Brisbane's 2032 'climate-positive' Olympics commitment sets high bar on delivering sustainable legacy
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Brisbane's 2032 Olympics will be the first Games contractually obliged to operate as "climate positive", which is part of a bid to avoid the legacies of huge debts and abandoned stadiums faced by some previous host cities.
Flying thousands of athletes to one city, building major sporting venues, and transporting spectators around for two weeks of competition, traditionally comes with a significant environmental footprint.
Aware of this, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) moved towards a more flexible model that allowed future Olympics to operate in a more affordable and sustainable way.
While all upcoming Olympics have committed to being carbon neutral, from 2030 onwards host cities will be contractually obliged to go one step further and operate as "climate positive".
The Brisbane 2032 Olympics will be the first Games held to this standard.
Put simply, it means the Olympic Games will have to offset more carbon emissions than it produces.
To achieve this, the Brisbane 2032 organising committee will need to minimise emissions linked to the event and implement "lasting zero carbon solutions" for the Games and beyond, according to the IOC.
Sustainable development specialist from the University of Queensland, Dr Cle-Anne Gabriel, said it was about more than just "doing no harm".
"It's about contributing to creating something good, regenerating our environment," Dr Gabriel said.
To make it a reality is no small feat – past Olympic Games have had a carbon footprint of more than 3 million tonnes.
Still 11 years away, the specific details of how Brisbane 2032 will achieve a climate positive Games are yet to be laid out.
But Brisbane has a major head start in reducing emissions and costs – more than 80 per cent of the venues needed for the Games already exist.
For those that still have to be constructed, the bid submitted to host the 2032 Games refers to an aim for a "6-star Green Star" building rating on any new vertical infrastructure, and that Games infrastructure will incorporate technologies such as electric vehicle charging equipment.
While not a confirmed venue for the 2032 Games, Carrara Stadium on the Gold Coast is an example of an existing energy-efficient option.
Used for the athletics and opening and closing ceremonies at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, Carrara Stadium has a ring of solar panels circling the top of the stadium that supply roughly 20 per cent of the stadium's total electricity needs.
Associate Professor Judith Mair from the University of Queensland's business school, who has studied Olympic Games legacies, said Brisbane has also proposed using a predominantly electric-powered Games fleet and will aim to have more than 90 per cent of athletes and spectators use public transport to attend events.
"Flights for the travel for all the delegates, for the athletes, for the spectators — there will be an option for people to purchase carbon offsets for those," Associate Professor Mair said.
A spokesperson for the Department of Premier and Cabinet said a climate positive Brisbane 2032 was an opportunity to "showcase Queensland's climate credentials".
"Brisbane 2032 will embed climate positive through systems and governance to ensure emissions reduction and climate positive legacies are considered at all decision points across the lifecycle of the event," the spokesperson said.
"As part of this approach, Brisbane 2032 is now working in partnership with the IOC to develop and refine carbon budgets and climate positive strategies for the Games, which will guide decision making."
Although it is not required to, Paris wants to get ahead of the curve and has set the goal to become the first in the world to hold a "climate positive" Games in 2024.
Paris firstly wants to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases linked to the event.
It will use 95 per cent existing or temporary infrastructure and ensure all sites use renewable energy and are accessible by public transport.
The Paris Games will also support projects with a positive contribution to the climate across the globe, including those aimed at conserving and restoring forests and oceans.
It will also develop a "Climate Coach" app to help guide its employees in how to reduce their personal and professional carbon footprint, and by next year will create a custom "carbon footprint calculator" for sporting events.
Los Angeles 2028 has adopted a "radical reuse" approach to the Games, meaning it won't need a single new permanent venue to be built.
Competition venues at next year's Winter Olympics in Beijing also hope to use 100 per cent renewable energy.
Dr Gabriel said in the process of trying to achieve a 2032 climate-positive Games, Brisbane itself would transform.
"We have the opportunity to bring people together to demonstrate that this is actually possible," Dr Gabriel said.
"What's going to happen in this process is we'll start asking ourselves questions like what kind of city do we all want to live in here in Brisbane as residents?
"What does a more sustainable city look like? A regenerative city? A more socially equitable city?
"I think this process is much more important one for our development and growth than just the end goal of 2032 itself."
Climate Council spokesman Will Steffen said the high-profile nature of the Olympics gives Brisbane a rare opportunity to prove itself on the global stage.
"It has the chance — given that high profile — to set the example for how major complex activities like bringing together the world around sport, how those can be held in a way that's at least carbon neutral and, in Brisbane's case, climate positive," Mr Steffen.
"I think it's sending a really strong message to the world that we can achieve what we need to achieve in terms of getting climate change under control."
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