No more glory for former Olympic cities as climate warms

A snow gun stands on the periphery of the Kandahar ski slope, which is only fragmentarily covered with snow, in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany on Jan. 13, 2014. The women's alpine skiing World Cup, which was scheduled for the end of January, had to be called off because of the lack of snow. PHOTO: KARL-JOSEF HILDENBRAND/AP

The women’s alpine skiing World Cup, scheduled for the end of January, was cancelled due to lack of in Germany. PHOTO: KARL-JOSEF HILDENBRAND/AP

January 23, 2014

The planet is warming so quickly that a new report predicts Winter Olympic cities like Vancouver and Sochi will be out of luck in future.

It says only six of the previous 19 Winter Olympic sites will be cold enough to reliably host the Games by the end the century. Even under conservative climate change projections it says Olympic sites, such as Vancouver, Sochi, Chamonix in France, Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany will be too warm by 2050.

“Fewer and fewer traditional winter sports regions will be able to host a Olympic Winter Games in a warmer world,” lead author Daniel Scott, an expert on global tourism at the University of Waterloo, said in a release issued with the report to be published Thursday.

“The implications for winter sports are unmistakable,” said the report by the researchers at Waterloo and Austria’s Management Center Innsbruck.

Olympics organizers already spend a fortune helping Mother Nature with “weather risk management strategies” to ensure athletes have snow and ice to ski, skate and slide on. In the last 30 years refrigerated tracks and jumps and snow and ice machines have become common fixtures at Olympic venues.

Graphic of average February Daily Max Temperature at Winter Games Locations

Graphic of average February Daily Max Temperature at Winter Games Locations

At the Vancouver Olympics in 2010 a small fortune was spent storing and moving snow, and snow machines have been working overtime in Sochi in the run up to next month’s Games.

While speed skating, hockey, skating, figure hockey and curling have all moved indoors, they are limits to how much of the Winter Olympics can be made immune to the climatic conditions outside.

“There really is no substitute, right now anyway, for tens of kilometres of Nordic ski trails or the downhill giant slalom,” Scott said in an interview with Postmedia News. “You can’t put that indoors.”

Scott’s team charted how temperatures have climbed since the first winter games in 1924 and will continue to climb in the coming century.

The researchers say the average February daytime temperature at games locations has increased from 0.4°C in the 1920-50s, to 3.1°C in the 1960-90s, to 7.8°C this century.

Given the trajectory the planet is on in terms of emissions warming the planet, the report predict February temperatures will increase at the 19 former Olympic Winter Games locations by as much as 2.1°C by 2050 and by 4.4 °C by late in the century.

In the later half of this century “renowned Olympic sites, such as Squaw Valley (U.S.) Garmisch-Partenkirchen (Germany), as well as recent host cities of Vancouver (Canada) and Sochi (Russia), simply would not be cold enough to reliably host the Games,” the report says.

Another former host city that drops off the list is Innsbruck, which has hosted the Games twice.

Calgary, which hosted the Games in 1988, St. Moritz in Switzerland and Salt Lake City are among cities expected to be cold enough to pull off the games in the later part of this century.

The report notes the Olympic charter includes a binding commitment to sustainable development and in the last 15 years steps have been taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions generated by the Games.  Organizers in Sochi are aiming for “carbon neutral Games” by investing in energy conservation, renewable energy sources and carbon offsets.

Scott and his colleagues are urging today’s youth to push for concerted international action to ensure at least some former Olympic cities will still be in the game in 100 years . What’s needed, they say, is an “ambitious global agreement that will ensure the rapid transition to a low carbon economy and limit warming of global average temperatures to less than +2°C over pre-industrial times.”

While support for emission reductions is widespread in environmental circles, Scott said he hopes the report will encourage people in the sporting world to “engage” and start discussing what can and should be done to reduce emissions and slow climate change.




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