The olympic hurdle of a warming world

Abstract concepts become real when it affects what we hold dear. While certain American politicians are casting doubt, when climate change affects one of the world’s largest mega-events – people take notice.

The billions of people touched by the Winter Olympics, from the athletes to those watching from home – are already feeling the impacts of climate change. Athletes for one, are experiencing a decrease in frozen places available for them to train, often having to travel further afield. As for the winter games themselves, we’re seeing a decline in the number of possible cities cold enough to host them.

The olympics must adapt to a warming world

We’ve already experienced how warming has thwarted the success of the games. During the last Winter Olympics in Sochi (2014), balmy temperatures created slushy and icy conditions, resulting in falls, broken skis, and athletes unable to finish their course. As skier Kate Summerhayes (UK) put it, the slopes were “what you expect in the summer”.

Even if we are to achieve the ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement and keep warming “well below 2C”, the number of cities where it is even possible to hold the olympics will decline. Only 13 of the 21 cities where the games have been previously held, will still remain reliably cold enough to hold future games by 2050. In the words of Daniel Scott, a professor at the University of Waterloo, “Climate change will affect or alter the geography of the Winter Olympics, regardless of whether Paris is successful or not.”

Climate action is as urgent as ever

Climate Action is one of the 17 United Nations Global Goals that we are furthest off track to achieve through our current efforts, as forecasted by DNV GL in their report The Future of Spaceship Earth. It is clear that we must take urgent action to prevent further warming, as well as consider strategically how to adapt to the changes already underway. This is why we chose to focus on Climate Action as one of the four Global Goals of which progress is lagging behind in our latest Global Opportunity Report. The report analyzes how we can work to pursue progress on the Goals, through seizing opportunities for businesses to overcome these risks and position themselves for success.

Cooling tech is both a risk and an opportunity

As the world heats up, so does our need for cooling technology. For the Winter Olympics adaptations are already underway, from snowmaking to moving events into indoor venues. Homeowners and businesses are also feeling the heat – 1.6 billion new AC units are expected to be sold by 2050. The challenge is that much of existing cooling technology is heavily polluting, and therefore further accelerating climate change. For example, AC systems typically emit fluorinated gases, which have global warming potential thousands of times higher than CO2.

Worldwide, air conditioning accounts for up to 17% of electrical demand, often placing huge demand on the electrical grids at peak times. This is both a tremendous risk, but also an opportunity for businesses to innovate solutions.

The world needs better ways to cool down – and this is where we’ve identified a market opportunity for greener cooling systems, an opportunity for businesses to thrive while meeting this global need. Some leaders we’ve identified include Purix, a solar powered air conditioner that reduces electricity consumption by up to 85%, and Wien Energie which uses waste heat to provide district cooling.

If businesses are to thrive in this changing world, they have to be prepared – and there isn’t time to waste. Here at Sustainia we’ve identified that it is within these next 1000 days that businesses must asses and adapt to the risks of climate change. We work to make sure that they are prepared. Get in touch with us to position your business in alignment with the Global Goals.

Discover the markets identified in The Global Opportunity Report, all available online on the Global Opportunity Explorer.