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Green Olympics - London and the Environment in 2012

Jul 31, 2008
With talk of China's high rates of pollution dominating headlines in the run up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, it is important to remember that sport and the environment can go hand in hand.

In the last year, the Chinese capital has been the subject of much media scrutiny surrounding its environmental and emissions policy. In 2005, the European Space Agency declared that Beijing contained unnecessarily high levels of nitrogen dioxide, a bi-product of many industrial processes, including thermal power plants. It is poisonous to inhale, and since the revelation, the Chinese government have been accused of endangering sportsmen and spectators with the volume of air pollution that affects the capital.

For the environmentally conscious, it represents a serious concern. Historically, the designation of Olympic host has a symbolic resonance; it has been held by great cities, welcome to community spirit and accepted as representatives of an age old sporting tradition. That is not to deny that Beijing is a great city, but - for environmentalists - it has been difficult to reconcile the tradition and history of the city with a poor environmental and emissions policy.

Many spectators, then, will be watching closely. And they will also be looking to London in 2012, which will be subject to the same media scrutiny.

The Olympic Delivery Authority - the body who are in charge of developing the infrastructure for the London games - have so far acted carefully. David Higgins, the Chief Executive of the ODA, has officially stated that "Ensuring a sustainable approach to building the Games will help ensure London 2012 is remembered not only as two weeks of fantastic sporting action, but also as the greenest games to date", championing the connection between the tradition of the event and the importance of a suitable environmental policy.

It is a positive statement, and one that is backed by the 'Towards a One Planet Olympics' initiative, which is the lynch-pin of the London games' environmental policy, and was developed from the WWF/Bioregional's 'One Planet Living', which lists ten main environmental initiatives that can be implemented throughout the world. These can be grouped into three key areas: carbon emission, sustainability, and culture and natural habitats.

The Committee for London 2012 has drawn these into five points: combating climate change, reducing waste, enhancing biodiversity, promoting inclusion, and improving healthy living. These tie in neatly with the original initiative, which targets - as some examples - 'zero carbon' and 'zero waste', sustainable transport and materials, and 'health and happiness'.

In theory, then, the commitment is clear, and the aim is an all encompassing one; to be the first fully sustainable Olympic games. And - as the Beijing Olympics prepares to open - the London bid is already working towards that aim. The ODA announced in January of this year that it is already beating its target of recovering 90% of all demolition waste for recycling and reuse. It has also begun to create new habitats for any wildlife that might be found on Olympic sites, and is recycling complete buildings to be re-assembled away from original Olympic sites.

Certainly, 2012 is a long way away. Beijing comes first, and its environmental policy since the original bid has improved. When the London games come, it will have China as a blueprint, plus another four years of work towards sustainability. If it succeeds in its aim, it might be one of the world's first large demonstrations of a link between tradition and a new 'green-consciousness'. Something to look forward to.
About the Author
Chris Wright is the Olympics expert at
www.EcoSwitch.com The environmental social network EcoSwitch
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