Yesterday I received a reply from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to my correspondence outlining concerns about the proposed venue for the downhill ski slope for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. Their letter can be seen here. The background can be found here.
The IOC’s reply is, predictably, disappointing. It repeats the claim that the location of the alpine skiing events will be “adjacent” to the national nature reserve. This is true but only after the Chinese government has “adjusted” the boundaries!
The letter goes on to say that the Host City Contract, signed by Beijing, includes a section dedicated to protected natural areas which reads as follows:
There is no evidence that any of this has happened. And, even if it had, the IOC’s contract essentially gives license to cause damage to protected areas as long as “mitigation requirements” are undertaken.
The reply raises two questions. First, what if the host city does not fulfil their obligations (as they clearly haven’t done in this case) and is therefore in breach of contract?
And second, is there any assessment, independent or otherwise, of the so-called “mitigation requirements” to assess their suitability and effectiveness?
Sadly, it looks as if the environmental concerns raised about the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics are not unique. The 2018 Winter Games will take place in South Korea and a “virgin 500-year old forest” has been felled to accommodate a ski slope, despite an online petition attracting more than 1.1 million signatures. In the South Korean case, the organising committee says it plans to replace more than 1,000 trees after the Games and restore the natural habitat to its former state – a promise that forest experts say is practically impossible to keep.
In Beijing the government has promised to plant some trees to “offset” those felled to make way for the ski slope. That may sound reasonable to Joe Public but conservationists and experts will know that cutting down a several hundred-year old tree and planting a new sapling is not a “like for like” replacement, especially when the former is part of a complex and biodiverse ecosystem.
In an age when we are losing our biodiversity at an alarming rate (some estimates suggest we have lost more than 50% of the world’s biodiversity in the last 50 years) it seems to me unforgivable to sacrifice highly biodiverse areas for the sake of a few days of sporting events.
If the IOC doesn’t take its environmental responsibilities and commitments seriously, I hope that the sponsors (many of whom are likely to be large international companies with reputations to protect) will insist on much stricter environmental criteria as a pre-requisite to supporting the Olympics.
In any case, isn’t it time for the IOC to begin to re-use facilities rather than look for a new host country every 4 years?