International climate agreements

Olympic Games 2024: How do you ensure that the world's most-watched event is sustainable?

Posted on Jul 2, 2024


Prof. Martin Müller


Dr. David Gogishvili


Olympic Games 2024: How do you ensure that the world's most-watched event is sustainable?

As the Olympic Games get underway in Paris on 26 July, it's a good time to look at the environmental impact of the world's most-observed event, and its potential to influence public perception of climate issues and raise awareness.

Interview with Martin Müller and David Gogishvili, professors and researchers at UNIL's Faculty of Geoscience and Environment. We look at current efforts to reduce carbon footprints and the importance of concerted action to transition to new models in order to maintain the legitimacy of such events.


In your view, why should the IOC and the athletes competing in the Olympics be concerned about climate change? Should we be concerned that the Paris Olympics may be impacted directly by climate change?

Martin Müller & David Gogishvili: Billions of people around the world watch the Olympic Games.

The IOC therefore has unique leverage to bring about actions for mitigating climate change.

The Olympic Games are also a significant source of emissions. However, these are for non-essential purposes: the Olympics may be fun to watch, but they are leisure activities, unlike essential goods such as food and housing. Therefore, stricter standards need to be applied to them.

IOC has committed itself to carbon neutrality. Are the objectives, plans and trajectories in agreement with the Paris Agreement? Are the Paris Olympics leading the way?

Martin Müller & David Gogishvili: The problem is that the IOC does not quantify its emission targets and, up to now, it has not required bidding cities to disclose their projected carbon footprints. In theory, the Olympic Games could have very high emissions, offset all of them, and still be carbon-neutral. Thus, the term “carbon neutral” does not mean much and hides how destructive hosting any mega-event might be.

Unfortunately, the Paris Olympics quietly abandoned their original, quantified target of 1.58 million tons CO2e shortly before the Games.

This quantified target would have been a major progress compared to previous Games. While Brisbane 2032 is set to be the first contractually obligated carbon-positive Olympics, concerns remain. Carbon offsetting will still be allowed, and there is no available data on the projected carbon footprint of these Games. We only know that organisers will be required to offset more emissions than they produce.

This discussion follows their CLIMACT seminar "Sustainability or international sporting events: do we need to choose?" which you can replay here.

In your view, what are the key actions that the IOC could take to reduce its impact and reach its climate objectives?

Martin Müller & David Gogishvili: The IOC needs to urgently move towards adopting quantified emissions targets that are compatible with pathways outlined by the Paris Agreement until 2050. It then needs to define concrete actions to meet those. The concrete actions should absolutely include downsizing events, rotating Olympic Games among established cities, and enhancing sustainability governance.

These actions could significantly enhance sustainability by reducing resource demands, minimizing social and ecological disruptions, and ensuring accountability through credible standards.

Moreover, the IOC should require all cities or coalitions of cities bidding for the Games to disclose their projected carbon footprint and other emissions in their candidate city files.

This criterion should be given priority and be actively considered in the selection of the host city.


About the experts:

Prof. Martin Müller, Professor at the University of Lausanne. He is a geographer working on the (un)sustainability of mega-events such as the Olympic Games and the Football World Cups. He has led the creation of the world’s largest database on the sustainability of the Olympics and the World Cups.

Dr. David Gogishvili, Senior researcher in the Department of Geography and Sustainability at the University of Lausanne. He is part of a four-year project entitled "Sports for the Planet?", which examines the sustainability of over 240 major sports events.

Find out more about CLIMACT:

Don't miss our upcoming events and CLIMACT seminar series, read our articles and follow us on X (@ClimactSuisse and @ClimactSwiss) as well as on Linkedin to stay informed of all our news.

Stay up-to-date with CLIMACT's news