Host Cities Getting Too Warm for the Winter Olympics

Host Cities Getting Too Warm for the Winter Olympics

Over the past century, the Olympic Winter Games have traveled to three continents and twenty-one cities. They have also served as a worldwide cultural commonality. Yet according to new research, nine of the previous locations of the Olympic Winter Games may become too hot by 2050 to ever host again. Sapporo, Japan -- is likely to be the only city that will remain cool enough in 2080. And snow-sport athletes can expect an increased probability of unsafe conditions at all of the former locations.

The findings of the report are based on the current trajectory towards 4 degrees Celsius of warming, meaning the outcome would be far different if the world can achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement and limit warming to under 1.5 degrees. Dr. Daniel Scott, the report's lead author, told NPR that "under a low-emissions future in the 2050s even the 2080s, we don't really see much change in terms of those climate reliable locations. We pretty much keep all of what we have today."

Why This Matters

The New York Times reports that a warming world not only decreases the number of possible locations for the Winter Games -- it also makes it much more difficult and much riskier for athletes of all abilities to train. And that to protect winters for the Games is to protect culture and livelihoods across the globe. In the US alone, 50 million people engage in outdoor sports, but many may find their lifestyles in jeopardy in the coming years. For cold weather states that rely on the winter sports industry, shorter winters could pose a significant threat to their economies.

WW0: Protecting Our Winters, April 22, 2021.

The Search for Solutions

Where some places have brought in snow from other locations to cover ski slopes, the unseasonably warm 2010 Vancouver Games featured manufactured snow atop straw bales. While a solid backup or supplementary option, man-made snow still relies on cold enough air and can lead to unsafe and icy conditions for athletes. This year in Beijing will be the first time the Winter Games are 100% reliant on artificial snow -- 1.2 million cubic tons of it. A fact that begs the question: How green can these Olympic Games be? Especially when airborne pollution concentrations far surpass the World Health Organization's suggested limit.

As the list of possible locations for the Winter Olympic Games grows shorter, the frequency and quality of our experiences with winter sports will likely decline as well. Yet, as Dr. Scott states: "If we're able to achieve the Paris Agreement and achieve a low emissions future, which we all want to do for so many reasons, that largely preserves the cultural heritage that we have in the Winter Olympics."

The Summer Games

Not only does climate change threaten the Winter Games -- it also threatens the Summer Games -- last summer, in Tokyo, athletes struggled to compete due to high temperature and humidity.

South China Morning Post: Beijing hit by thick smog as it struggles to improve air quality for 'green' Winter Olympics, January 24, 2021.