO2 for Tokyo without spectators

The carbon footprint of the Tokyo Olympics would therefore approach 2.40 million tonnes eqCO2. Not nothing. "This is the equivalent of the annual emissions of around 220,000 French people, or those generated by 1.2 million Paris-New York return flights by plane", assesses Alexis Normand, co-founder and CEO of Greenly, a company specialized in the calculation of carbon balances. It's still better than the London Olympics in 2012, and those in Rio in 2016, which both were around 3.50 million tonnes eq / CO2.

Greenly publishes, this Thursday, an in-depth study of the carbon footprint of this new Olympiad, comparing it with the last three editions.

First surprise for Alexis Normand: "The absence of foreign spectators only reduced the carbon footprint of the Tokyo Olympics by 12.5%," he notes.

We could have expected more, knowing that these spectators [600,000 were initially expected] mainly come by plane, even more when it comes to going to Japan.


Is the construction of infrastructure a heavy weight in the carbon footprint?

Jérôme Lachaze, specialist in sustainable development in sport and currently CSR manager at the Automobile club de l'Ouest (organizer of the 24h of Le Mans), is less surprised.

"In the carbon footprint of an Olympiad, it is the construction of event venues and other infrastructure that often turns out to be the primary source of CO2 emissions," he explains.

This accounted for 50% of the carbon footprint of the London Olympics, 43% of those in Rio, confirms Greenly.

In Tokyo, the share climbs to 55%, calculates Greenly.

Of the 43 sites used, 25 were already there, ten are temporary and eight, therefore, were built from scratch and are intended to last after the Olympics.

This is particularly the case with the Tokyo Aquatic Center or the Olympic Stadium.

The rest of the carbon footprint is broken down into a multitude of emission items.

From energy consumption to the making of medals, including various ceremonies, distribution, advertising, logistics, etc.

11,000 athletes also to come

We must add the 11,000 athletes and their staffs who must come to Tokyo. By plane for the vast majority, again. Greenly went so far as to assess the carbon impact of sports and delegations based on the number of athletes they send to Japan and where they come from. “Athletics is thus the sport with the strongest imprint, with its 2,000 athletes in the running,” explains Alexis Normand. Gymnastics, the third event in terms of the number of athletes involved, is only eleventh in terms of emissions, due to the high proportion of Chinese and Japanese in contention. Unlike football, seventh for the number of athletes, but third for broadcasts, specialists in the discipline coming more from Europe, Africa or Latin America ** ”And on the delegation side,the United States and its 613 athletes have the worst record (900 tonnes of CO2e to travel to Japan), followed by Brazil and its 301 athletes (810 tonnes of CO2eq).

Okay, but can we then reduce the carbon footprint of the Games without affecting the Olympic spirit? Because it wants that we select the best athletes of the moment, no matter where they come from, and that the host cities rotate trying not to make jealousy between the continents ... There are still margins reduction for Jérôme Lachaze. “This is what the IOC is already doing by reducing the number of events and athletes present at the Games [we will drop to 10,500 in 2024, 600 less than in Tokyo], he explains. The primary objective is often to reduce costs, but this also helps to reduce the emissions generated. Likewise, we are making more and more room for disciplines such as skateboarding, 3x3 basketball and breakdance [from 2024],which can all be played in temporary facilities. "

Still nice reduction margins?

But the main lever remains that of infrastructure, "by trying to make maximum use of existing ones, then by building the necessary ones in low-carbon materials, and ensuring that they are of real use after the Games", insists Alexis Normand. .

This is the main strength of Paris 2024, which will use 95% of existing or temporary infrastructure.

"Its other advantage is to be geographically centered and connected to an extensive rail network, so that a significant number of athletes and spectators will be able to come by train", continues Jérôme Lachaze, who recalls that the French delegation is traveled by Eurostar to London in 2012.

Not negligible either: the hunt for superfluous emissions during the Games. By promoting renewable energies, for example, short circuits for feeding athletes and spectators, recycling and waste recovery. The Tokyo Olympics have launched some great initiatives in this area. By giving pride of place to the green hydrogen which feeds the Olympic flame during the 15 days of competition, and which provides electricity and hot water to part of the accommodation in the Olympic Village. In this same village, the bed bases are made from recycled cardboard. As for the medals, they are made using metals recovered from used electronic devices.

Initiatives that count when you put them end to end, and that the Paris 2024 organizing committee will seek to develop even further. No choice.

It has set itself the objective of not emitting more than 1.5 million tonnes of CO2e.

While having full stages, let's keep our fingers crossed.


Tokyo 2021 Olympic Games: Which Olympics cost the most to organize?


Climate: "Up to 2 months less sport per year, in France, in a world at + 4 ° C", fears the WWF

* Jérôme Lachaze was in charge of sustainable development in the Paris 2024 bid committee.

** Well, we just took a 4-0 by Japan

  • Carbon

  • Planet

  • Olympic Games

  • Tokyo Olympics 2021

  • Sport

  • Greenhouse gas