The impacts of climate change will restrict where future Winter Olympics can take place in the Northern Hemisphere, a study from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, has found.

Researchers from Canada, Austria and the U.S. determined that if global greenhouse gas emissions do not dramatically decline, only one of 21 cities that have previously hosted the Winter Olympic Games — Sapporo, Japan — would be able to furnish safe and reliable conditions for snow sports by the 2080s. Six cities would be considered “marginal,” while 14 would be deemed “unreliable.”

But if countries reduce greenhouse gas emissions and sufficiently fulfill Paris Climate Agreement targets — to keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) — the number of cities capable of hosting by the 2080s would jump to eight, the study found. Those deemed marginal would rise to seven, while those considered unreliable would drop to six, according to the study, recently published in Current Issues in Tourism.

“The world of winter sport is changing as climate change accelerates, and the international athletes and coaches we surveyed are witnessing the impacts at competition and training locations, including the Olympics,” Daniel Scott, a professor of geography and environmental management at the University of Waterloo, said in a statement.

To conduct their study, the researchers looked at historical climate data from the 1920s through the present day, as well as future “low-emission” and “high-emission” climate change scenarios for the 2050s and 2080s.

The authors also surveyed 339 athletes and coaches from 20 countries, determining that 89 percent of these individuals believed that changing weather patterns are impacting competition conditions. Ninety-four percent of these athletes and coaches also expressed fear that climate change would affect the future development of their careers, according to the study.

Weather risk management has become increasingly critical to the games, as the average February daytime temperature of host cities has steadily risen — from 0.4 degrees Celsius in the 1920s-1950s to 3.1 degrees Celsius in the 1960s-1990s, to 6.3 degrees Celsius in the 21st century, the authors warned.

Even in the lowest emissions scenario for the 2080s, the sites of Palisades Tahoe, California; Chamonix, France; Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany; Turin, Italy; Sochi, Russia; and Pyeongchang, South Korea would be unreliable for winter sports, the study found. 

“We’ve studied the many ways the Winter Olympics has reduced weather risk since the first Games held in Chamonix, France nearly 100 years ago,” Michelle Rutty, of Waterloo’s Faculty of Environment, said in a statement. “But there are limits to what weather risk management strategies can cope with, and we saw those limits exceeded in Sochi and Vancouver.”

In 2014, Sochi was the warmest city ever to host a Winter Olympics — leading to higher crash and injury rates that were partially attributed to higher temperatures and lower quality snow, the study found. 

“Climate change is altering the geography of the Winter Olympic Games and will, unfortunately, take away some host cities that are famous for winter sport,” co-author Robert Steiger, of the University of Innsbruck in Austria, added in the statement. “Most host locations in Europe are projected to be marginal or not reliable as early as the 2050s, even in a low emission future.”

Tags Climate change Winter Olympics

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