Thursday, February 11, 2010

Is VANOC really creating fewer greenhouse gas emissions?

With the Olympics only one day away there is plenty of talk about the games and the warm weather.  And commentators are weighing in on how far the games have gone to support environmental initiatives.

David Suzuki and Faisal Moola have written a commentary on this issue.  They correctly point out that sustainable transportation will not be a legacy of these games.  But they do offer VANOC some praise when they suggest that these Olympics are expected to produce few greenhouse gas (ghg) emissions than previous Winter Olympics.

I decided to take a close look at the numbers used to make this claim.  The scorecard produced by the David Suzuki Foundation (DSF) estimates that the overall emissions will be reduced by around 15%.  Where will this reduction come from?

DSF estimated that emissions from electricity at venues will be 12,000 tonnes.  VANOC and BC Hydro have claimed that this represents a 90% reduction in emissions.  Which means the reduction from electricity alone would be about 108,000 tonnes.

But 108,000 tonnes is over 30% of estimated total emissions for the games (328,000).  That means that the 15% reduction doesn't even cover the reduction from electricity.  Or in other words, if you remove venue electricity from the equation there would actually be a net INCREASE in ghg emission compared to previous games.

The reason why there is such a large reduction for electricity is that over 85% of electricity consumed in BC comes from hydro power.  And this means that other locations that have hosted the games have a much higher ghg component to their electricity.

VANOC can not really take credit for this clean electricity being available.  The hydro projects were built decades ago.  If these calculation are right, it means that in the sectors that VANOC was responsible for they actually managed to increase ghg emissions.

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