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Going to 2010 Games? Offset your carbon

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Spectators, media and sponsors planning to attend next year’s Winter Olympics in Vancouver will be under pressure to offset their carbon emissions, organizers said on Tuesday.

One of the selected torchbearers Jack MacNeill carries the Olympic Torch in a canoe along the Fraser River on Seabird Island, British Columbia September 23, 2009. REUTERS/Andy Clark

The Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC), which has vowed to make the 2010 Games carbon neutral, unveiled plans to reduce the 150,000 tonnes of indirect greenhouse gas emissions expected to be produced as a result of the event.

Indirect emissions include those produced by the airplane flights that thousands of spectators and journalists will take to and from the event on Canada’s Pacific Coast. The Winter Games start on February 12.

VANOC said it is on schedule to offset all 118,000 tonnes of direct emissions linked to Games, such as those produced venue construction, the torch relay run and travel by Olympic staff over which organizers have control.

“If we didn’t walk the talk, we couldn’t ask others to do it,” said Linda Coady, VANOC’s vice president of sustainability.

Offsets are payments to make up for carbon emissions, and can be used for investments in technology and projects that produce energy without emissions, such as windmills.

A report prepared in 2007 for VANOC estimated the Games would produce 110,000 tonnes of direct emissions and 220,000 of indirect emissions, but figures were revised this year as more information became available.

Vancouver will be the first Olympics to include venue construction and preparations in its estimate of total emissions of the greenhouse gases that scientists say are responsible for global warming.

VANOC has produced a calculator that will allow people to estimate the emissions caused by attending the Games, and how much in offset credits they will need to purchase to make their visit carbon neutral.

For example, air travel and accommodations for a Reuters reporter traveling from London to Vancouver to cover the entire 17-day event would produce nearly 2.5 tonnes of carbon emissions, which would cost C$61.69 (about $58) to offset.

Fewer than 5 percent of travelers normally volunteer to buy offsets, but organizers expect to get between 30 and 50 percent 2010 visitors to sign up, said James Tansey, chief of Offsetters Clean Technology Inc, a Games sponsor.

“It’s a big challenge getting people to sign up,” he said.

Twenty five sponsors and companies working with VANOC have agreed to participate, along with the television networks that have broadcast rights in Canada and Australia. Organizers said they will pressure others to sign up.

“We’ve made it as easy as possible for them to do it, so it is really incumbent on those partners to take responsibility for the emissions,” Tansey said.

($1=$1.07 Canadian)

Reporting by Allan Dowd, editing by Peter Galloway