Japan is aiming to host the first Olympic Games powered solely by renewable sources. If successful, this could help the country carve a new niche in the global order as a champion of climate action and environmental protection – and set off a clean energy race in the process.
As well as committing to 100% renewable power for the 2020 games, Japan’s Olympic organising committee plans to offset all unavoidable CO₂ emissions, ensure that all products are sourced according to a strict sustainability code, and use lease and rental services so that 99% of procured goods will be recycled or reused. For example, athletes’ uniforms will be made from recycled fabric, and Japanese citizens have donated used electronics from which all medals will be created.
If such a vision is achieved, Tokyo could significantly raise the bar for future games, which have typically created massive carbon footprints. That of Rio 2016 was larger than the annual emissions of 35 countries.
In the wake of the US’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement in 2017, China is filling the climate leadership vacuum, and emerging as a dominant force in international agreements. India – set to be severely affected by climate breakdown – is attempting to do the same, with both nations investing heavily in renewable energy and green technology.
But as a technological and vibrant society, Japan is also well-placed to take the lead on climate. It is third only to China and the US in installed solar power capacity, and solar’s share of the Japanese energy mix is more than double that of its rivals. Japanese solar firms are at the forefront of solar panel innovation, having twice broken efficiency records in recent years.
In addition, Japan’s hydrogen industry is world-leading, and it intends to showcase the fuel at the Olympics by using it to power the Olympic torches, as well as parts of athletes’ village.
Use of the Olympics as a platform for political and social purposes is, of course, not without history. Now, with the climate crisis becoming ever more urgent and heavily-reported, the 2020 summer Olympics may well provide the footing for a shift in the climate order. The Olympic movement’s goal is to build a peaceful and better world – what better way than by setting off a clean energy race?