Just over a week since the bidding for London Olympic tickets closed and Climate Squad reporter Wunmi Huthman looks into how sustainable the Olympics look to be…
London is the first Host City to plan a sustainable Olympics games from the outset. Sustainability was embedded in the UK bid for the 2012 Games, where the UK committed to: Use of venues already existing in the UK where possible; Only build permanent structures that will have a long-term use after the Games; and build temporary structures for everything else.
The 2012 Games are intended to stimulate change, for the regeneration of and improvement of quality of life in East London and to also, encourage more sustainable living across the whole of the UK.
The organising committee’s sustainability plan is based on the WWF/Bio-Regional Concept of ‘One Planet Living : which means to live within the world’s resources rather than using three Planets worth of resources as we currently do in the UK.
The Games sustainability plan focuses on five key themes.
- Climate Change: minimising greenhouse gas emissions and ensuring legacy facilities are able to cope with the impact of climate change.
- Waste: minimising waste at every stage of the project, ensuring no waste is sent to landfill during Games times and encouraging the development of new waste processing infrastructure in East London.
- Biodiversity: minimising the impact of the Games on wildlife and their habitats in and around Games Venues, leaving a legacy of enhanced habitats where possible for example, the Olympic park.
- Inclusion: promoting access for all and celebrating the diversity of London and the UK, creating new employment, training and business opportunities.
- Healthy Living: inspiring people across the country to take up sport and develop active, healthy and sustainable lifestyles.
In order to get a sense of what has been achieved so far, the London 2012 organisers have published the first environment report for the London Games.
The report focused on the five key themes stated above. In the report, David Stubbs, the committee’s head of sustainability said “what we wanted to do was to really understand those impacts and then direct our efforts to minimise them”. “For example, nobody had looked at all the embodied emissions of building temporary infrastructure that would only be used during the games and Paralympics”. He said “by building venues that are more akin to what is on the hire market, then it is possible to choose material that exists already”. Consequently, it was possible to cut carbon emissions by about 100,000 tonnes the equivalent to taking 65,000 cars off the road for 12 months.
As well as reducing emissions, Mr Stubbs said the development of the 250 – hectare main site included the goal of developing the largest urban park land in Europe for more than 150 years. He said 45 hectares would be “ecologically managed” in order to ensure there was space to encourage and support biodiversity. He explained “This includes wetlands and river habitats that have been restored from what was, previously, very polluted land”. Also, the committee have taken about 4,000 properties out of a one- in- 100 year flood risk by re-profiling the river banks.
Mr Stubbs however acknowledged that not everything outlined in the bid documents, submitted to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 2004, was going to be delivered, for example, plans to build a wind turbine that would have provided about 20% of the site’s post –games energy needs have been scrapped. He said ‘it was a mistake in a way, to getting locked into saying that we would have renewables. As the years have gone by, the market development for renewables in urban areas has not taken off’. He added that overall the organisers had achieved far more in terms of cutting carbon emissions than was envisaged at the outset.
Former chairman of the Sustainable Development Commission Jonathon Porritt, a sustainability ambassador for the Games, said good progress has been made.
The organising committee plan to publish two more reports. The second in spring 2012 and a third report sometime in 2013.
Mr Stubbs observed that “there is still a long way to go, any many things still have to be brought to fruition, but progress to date is truly impressive”.
The progress so far has been really green and impressive. With London being one of the most polluted cities in Europe, Britain might end up being in breach of their Olympic host contract which specifies that, the City must meet International Pollution Laws. A report published by the Olympic Delivery Authority’s Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) has stated that even a 30% reduction in normal traffic during the Olympics would not bring emissions down to a legal limit.
John Vidal and Owen Gibson have suggested that to meet the legally binding agreement, London may have to reduce traffic levels by more than 30% over a period of nearly a month, raising possibility of drastic measures such as banning cars with number plates ending in odd and even numbers on alternate days.
Lawyers said London now has few options left beyond actions such as imposing an odd and even number plate ban throughout the city to enable endurance events, such as the marathon, to take place. At the last Olympic Games in 2008, Beijing had to ban more than one million cars and close factories.
It has been suggested that “plans needs to be put in place now that will ban only the most polluting vehicles from inner London in time for the Games” otherwise they might end up imposing drastic bans like those used during Beijing 2008.
Some London assembly Green party members have criticised the organising committee that “Failing to deliver modest energy and waste targets on a seven-year project with billions from the public purse just shows what a mess our mayors of London and the government have made of environmental policy.”
The Olympic Delivery Authority head of sustainability, Richard Jackson, said: “The Olympic park has set new standards. With the exception of the 20% renewables target, we are on track to meet all sustainability targets.” Also a spokesperson for Transport for London said: ”We have a comprehensive package of long-term measures to tackle the biggest sources of pollution and improve air quality.”
Critics are of the opinion that the organisers pledges to create the “greenest ever Games” in reality would not be achieved. To reach this conclusion at this stage might be too harsh. It would be fair to wait until the organisers’ second environment report before reaching such conclusions.
However, credit should be given to the Olympics 2012 Host City for being the first to embed the idea of Sustainability in its bid. Hopefully this would serve as an inspiration to future hosts cities to promote“One Planet Living”.