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Why Paris 2024 promises record sustainability wins

First, the city must win the 2024 Olympics sweepstakes against Budapest and Los Angeles.

The Paris 2024 Olympics bid committee promises to host the "Greenest Games Ever" by slashing carbon emissions by more than half compared to London 2012 and Rio 2016.

To have the opportunity to make good on that guarantee, the City of Lights first has to win its competition with Budapest and Los Angeles to host the 2024 Summer Games. That decision will be made in September at the IOC meeting in Lima, Peru — and both cities have put forth very strong sustainability plans of their own. 

With the bid process coming into its home stretch — the Paris team submitted the third and final version (PDF) of its "Bid Book" to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Feb. 2 — leaders of each of the three remaining bid committees are aggressively making their cases. Paris bid co-president and three-time Olympic canoeing gold medallist Tony Estanguet said in an interview with South China Morning Post on Jan. 30 that, for his committee, sustainability is at the top of its priority list. 

"For us it is quite simple. Our vision is the most sustainable games ever," Estanguet said, adding that the bid was in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement to reduce greenhouse gases.

This much is clear: A smaller environmental footprint logically will lead to reduced costs.

There seems to be substance behind Estanguet’s "Greenest Ever" claim, at least if the comparison is between Paris 2024 and its predecessors, London 2012 and Rio 2016, and not its rivals for the 2024 Games or, for that matter, Tokyo 2020. Should Paris 2024 become a reality, the bid committee said it would produce an estimated 1.56 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, down 55 percent from the roughly 3.4 million tons created by the Rio and the London Games. Here are some key ways Paris plans to meet those aggressive targets:

  • Rely on existing venues and temporary structures. The only major new venue scheduled to be constructed is an aquatics center. 
  • Build the aquatics center as well as the temporary facilities with low carbon materials.
  • Following in the footsteps of EURO 2016 (hosted by France), greatly restrict private car parking at the Olympic venues. This will lead 100 percent of fans to use public or shared transit. You read that right: 100 percent of spectators will take public or shared transit. Metro, commuter rail, bus transit, bicycles and car sharing will predominate.
  • House 85 percent of athletes within 30 minutes of their competition venues, limiting their travel-related footprint.

Use existing infrastructure. According to Estanguet, "We have all the infrastructure — roads, hotels, airports — already in place. That allows us to claim we will be the most sustainable games ever."

To the Paris 2024 committee, embedding the notion of a sustainable Olympics in the minds of Parisians and people across France will be critical. Thus, the greenness of the bid will be promoted widely, and in a variety of ways, should the City of Lights be selected. "During the seven years [between bid selection and the Opening Ceremonies], we want to educate people on sustainability," said Estanguet.

While it is clear Estanguet’s "Greenest Games Ever" claim will be valid vs. London or Rio, we don’t know if Paris will have a lower carbon footprint than Budapest or Los Angeles. LA24, in its third bid book, proclaims that it will be the first Energy Positive Olympics "by generating more energy through renewable sources and energy efficiency efforts than the energy needed to power the Games." Who knew? And, as with Paris, the vast majority of venues and athletes’ villages already are in place, with minimal construction required. Heck, the Zero-Waste LA Coliseum would be used for its third Olympics (1932 and 1984 were the first two).

Should Paris 2024 become a reality, it would produce an estimated 1.56 million tons of CO2 emissions, down 55 percent from Rio.

As of this writing, Budapest’s third bid book has not been made available. In its first two iterations, the Hungarian capital city had proposed a scaled down, medium-sized city Olympics model, relying on boat transportation along the Danube and bike share to keep emissions down. 

According to Olympics bid experts, Paris is the favorite at this point.

  • Budapest is a first-time bid city with a growing Olympics opposition movement pressing for a late-in-the-bid-game referendum to exit the process. Needing 138,000 signatures within a month to force the referendum, organizers garnered 100,000 in the first two weeks. This cannot be helpful for Budapest’s chances.
  • Trying to bring an Olympics back to the Americas only eight years after Rio does not help L.A.

Some also fear that the IOC, with a strong anti-American streak, will shy away from awarding the Olympic Torch to an "America First" President Trump. Of course, by the time of the vote, France, which has its presidential election April 23, may well be led by Marine Le Pen of the far-right Front National, "France First" party, well known for trafficking in Holocaust denial and xenophobia. Le Pen has disavowed herself of those positions. And, with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán often called a "Putinist," the strongman (woman) leader issue may be a wash.

Regardless of which city is chosen, this much is clear: A smaller environmental footprint logically will lead to reduced costs.

These are the keystones of Agenda 2020, a process instituted by the IOC three years ago for bids starting with the 2024 cycle. The IOC is convinced, and I concur, that the Olympics simply have to get simpler, greener and leaner to remain an attractive proposition for future hosts. This is especially the case after a slew of candidate cities for the 2022 Winter Games (Krakow, Oslo and Stockholm) and 2024 Summer Games (Boston, Hamburg and Rome) withdrew due to the sheer size and costs of organizing and putting on such an ambitious, sprawling event. 

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