Rio 2016: 5 reasons the ‘Green games for a Blue Planet’ has failed to deliver

Published by Dave Brooks on

August 10th, 2016

In its 2009 bid to host this year’s Olympic games, Rio aspired to host a “Green games for a Blue Planet”, committing to offsetting carbon emissions from those travelling to the games, reducing congestion on the roads, cleaning up local water bodies, improving amenities in the favelas and preserving nature. Seven years later, and with the Olympics in full swing, the Brazilian capital has fallen short on delivering the “most sustainable games in history”.

While it can be argued that building an Olympic village, new stadiums and other facilities to host thousands of international athletes and spectators at an event that only lasts 16 days (!) could never be executed sustainably, Rio’s games leaves much to be desired.

  1. Polluted Waterways

Rio has had dire water quality for at least the last 20 years, due to a lack of modern sanitation infrastructure. In its bid, it promised to treat 80% of the wastewater produced by the 9 million inhabitants around Guanabara Bay, where the sailing and rowing events are taking place. Officials have now acknowledged that the plants installed to date can only treat 48% at most, with athletes complaining about the smell, debris and sewage they have encountered in the water. But if the water looks blue, it’s because it has been cosmetically treated to resemble clean water, as reported in USA Today.

2. Missed carbon offset targets

The 5.5 million trees planted to partly offset the carbon emissions associated with the games falls far short of the 24 million seedlings initially promised. This is partly made up for by the fact that some of the stadiums have been designed and built to make the best use of natural light and to use solar power to meet some of their energy needs. The Olympic Village was also designed with some green foresight, as it will be converted into condos following the games. If you can’t offset emissions, at least plan major infrastructure projects to serve multiple purposes.

3. Unnecessary Golf Course stamps out nature

Despite the city already having two golf courses, a new course was built for the purpose of the games. Not only would the landscaping and manicuring of fairways and greens use a lot of water and disrupt ecosystems ordinarily, but this course sits on part of the Marapendi reserve, a biodiversity hotspot home to rare butterflies, pines and other endemic species.

4. Public Transportation blunders

Cleaning up the air and the streets with improved public transportation projects in time for the Olympics and as a legacy project for the city thereafter has also fallen short on expectations, as most projects are behind schedule and have seen increases in budget of between 7 and 122 percent. The collapse of a bike lane in April lead to the death of 2 people, the new light rail system is going through major teething problems following a major power outage on its second day after opening, and the westbound metro line is not open to locals for the duration of the games. This joins the displacement of favela dwellers as an example of the appalling treatment that Rio’s poorer citizens have faced with the 2016 Olympics.

5. Environmental Activism in Brazil costs lives

The fact that Brazil is the most dangerous country in the world to be involved in environmental activism means that trying to do anything about any of the above is seriously risky business. A Global Witness Report released in June reported that in 2015, 50 people were killed in Brazil alone for environmental activism. While the opening ceremony of the games carried an important message about Climate Change, the country’s record on corruption scandals, rainforest destruction and murdering of activists could put it in the running for another award, according to Jules Boykoff, author of Power Games: A Political History of the Olympics: “the most greenwashed games ever”.



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Dave Brooks

Dave works as Communication Assistant with the Environmental Pillar. His background is in psychology and he has a masters in Environmental Psychology from the University of Surrey.