February 3, 2010 / 5:10 PM / in 8 years

Vancouver gets climate-change bronze

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - If fighting climate change was an Olympic sport, the organizing committee for this month’s Vancouver Winter Games would have won a bronze medal, a report released on Wednesday says.

Organizers have done a good job in areas such as building energy-efficient sports venues, but have fallen short in other areas such as offsetting the carbon emissions produced by Games-related transportation, according to the David Suzuki Foundation, a leading Canadian environmental group.

“A bronze is good, but we could have done better,” said David Suzuki, founder of the group, which has been working with Vancouver Games organizers on environmental issues.

The report found fault with the International Olympic Committee, saying that while it promotes the idea of protecting the environment, it does little to make sure local organizers follow-up on their promises to do so.

“Tellingly, most people aren’t even aware that environment is one of the three official pillars of the Olympic movement,” the report’s authors wrote.

Vancouver, on Canada’s Pacific Coast, made a series of environmental commitments when it was awarded the Winter Games, which begin February 12, and the report said the event will likely be remembered as being environmentally friendly overall.

Among the most lofty goals set by organizers was to attempt to make the event carbon neutral, offsetting the greenhouse gas emissions generated by building venues and transporting athletes to Vancouver.

Vancouver has done a better job on cutting emissions than past Winter Olympics hosts, but it has not addressed the biggest source of Games-related emissions, those produced by spectators, the foundation said.

“Without offsetting spectator air travel, which accounts for about half of the climate impact of the Vancouver Olympics... the Vancouver Olympics cannot make an unqualified claim to be carbon neutral,” the authors said.

The report was also prepared before organizers began trucking large amounts of snow to a mountain venue near Vancouver that has been struggling with unseasonably warm temperatures since the beginning of the year.

Suzuki cautioned against drawing a direct link between global warming and the sudden snow melt at the venue, Cypress Mountain, but added; “That’s the kind of thing that climate change would lead to.”

Organizers said they were pleased to have won a bronze, and that their efforts may be viewed even better after the Games because spectators have not yet seen some of the programs they have planned to promote environmental issues.

Vancouver does have a voluntary program to help spectators offset carbon emissions from air travel to Vancouver, but only about 5 percent of the people expected to come have signed up, an official said.

The Suzuki Foundation praised some of the technology being used at venues, such as a system that recaptures heat from the sewage system at the newly built Vancouver athletes’ village.

Reporting Allan Dowd, Editing by Peter Galloway

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