As Vancouver comments on a potential bid for the 2030 Olympics, some climate change doubts the region’s ability to host a given model, suggesting warmer winters and less snow.
City of Vancouver employees are currently exploring the possibility of bidding for the 2030 Winter Games after Coun. Melissa De Genova made a proposal to investigate bringing them back to the region 20 years after hosting the 2010 Olympic Games.
De Genova says the excitement surrounding this summer’s Olympics in Tokyo in 2020 is proof that people, despite the pandemic, are still hungry for live sporting events.
“There was still the worldwide cheering of our athletes,” she said.
De Genova says she was first inspired to make the proposal during the 10th anniversary of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.
Her arguments for exploring this possibility include the possibility of using existing infrastructure from the 2010 Games, the influx of public funds that would create new infrastructure projects and the economic and social benefits that would be associated with hosting a large-scale international event again.
When the proposal was delayed due to COVID-19, her added arguments included attracting tourists and dollars to the region to help recover from the pandemic.
“The economic benefit is really important,” De Genova said. “We have a mandate and we have to answer the provincial government. We have to balance our budget.”
A bidding group, Vancouver 2030, has been working to bring the Winter Games back to Vancouver. And the former Olympic organizing committee in Vancouver, John Furlong, has also spoken in favor.
But those studying climate change and their impact say the summer Olympics were a testament to how a warmer planet is likely to disrupt such events, even just 10 years from now.
In Tokyo, many athletes struggled to cope with the heat, which also caused the football match between women and gold for Canada to be moved to the evening at another location.
People like Tom Green, senior climate policy adviser at the David Suzuki Foundation, say it is risky to host the Vancouver and Whistler Games given models that suggest warmer winters and less snow for the region.
“We continue to be amazed at how fast the climate is changing,” Green said. “We should only host it if we as a province do everything we can to show the world that we can get out of fossil fuels quickly.”
Research from 2019 in the journal Current issues in tourism suggests that only a dozen of the last 21 winter venues would still be viable by 2050 – and Vancouver was not one of the 12 that made the cut.
The amount of snow on the North Shore Mountains is expected to fall by half in 2050, Green says – and although it is still far away, he says the trend for 2030 does not look good.
Green points out that the 2010 games already had problems with insufficient snow. As some may remember, the organizers had to transport snow from the interior to the north coast during an unpredictable hot and dry winter.
Five years later, in 2015, the ski slopes on the North Shore closed early due to a gloomy season of sparse snowfall.
And although Whistler is higher up and further inland, Green says, it also projects similar results in the coming years and is already struggling with rain at the village base.
Sean Cruz, a spokesman for the 2030 bidding committee, agrees that creating a CO2-neutral event is a major consideration.
Cruz says, however, that snowfall in BC has been “fairly consistent” for the past 10 years, with the 2009/2010 ski season a weather disruption.
“A warming planet and continued climate change do not necessarily mean less snow for coastal mountains in southwestern British Columbia,” he said.
Targeted at zero emissions
Simon Donner, professor and climate scientist at the University of British Columbia, agrees with Green that the snow forecast for 2030 does not look positive.
If the region were to pursue a bid anyway, Donner would like to see aggressive zero-emission targets in place.
“We have to be serious about using the Olympics to really push ahead on net zero infrastructure, buildings, transit, everything. Otherwise, it’s a mistake,” Donner said.
“My concern is that we are not ready and we are compromising.”
Donner says the infrastructure completed for the 2010 Winter Games was large at the time, but does not meet the needs of 2030.
To reach the current targets for 2050, any potential bid for the 2030 Winter Games in Vancouver would need not only zero-emission vehicles and buildings, but also a way to pull carbon emissions out of the atmosphere to compensate for the thousands of athletes and spectators who would travel to the region.
But Donner is not sure that will happen.
“I would not call the IOC the most forward-thinking organization in the world,” he said.