Beijing Olympics raises bar on eco-friendly sporting events – UN environment agency

18 February 2009

Last summer’s Beijing Olympics set new records for eco-friendly mass spectator sporting events by raising the bar on many of the high environmental standards it set itself, according to a new United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report released today.

The Games not only met but exceeded many of its pledges to be environmentally friendly from reducing air pollution to making large investments in public transportation and renewable energies, according to UNEP.

The report, The Beijing 2008 Olympic Games: Final Environmental Assessment, concluded that although more could have been done to work with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and cutting the Olympic and Paralympic Games’ carbon footprint, the Games marked a step forward for environmentally-conscious large-scale sporting events.

“The public attention of the world focused on the Beijing Games and whether the authorities could pull off a landmark event on many fronts including the environment,” said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

“They have fulfilled the promise of a Green Games in many areas including public transport, waste treatment and green Olympic venues,” added Mr. Steiner at the report’s launch at the 25th session of the UNEP Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum in Nairobi.

As with the Los Angeles and Athens Olympics, air quality was by far the most prominent environmental issue the Beijing Olympic organizers and municipal authorities had to manage.

The report noted that “significant efforts before and during the Games were focused on improving Beijing’s air quality” and that “as a result, air quality improved significantly.”

Measures taken for the Olympics – in conjunction with weather conditions in August – led to reductions in carbon monoxide (CO) by 47 per cent; nitrogen dioxide (NO2) by 38 per cent; volatile organic compounds (VOC) by 30 per cent; particulate matter (PM10) by 20 per cent; and sulphur dioxide (SO2) by 14 per cent.

The Beijing organizers’ measures to cut emissions and improve public transportation in the city included a switch to more stringent vehicle emission and fuel quality standards in 2008. The authorities also improved the city’s public transport infrastructure, bringing the number of railway lines from four to eight.

The report also underscored the effect the Games had on speeding up the introduction of energy-efficient infrastructure to Beijing, with more than 20 per cent of the total electricity consumed in all the venues supplied by renewable energy.

Along with environmental improvements across the city, the Games left a lasting imprint by increasing awareness of environmental issues in China and Beijing in particular, leading the public to press for continued efforts to maintain the improved quality of life experienced during the Games.

UNEP’s assessment of Beijing’s achievements also provided recommendations for the organizers of the Games in Vancouver, London and Sochi – as well as other mass sporting events – as they aim to set the environmental bar ever higher.


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