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The Opening Ceremony of the Rio Olympics Games highlighted the threats of climate change to nearly 3.3 billion viewers, earning high praise from the climate community worldwide.

A video, narrated by Academy Award-winning actress Judi Dench, explained the spike in the Earth's temperature and the effects of climate change around the world such as rapid ice melt and sea level rise.

A new report from a Brazilian civil society group has found that rising temperatures due to climate change could severely affect the performance of athletes despite the games being held during Brazil's winter.

News: Washington Post, ThinkProgress, Hollywood Reporter, Guardian, Metro, Huffington Post, The Hill, Grist, Sydney Morning Herald

Commentary: LA Times, Charles McNulty column; Forbes, Marshall Shepherd op-ed; BusinessGreen, James Murray column; Sydney Morning Herald, multiple author letters

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for daily Hot News.


The whole world held its breath in awe on Friday watching the Opening Ceremony for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. A day later I arrived back in the city that has become my second home while Mayor Eduardo Paes has been C40's chairperson for the last two and a half years. As I sit writing this article while enjoying the extraordinary new space in Porto Maravilha, though many have criticized the city for its Olympic preparations, it's impossible not to be moved by the significance of the first-ever Olympics to be held in South America.

Olympic cities are always criticized while under the world's microscope. Though there are some shortcomings here—mostly in areas that were the responsibility of the state or federal government—it's impossible not to be impressed by the transformation in sustainable transport and public space the mayor has instigated as a direct result of taking on the challenge of hosting the world's single greatest international contest.

The promise of the Olympics has been on the horizon since current C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (C40) Chair and Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes was elected mayor in 2008. He has worked tirelessly throughout the intervening years not only to produce an event worthy of the global stage, but also to invest in and develop long-term legacy projects that will benefit the city and its inhabitants for years to come. Indeed, Mayor Paes has followed the advice of former Barcelona (also a C40 city) mayor and Olympic host Pasqual Maragall: The Olympics must serve the city, not vice versa.

Mayor Paes speaking at a press conference at Paris City Hall with C40 Mayors in 2015.C40 / Flickr

Mayor Paes has stayed true to that principle: For every one real invested in the Olympics, the city has invested five Reais in sustainable infrastructure and legacy projects. The city's ambitions for the Olympics have always been high and under Mayor Paes' leadership it has made powerful and lasting improvements for the city and its people that will endure far beyond when the last athletes have left town.

  • There has been a major expansion of the city's public transit systems, including an incredibly rapid development of bus rapid transit that means the proportion of residents using public transport has risen from under 20 percent to more than 60 percent in just 8 years, a brand new light rail system and more than 450 kilometers of cycle paths (as well as the new subway line, built by the state but for which the mayor has been a major advocate).
  • The city has completed a major renovation and revitalization of the Porto Maravilha, the city's historic birthplace. They redesigned the area in terms of mobility to make it more friendly to human-scale transit—removing the brutalist perimetral highway (indeed the first time I met Mayor Paes he apologized for being late with the excuse that he had been blowing up the very same road), adding a light vehicle tram, closing streets to cars, creating facilities for pedestrians and building the arrestingly beautiful Museum of Tomorrow.
  • Mayor Paes inaugurated the Rio Operations Center, a digital nerve center of the city in which critical services—from waste management to emergency response and traffic control—are monitored to improve the city's efficiency and emergency response. It is a model that has captured the attention of other cities across the world.
  • Though the failure to clean up the Guanabara Bay—which has been a contentious location in the lead-up to the games—falls outside the jurisdiction of the Mayor, the city has invested in a new West Zone Wastewater Treatment Plant that will benefit 430,000 people and treat 65 million liters of sewage that would otherwise be dumped in the bay. This is another fulfilled Olympic commitment and it brings better quality of life for thousands of people.
  • More than 70 percent of Olympic facilities were built by converting existing structures and some Olympic venues, like the Handball Stadium, are designed to be converted into community projects, like public schools, after the games.

Hosting an Olympics Games is no mean feat for any mayor, but it is particularly challenging when taking into consideration the political and economic turmoil Brazil has been facing over the past 12 months. Rather than criticizing what has not been done in Rio (and there are still many areas that require improvement and investment), those who care about sustainability should be praising Mayor Paes for delivering an impressive raft of infrastructure improvements, while the rest of the country has been at a virtual standstill.

Moreover, in addition to his job as mayor, Mayor Paes has also been the energetic chair of C40 since December 2013 and has been instrumental to engaging more than 20 new member cities from China, India, the Philippines, Africa and the Middle East, such that we now have a majority of members from the global south.

Under his leadership, Mayor Paes and C40 joined partners in launching the Compact of Mayors, creating a new global standard for urban emissions reporting and creating a program of effective "city determined commitments" to mirror the INDCs being pledged by nation states. Mayor Paes led from the front and Rio became the first city to be compliant with the Compact of Mayors. Rio was also the first Brazilian city to complete a study of its climate vulnerabilities and has mandated emissions cuts of 20 percent by 2020.

It has also been through Mayor Paes' personal leadership that we have created the C40 Finance Facility, to address the the startling omission of most of the world's green funds to finance city government's low carbon projects. Starting from initial generous support from the German government, Mayor Paes aims for the facility to unlock up to $1 billion worth of sustainable infrastructure in cities across low and middle-income countries by 2020.

In part because of Mayor Paes' leadership, Latin America is a focal point for city climate action this year: C40 is looking forward to hosting our flagship event, the C40 Mayors Summit in Mexico City at the end of November. Mexico City Mayor Mancera and Mayor Paes will host this gathering where mayors, urban experts, business people and celebrities from around the world will come together to continue positioning cities as a leading force for climate action around the world.

It is with extreme gratitude that we at C40 thank Mayor Paes for his leadership and passion. And is with great excitement that today in Rio we announced the new C40 chair: Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo.

From left to right: Eduardo Paes, Mayor of Rio de Janeiro and Chair of C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris.C40 / Flickr

The C40 Steering Committee voted unanimously to elect Mayor Hidalgo, who has maintained a steadfast commitment to urban sustainability throughout her tenure thus far, emphasizing walkability in Paris, spearheading calls to better air quality across Europe and hosting the Climate Summit for Local Leaders alongside the COP21 climate negotiations in Paris last December. She will be an inspiring champion for city voices around the world, leading by example as the C40 chair-elect. She will take over from Mayor Paes after the C40 Mayors Summit in Mexico City later this year.

It is no coincidence, too, that Paris is currently bidding to host the 2024 Olympics, more than half of the cities that have hosted the Olympics are also C40 member cities. And, given that the International Olympic Committee has outlined a commitment to a sustainable future, it's no surprise that C40's member cities—which represent the most powerful and innovative cities in the world—are not only great places to live, work and prosper, but are also make supremely competent Olympic hosts.

Mayor Paes has been an exceptional leader for the last several years and Rio has set an example for other cities around the world seeking a clean development pathway. We look forward to Mayor Hidalgo carrying that charge forward for the critical years to come.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Several athletes participating in the Rio Olympics are encouraging countries to take urgent climate action in a new campaign.

Brazilian surfers, footballers and water polo players as well as athletes from some of the most vulnerable countries such as the Marshall Islands, Afghanistan and South Sudan have been speaking up for the campaign: "1.5C: The record we must not break."

Environmental concerns have mired the Rio Olympics after Guanabara Bay, where several water sport events are scheduled to be held, was found to be heavily contaminated by pollution. The risk of contracting Zika in Rio—exacerbated by climate change—has also been a major concern for athletes.

For a deeper dive: Climate Home, Wall Street Journal, Deutsche Welle, LA Times

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for daily Hot News.

By Nika Knight

A biology professor has simple advice for athletes and tourists descending on Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the Olympics' start on Friday: "Don't put your head underwater."

Dr. Valerie Harwood, chair of the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of South Florida, remarked on the dangers posed by Rio's water to AP, which reported Monday that a 16-months-long study revealed that "the waterways of Rio de Janeiro are as filthy as ever, contaminated with raw human sewage teeming with dangerous viruses and bacteria."

Thousands of dead fish float in the Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon, where the Olympics rowing and canoeing competitions will take place, in 2016.Marcelo Sayao / EPA

The wire service adds that superbugs—bacteria resistant to most forms of antibiotics—were not the only cause for great concern. Shockingly high levels of viruses have alarmed scientists:

[T]he AP investigation found that infectious adenovirus readings—tested with cell cultures and verified with molecular biology protocols—turned up at nearly 90 percent of the test sites over 16 months of testing. "That's a very, very, very high percentage," said [Dr. Harwood]. "Seeing that level of human pathogenic virus is pretty much unheard of in surface waters in the U.S. You would never, ever see these levels because we treat our waste water. You just would not see this."

Swimmers risk serious illness by competing, experts say. "According to a study by the University of Texas School of Public Health, athletes who ingest just three teaspoons of water from the contaminated bay in Brazil have a 99 percent chance of being infected," the National Observer noted.

"Dead animals, plastic, garbage and furniture are only a sample of the vile items reported to pollute its waters," the newspaper added "and the athletes competing this August have been told to swim with their mouths closed to avoid contracting serious illness from the water."

The National Post reported: "Untreated hospital waste is the probable cause of waterborne superbacteria, but chemical waste from factories is another culprit. However, the chief reason that Rio's waterways are such a petri dish of contaminants is the torrent of untreated human feces that spews out of open sewers such as one located at the east end of the Guanabara Bay, where it is hemmed in by apartments where many of the city's wealthiest citizens live."

And it is those wealthy denizens who stand to benefit the most from the Olympics, while the region's poorest have been displaced by the tens of thousands, their homes demolished to make room for massive sports stadiums.

An investigation published Monday in The Atlantic by Alex Cuadros detailed the schemes, grafts and bribes that have gone on behind the scenes to construct the Olympics infrastructure, while many of the city's impoverished favela residents are rendered homeless and the region's battered ecosystem is further degraded.

Cuadros wrote, "Contracts for everything from stadium and train-line construction to port renovations have funneled billions of dollars in taxpayer-subsidized revenues to a handful of Brazil's most powerful, well-connected families and their companies." He continued:

[M]ost of the government's Olympic budget has been poured into the wealthy suburb of Barra da Tijuca, home to only 300,000 people. [...]

[A] flood of public money is benefiting the coterie of men who own most of Barra's land. One of them, a 92-year-old billionaire named Carlos Carvalho, controls some 65 million square feet of property in the area. His most famous project for the Olympics is the so-called Athletes' Village. After the games are over, all 31 of the Village's 17-story towers will be transformed into luxury condos featuring multiple swimming pools, tropical gardens and an unobstructed view of Jacarepaguá Lake.

[...] Carvalho is also a partner in construction of the nearby Olympic Park, a sprawling spit of concrete sprinkled with a billion dollars' worth of sporting facilities. Here, the city handed over lakeside land that Carvalho is expected to develop into a whole new neighborhood, once the economy rebounds and demand picks up again.

As scarce as resources are in Brazil, such subsidies are common for well-connected businessmen. But they are no guarantee of quality. For Olympic athletes arriving this month, Carvalho delivered apartments with blocked toilets, leaky pipes, and exposed wiring.

Of all the contradictions between Olympic vision and reality, perhaps the most glaring is in Carvalho's choice of partners, the construction firms Odebrecht and Andrade Gutierrez. These companies are at the center of the multibillion-dollar corruption scandal that has plunged Brazil into political chaos, and investigators now believe they skimmed bribes from Olympic projects, too. Both companies are cooperating with investigators. As recently as May, Paes surreally claimedthe Olympics were free of corruption, even though his own party is deeply implicated in the wide-ranging bribery scheme.

And the Olympics golf course, Cuadros discovered, was constructed by a wealthy businessman on stolen public lands and in what had formerly been an environmental protection zone where construction was forbidden. The area was deemed no longer a protected zone when a nearby sand-mining operation was found to have "degraded" the ecosystem. The sand-mining operation was owned by the same businessman who built the golf course.

Cuadros also reported that more than 20,000 residents of the city's favelas have been removed, their homes demolished, to make way for roads and Olympics stadiums.

Meanwhile, the weekend before the Olympics' start saw competing protests sweep Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, underscoring the political turmoil gripping the nation. In Rio de Janeiro, protesters ostensibly demonstrated against corruption—but also voiced support for the ruling neoliberal, pro-business elite and called for the impeachment of embattled Workers' Party president Dilma Rousseff.

In São Paulo, a competing rally drew crowds calling for workers' rights and an end to the right-wing takeover of Brazil's federal government.

The Senate is expected to vote on whether to impeach Rousseff in late August.

Last week, protests in Rio were more locally focused: the Brazil chapter of rights group Amnesty International displayed 40 body bags in front of the office of the Local Organizing Committee for the Olympics to draw attention to the city's fatal police shootings, which have increased significantly in the months leading up to the games.

"Since April, Amnesty International has been raising concerns around the increased risk of human rights violations in the context of Rio 2016 Olympics, as it happened before in other mega sporting events such as the 2014 World Cup and the 2007 Panamerican Games," the organization noted. "Since 2009, when Rio won the bid to host the Olympics, more than 2,600 people were killed by the police in the city."

Renata Neder, human rights advisor at Amnesty International, commented: "Brazil failed to learn from past mistakes. In the month of May alone, 40 people were victims of homicides committed by the police, a 135 percent increase in comparison to the same period in 2015. These numbers are unacceptable and compromise the Olympic legacy."

Indeed, as political and environmental turmoil threatens the Rio Olympics, Cuadros observed in The Atlantic that "perhaps the best Olympic legacy that Brazilians can hope for is that the event will serve as a cautionary tale to future generations."

This article was reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

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