In the run up to the winter Olympics the Russian government made some big claims about making the games carbon neutral and living up to the highest environmental standards. Huge sums of money have been committed to exploiting the host regions potential for sustainable energy generation as well as sustained efforts to offset the carbon emissions from air travel and ground transportation during the games.
For instance a large network of thermal power plants and pipes have been constructed to manage the temperatures around the Olympic village and to maintain the right conditions inside the arenas. Some of the games sponsors such as the American company General Electric are also contributing to the emissions saving infrastructure.
However with the a track record on the environment like Russia’s, there should be no surprise that cracks are beginning to show in the host nations claims of hosting the most sustainable games ever. Accusations of destructive construction practises are being levelled at the hosts by such organisations as the United Nations and the World Wildlife Fund. Activists have found evidence of illegal landfills filled with mountains of construction debris. Some activists who have tried to expose these scandals have also experienced intimidation from authorities. These allegations if proved to be true could mean bad news for a region known for its pristine ecosystems.
Although there is evidence that Russia is about to stray from its commitments, hope might be found among the sponsors of the Sochi games. Among the games sponsors are some of the world’s major corporations who have also made sturdy commitments to environmental sustainability who are unlikely to risk their brand being associated with environmental abuse. The international Olympic committee also places a large emphasis on the sustainable aspect and the previous games in London and Vancouver have set new benchmarks to aspire to.
One of the main hopes of environmentalists is that the games will help jump start a change in direction in Russian energy policy. The visibility and scrutiny that accompanies hosing an Olympic event should create more awareness specifically in countries such as Russia about the impact of some of their government’s policies. It is particularly ironic due to the fact that climate change is now affecting the viability of many winter sports across the world. During the Sochi games just like past winter games, the organiser are relying on stored snow and an army of heavy polluting equipment and volunteers to keep the games moving.