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Reduced Overseas Travel Helps Lower Event CO2 Emissions in Tokyo 2020 Olympics

If organizers are ready to make certain modifications, major international sporting events may considerably lower their carbon footprint, according to a tourism expert.

Professor James Higham. Image Credit: University of Otago.

As a consequence of fewer event-related workers attending owing to the COVID-19 epidemic, CO2 emissions during the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo were much lower than anticipated earlier, according to a research study by Professor James Higham from the University of Otago’s Department of Tourism.

As a result, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games provided an exceptional case study to examine the effects of decreased international travel on event CO2 emissions.

Our results indicate that acting to reduce the number of event-related personnel attending the Olympics is an important strategy that aims to mitigate the carbon footprint of mega sports events.

Professor James Higham, Department of Tourism, University of Otago

The International Olympic Committee, authorities such as referees and judges, the media, and marketing partners are all considered members of the Olympics.

The study, which was directed by Dr Eiji Ito of Chukyo University, excluded the considerably reduced number of spectators who would have typically traveled to Japan for the Olympics.

There were estimated to be 30,212 incoming personnel at the Olympics, which is much fewer than the 141,000 people that were initially anticipated.

This resulted in 129,686 tCO2 less emissions from international flight travel.

While Professor Higham does not advocate holding future events in stadiums that are completely empty, even tiny adjustments can have a big influence.

Professor Higham added, “We need to challenge ourselves to decarbonize these types of sports events.”

According to Higham, several stadiums are already taking creative actions in regards to their pledges to carbon offsetting, sustainable building practices, and the food and drinks they provide.

Future events should simulate their emissions and creatively investigate how event delivery and design might help reduce event emissions.

Small first steps will inevitably lead to more significant changes over time,” Professor Higham noted.

This might entail contacting local and regional officials, providing chances for virtual reality live streaming and online press conferences, and making sure that any emissions caused by the event are priced. To leverage their commitment to a low carbon event, sponsors could be asked to disclose their emissions connected to the event.

Researchers initially determined the number of individuals traveling to Japan on temporary visitor visas in July of last year to calculate the emission reduction caused by the recent Olympics.

The number of Olympic athletes was then deducted, and then tourists to Japan in June were included to account for those with visas not tied to the Olympics.

We estimated the return flight distance (miles) and CO2 emissions (kg) per passenger between the main and hub airports of each country and region and Narita International Airport using a flight carbon calculator.

Professor James Higham, Department of Tourism, University of Otago

The results were determined by dividing the 30,212 employees traveling internationally to attend the Olympics by the average carbon emissions per passenger for each nation and area.

It shows that there is enormous potential to reduce the carbon footprint of the Olympic Games in terms of transportation and people traveling internationally to be in attendance.

Professor James Higham, Department of Tourism, University of Otago

Journal Reference:

Ito, E., et al. (2022) Carbon emission reduction and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Annals of Tourism Research Empirical Insights.


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