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  • Zoja Manček Páli

Could we live to see the end of the Winter Olympics as we know them?

The Winter Olympics are just one of the many traditional events affected by climate change, but they are set to be extremely impacted if global warming continues. The increasing temperatures are resulting in decreased snow cover, higher rates of injury and increased costs to hosting. Without the supposed commitment of nations to COP26, it is almost definite that the future games will look significantly different to the ones we know today.

Landscape painting by Grace Joyram (Instagram: @gracie_joyram)

Image one: Includes two A1 acrylic landscape paintings and an open sketchbook including a landscape sketch.

Landscape painting by Grace Joyram (Instagram: @gracie_joyram)

Image two: Image 2 includes an A1 mixed media landscape painting

Image description: Using mixed medias and the foundations of painting, the artist creates a vibrant and exciting mountain scape. Rather than just the blue of the ice, we see reminiscence of rock that stand out of the paintings with brown and purples. The artist adopts a very rash yet thorough use of colour to catch our eyes and transform the mountain from natural to ethereal monument.

There are very few aspects of our lives that haven’t been affected by climate change in some capacity, and winter sports are no exception. The Winter Olympics are a multinational sports spectacle held every four years, attracting nearly 2 billion viewers. They bring people together, competitors and sports fans alike. However, recent reports suggest that by 2050, more than half of the Winter Olympics hosts will be unable to stage the games due to the rapid warming of the Earth.

The recent IPCC report suggests that the planet is warming faster than expected; we are likely to exceed the 1.5°C mark within the next twenty years, and 4.4°C by 2100. A decrease in global snow cover is already happening, and it is expected to continue as the planet warms.

The warmer climate has already caused shortened training seasons, unequal opportunities and potentially dangerous conditions, increased injury rates, and difficulties in finding appropriate training sites. More than a third of all ski resorts (with training and competition slopes) are located in the Alps, where the glaciers are retreating. The number of snow-reliable resorts is projected to drop from 91% to just 61% under 2°C warming, and 30% under 4°C.

If the goals of the Paris Agreement are achieved, only 15 out of 21 host countries will be able to host the games until 2100. With no action, only 8 out of the 21 projected hosts will be able to host the winter games.

The increased warming is projected to cause enormous economic losses as well. The median cost of hosting the Winter Olympics is nearly 3 billion USD, but the recent Winter Olympics were much more expensive: the 2010 Vancouver Olympic games cost 2.5 billion USD, the 2014 Sochi event broke the record with 21 billion USD, and the most recent 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics cost 13 billion USD. As the need for artificial snow, snow storage, venues, and transport increases, the costs will as well.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has pledged to make all Olympics games ‘climate positive’ from 2030. The President of the IOC, Tomas Bach, has said that the committee “want to ensure that, in sport, we are at the forefront of the global efforts to address climate change and leave a tangible, positive legacy for the planet.” The IOC is already a carbon-neutral organisation, working to implement sustainability as a core principle of all upcoming games.

All Olympics hosts will be required to compensate for their emissions and create long-lasting carbon-neutral solutions during and after their time as hosts. Beijing 2022 has committed to being 100% renewable energy for all purposes of all venues and buildings, and Milan-Cortina 2026 has committed to a total carbon-neutrality with the help of the IOC.

While all efforts towards mitigating climate change are commendable, it cannot be done without the help and cooperation of governments, and now, with COP26 underway, is precisely the time to demand action.

COP26, or the Conference of Parties, is the annual UN climate conference. This year, it is held in Glasgow from the 31st of October until the 12th of November. It is essentially a way for all member countries to agree on and set climate-mitigating targets. This year’s conference is important because countries must submit their long-term goals and the establishment and regulation of a carbon market.

It is a global engagement initiative to (try and) achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement cooperatively. It also serves as a way for Scotland to show their climate mitigation strategies and a way for the UK to work with other countries on the global effort. It has been called the most significant climate event since the COP21 in Paris, and this year of negotiations is essential if we want to protect habitats, increase food security, decrease the rate of warming and sea-level rise, and increase multinational cooperation. Saving the Winter Olympics as we know them today is an indirect goal that can be achieved if the Paris Agreement goals are reached.

There are many ways to get involved, from social media to in-person events and workshops. People have volunteered at COP26, you could host an activist in your home or engage with activists bringing attention to the conference and climate change. You could also join a global (Race to Zero, Fridays for Future) or local (Climate Scotland) movement, sign petitions for climate-related causes you believe in, or you can simply just spread the word and discuss the issue to continue doing your part.

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