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Olympic team buys carbon credits to offset travel

The Canadian Olympic team and support staff will generate a carbon footprint  equivalent to the annual emissions of nearly 300 mid-sized vehicles when they  travel to and from the Summer Olympics in London this summer.

But they plan to offset that 1,500 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions with  carbon credits — the first Olympic team so far opting to be carbon-neutral for  the London 2012 Games.

“Not only is this building on Vancouver’s legacy of sustainability, it’s also  complementing the London 2012 organizers’ [desire] to have sustainable games,” Canadian Olympic Committee CEO and secretary-general Christopher Overholt said  in Vancouver Tuesday.

Carbon credits are purchased from companies with investments in offset  projects. The projects are greenhouse gas reduction ventures that focus on  sustainable practices like renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Emission reductions from the projects translate into credits that are bought  by other organizations by the tonne to offset their own emissions. Buying  credits is one way to lower emissions by paying somebody else to do it for  you.

But critics of the carbon offset credit system liken it to the medieval  European practice of buying papal indulgences to absolve sins — a comparison  rejected by the David Suzuki Foundation. The foundation’s Purchasing Carbon  Offsets guide says trade in carbon credits can result in real reductions in  greenhouse gases through the “polluter pays” principle.

“It would be impractical for most [companies] to finance their own wind farm  or landfill methane capture projects,” said Ryan Kadowaki, a senior coordinator  at the foundation.

“Carbon offsets allow them to co-finance these projects [by purchasing  offsets] and receive a share of the credit. The papal indulgence analogy doesn’t  really fit because the money is resulting in environmental benefits.”

The 16-day Summer Olympics in the U.K. are expected to generate 315,000  tonnes of carbon dioxide. The number, a 20-per-cent decrease from an earlier  assessment of 400,000 tonnes, is based on the London Organizing Committee’s  projection, and factors in London’s sustainability measures for the Games.

Vancouver Sun
Michael V’inkin Lee
June 18, 2012

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