Paris 2024: Cutting carbon emissions. GETTY IMAGES

The 33rd Olympic Games of the modern era, which begin in Paris on 26 July, will use renewable energy and other eco-friendly measures in an attempt to be environmentally sustainable.

The next Summer Olympic Games, to be held in Paris from 26 July to 11 August, will meet the current parameters of sustainability and environmental friendliness advocated by Agenda 2030 and the International Olympic Committee. 

Unlike the recent FIFA World Cup in Qatar, perhaps the only event to rival the Olympics in terms of investment, venue attendance and global fan interest across multiple platforms in addition to traditional television, the Paris Games aim to be diametrically opposed. 

The football championship, won by Messi's Argentina in December 2022, featured many extravagances that are out of step with the prevailing age of efficiency and eco-friendliness. From air-conditioned stadiums (understandable to ensure the comfort of athletes and fans in a country where the heat is omnipresent), to large open-air shopping centres with air conditioning, not to mention the car parks, which also had air conditioning, in a country that wastes its main natural resource, energy.

"I hope that Paris 2024's efforts to reduce its impact will show that it is possible to do things differently," said Georgina Grenon, director of environmental excellence for the organising committee, in a recent interview with AFP.

One of the main differences will be in total carbon emissions, with organisers aiming to produce half the amount of London 2012 and the Rio 2016, the only recent comparable Games, because Tokyo 2020 could not be experienced as a traditional Olympic Games, nor could the environmental impact it would have had under normal conditions be accurately assessed.

Georgina Grenon is the Director of Environmental Excellence for Paris 2024. GETTY IMAGES
Georgina Grenon is the Director of Environmental Excellence for Paris 2024. GETTY IMAGES

Paris 2024 initially set a target equivalent to 3.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, but this has been reduced to around 1.5 million tonnes. "Something we are uncertain about today is the (carbon) impact of spectators," Grenon said when asked if the latest target could be met.

One of the key factors will be the number of polluting flights associated with the Games, and "we haven't sold all the tickets yet," added Grenon, who will only be able to draw conclusions after the third Olympic Games in history to be hosted by Paris.

An external consultancy will be tasked with assessing the impact of travel, construction, catering and sports equipment. The final figures will be published after the Olympic and Paralympic Games have ended. Proposals to reduce the carbon footprint of Paris 2024 included a commitment to use existing or temporary facilities for 95% of sport events.

The only major new construction projects were an aquatic centre, a Paris venue for badminton and gymnastics, and the Athletes Village in the deprived Paris suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis, which will be converted into housing and offices after the Games. Contractors for the Athletes' Village had to reduce the emissions of their buildings by 30% compared to standard construction.

Workers transformed an old power station into the Olympic Village restaurant. GETTY IMAGES
Workers transformed an old power station into the Olympic Village restaurant. GETTY IMAGES

In another paradigm shift towards more sustainable energy use, all sports venues will be connected to the grid, meaning that stadium operators will not have to rely on diesel generators for power, as has been the case at other major events. "To give you an idea of the amount of diesel used for the London Games, four million litres were used for electricity alone," says Grenon.

Sponsors such as Coca-Cola have also installed 700 redesigned water fountains at Olympic venues, meaning that around 50 per cent of drinks will be served without plastic bottles.

Meals at sports venues will be 50% vegetarian. Recycling and re-use clauses have been routinely included in contracts with equipment suppliers. All the energy provided by the national energy company EDF for the Games will come from renewable sources.

Paris 2024 was originally intended to be "carbon positive", meaning that the Organising Committee would invest in projects such as tree planting that would absorb more carbon dioxide over their lifetime than the Games would emit.

The chef of the Olympic Village, Charles Guilloy. GETTY IMAGES
The chef of the Olympic Village, Charles Guilloy. GETTY IMAGES

It is worth noting that even if they achieve their emissions target of 1.75 million tonnes, this would be equivalent to the annual carbon footprint of a French town of 200,000 people. This target has also been revised downwards: the Games now aim to be "carbon neutral", and a tender for an offsetting project in France was cancelled at the end of last year for budgetary reasons, Grenon said.

Offsetting remains controversial because of doubts about the environmental benefits of many schemes and the lack of independent monitoring. Many see it as a way to clear their consciences without any real scientific benefit.

Looking back through the history books, the Olympics have faced protests from environmental groups since the 1980s. Some are totally opposed, saying that any social benefits are outweighed by the environmental costs, while others believe that the concept simply needs to be rethought to make it sustainable.

One group of researchers, writing in the journal Nature Sustainability, suggested that the 2021 event should be scaled down, held in the same locations and with far fewer international travellers, but this would go against the spirit of camaraderie that has characterised the Games throughout their history.