By Anders Lorenzen
Ahead of this year’s Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, which organisers are adamant will still take place despite the pandemic, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has stepped up its climate and nature commitments.
It has announced the details of a project in which they set out to plant what they call the ‘Olympic Forest’ in Mali and Senegal which they say will be part of their climate-positive strategy.
The project will act as a contribution to the impressive Great Green Wall initiative which aims to halt desertification in the African continent and restore degraded landscapes across the Sahel region. Across 90 villages in Mali and Senegal, around 355,000 native trees covering an area of around 2,120 hectares will be planted.
In addition to the tree-planting project, the Olympic Forest will also contribute to increasing food and economic security across local communities. The IOC said to achieve this they will work with local communities to ensure that the Olympic Forest creates diverse, social, economic and environmental benefits in an area that has experienced increased droughts and floods, leading to a steady degradation of land and sources of food.
The IOC has committed to reducing its carbon emissions by 30 per cent by 2024, and by 45 per cent by 2030, in line with the Paris Agreement. The IOC said that the Olympic Forest will be compensating for more than 100 per cent of their residual emissions and will help the organisation become “climate positive” by 2024. They further said that The Olympic Forest is expected to sequester 200,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2e), which is more than the IOC’s estimated emissions for the 2021-2024 period and equivalent to the emissions of approximately 32,000 return flights from Geneva to Tokyo. However, climate experts would be keen to point out that the forest will not be able to offer climate impacts straight away and will need to become mature before it offers carbon sequestered benefits.
IOC President Thomas Bach said “Addressing climate change is one of the IOC’s top priorities, and we are fully committed to reducing our emissions in line with the Paris Agreement. The Olympic Forest will support communities in Mali and Senegal by increasing their climate resilience, food security and income opportunities, and will help the IOC become climate positive already by 2024. The Olympic Movement is about building a better world through sport, and the Olympic Forest is an example of that.”
To create the forest, the IOC will work with Tree Aid, a non-profit organisation working with people in the drylands of Africa to tackle poverty and the impacts of the climate crisis by growing trees and restoring and protecting land. The first phase of the project will involve engaging with local communities to identify project areas as well as establishing a monitoring and evaluation plan and setting up plant nurseries. The planting will include a diverse range of native tree species and is scheduled for the second and third quarters of 2022.
The carbon savings generated will be independently certified according to Plan Vivo, a standard that supports communities and smallholders at the forefront of the climate crisis and also guarantees the creation of socio-economic benefits for local communities and additional environmental benefits such as the restoration of damaged ecosystems.
The project enjoys support from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), with Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP saying: “The Olympic Forest will be an inspirational contribution to Africa’s Great Green Wall and shows how conserving and restoring nature can address climate change while generating sustainable livelihoods. Through this initiative, the IOC is showing climate leadership within the sports world and beyond, and highlighting that we all have a role to play in preserving a healthy planet for future generations.”
The IOC said while the initial project will last four years, they plan to open it up in the future to other organisations in the Olympic Movement so that they can contribute and grow the Olympic Forest further.
The IOC announced in March 2020 that all Olympic Games will be required to be climate positive from 2030 onwards – removing more carbon from the atmosphere than they emit. Until then, Organising Committees, including Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022, have committed to holding carbon-neutral Games, while Paris 2024 has recently announced its ambition to stage the first climate-positive Games. Though climate advocates will be sure to impress upon the IOC that emissions must be cut immediately and they can not solely rely on future climate savings such as tree-planting projects.
The project launched on June 17th which was also the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought.
In 2026 Senegal will be the host of the Youth Olympic Games as it will take place in the country’s capital, Dakar.