Olympics Drops Carbon-Offset Plan to Focus on U.K.

Organizers of the London 2012 Olympic Games dropped a plan in 2009 to cut carbon emissions during the sporting showcase, abandoning a pledge made when it defeated eight other cities to host the event.

Games administrators decided to “no longer pursue formal offsetting procedures” to mitigate Olympics-related emissions, documents posted on the London Olympics website said.

David Stubbs, the head of sustainability at the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympics Games, or LOCOG, said in an interview that going ahead with the plan would have shifted the focus away from Britain.

Scrapping the plan, which would have involved offsetting the emissions generated by the Games by investing in clean-energy projects in poor countries, underlines how carbon-saving measures are being overlooked to save money as the U.K. cuts spending and increases taxes amid an economic slowdown. By ditching the program, LOCOG may avoid spending as much as 280,000 pounds ($394,000), according to Bloomberg calculations based on voluntary offset prices quoted by brokers MF Global.

“Officially, if you want to go down certified carbon-offsetting all projects have to be overseas, so if we plant a lot of trees in Essex that just doesn’t count,” said Stubbs, referring to the English county. “Because the Games are in the U.K., we wanted to maximize the Games locally. Doing formal offsetting would be diverting things.”

3.4 Million Tons

LOCOG estimated the construction of facilities, the staging of the Games and transportation of staff and athletes, dating back to the day when the Games were awarded to London, would collectively generate more than 3.4 million metric tons of greenhouse-gas emissions, including 438,000 tons from the staging of the event.

Organizers of the Games originally intended to compensate for the estimated 30,000 to 35,000 tons of emissions created by athlete travel to the Games by purchasing so-called carbon offsets, or credits, which are created by funding clean-technology projects in developing countries. Greenhouse-gas emissions are blamed for climate change. Offset projects generate carbon credits when they reduce pollution versus a business-as-usual scenario.

Dropping the plan is “not fair,” said Darren Johnson, a Green Party member of the London Assembly, the governing authority for the capital. “Obviously we want the Olympics to benefit London, but environmentally they should be a green Olympics to benefit the whole world as well.”

‘Behavior Change’

According to LOCOG’s 2011 sustainability report, ways of reducing emissions at source range from using “design to reduce or eliminate emissions at source” to “promoting behavior change.”

“We’re not doing an offsetting program for the totality of the Games,” Stubbs said. “We never said we would have a total offsetting program. It’s a wider approach to compensate for residual emissions.”

Instead of buying carbon credits itself, LOCOG appointed BP Plc’s Target Neutral unit to offset the expected 34,000 tons of CO2 generated through travelling to and visiting the Games.

BP Target Neutral is a not-for-profit company that works to “reduce, replace or neutralize carbon emissions from transport,” according to its website. Target Neutral will also offset the pollution from 5,000 official Games vehicles, and advise and support Games visitors on how to reduce their carbon footprint, the website said.

‘Direct Impacts’

BP will source offsets from one project from each of the continents taking part in the sports event, Sheila Williams, a BP Target Neutral spokeswoman in London, said in an e-mail.

“We did look at offsetting but as the program progressed and we better understood our carbon footprint, we felt our effort and resources should be focused on managing direct impacts within our control, avoiding and reducing emissions,” Adrian Bassett, a LOCOG spokesman, said in an e-mail.

Olympics chiefs made additional green commitments including supplying 20 percent of electricity to the Park via local renewable energy sources.

In June 2010, the Olympic Delivery Authority, the public organization responsible for developing and constructing new Games’ venues and infrastructure, was forced to abandon plans for a 2-megawatt wind turbine in the Olympic Park because it contravened health and safety regulations embedded in an EU Machinery Directive. Ecotricity, a U.K. green energy company, had won the contract to supply the turbine.

The cancellation trimmed the organizers’ 20 percent renewable energy target to 9 percent, which will be met by a combination of seven 5-kilowatt small-scale wind turbines in the north of the Olympic Park, a biomass energy center in the Park, and photovoltaic panels to be built on the roof of the media center. The ODA has also submitted an application to install solar cells on the media center’s car park after the Games.

(Corrects to add date of decision in first paragraph, saving in fourth paragraph, of story published Sept. 1.)
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