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Brazil, International Environmental Law

What Has Been the Impact of the 2016 Olympic Bid on Environmental Efforts Throughout Rio de Janeiro, Brazil?

By Michael Kelly, Member of Journal of Transnational Law & Policy

  1. Overview

With Brazil’s longstanding history of environmental transgressions and deterioration, this blog post will discuss the regulatory structures that are in place from the International Olympic Committee (hereinafter “IOC”) and Brazilian Government to ensure that the Rio Olympics are the greenest games to date.

Since receiving the winning bid in 2009, environmental protection efforts and recognition in Brazil has significantly increased.[1] The Brazilian Government and various private organizations have focused on four areas, in setting standards and preparation for the Olympics and in following the guidelines laid out by the IOC (international, non-profit organization that is the governing body of the Olympic Movement): (1) Water Conservation; (2) Renewable Energy; (3) Carbon Neutral Games; and (4) Waste Management and Social Responsibility. These parties are making sure that the development of the Olympic Games will comply with local, national and international regulations to protect the environment.[2]

                                      i.         Water Conservation

Ensured by the Federal Government’s National Environmental Policy,[3] investment of $4 billion is already committed for restoration programs for two bays in proximity to Rio.[4] These programs will result in more than eighty percent of overall sewage in the area being collected and treated by 2016.[5] The State of Rio and private sector has made various contributions by donating over $165 million to complete full regeneration of two bodies of water in the Barra Zone of Rio.[6] The beaches in this area will have a water quality index that will be elevated from fifty to eighty percent[7] and monitoring of the beaches will be significantly expanded to make sure that no harmful substances are present.[8]

                                    ii.         Renewable Energy

Even though Rio’s air quality meet the World Health Organization’s standards, a 2009 Nationwide Air Quality Control Program (also known as PROCONVE)[9] was undertaken, which led to an increase in the number of air quality-monitoring stations in the area to monitor Carbon Monoxide and Sulfur Dioxide gases in the atmosphere.[10] Environmental authorities in Rio have already installed sixteen of these monitoring stations in locations where Olympic competitions are to be held, so air pollution can be closely monitored to make sure that harm does not occur to the athlete’s or those watching the events.[11] These new quality-monitoring stations will carry out a constant check on emissions of polluting gases like Carbon Monoxide while allowing strategies for prevention and immediate action if something were to occur in Rio. Also, through analyzing Brazil’s National Climate Change Plan,[12] a plan is being developed by the government to strengthen the protection and conservation of all city forests and parks while preserving local biodiversity.[13] To promote healthier lifestyles, government authorities have also begun improving mobility for Rio residents by implementing more direct routes for their bus system.[14] The objective is to reduce carbon emissions and develop optimal green space within the Olympic site.[15]

                                   iii.         Carbon Neutral Games

Some ideas for the Olympic Bid, such as a reforestation of many of the areas near Rio are already underway, while others are in early development.[16] Planting of 24 million trees is underway throughout the State of Rio to help air flow throughout the city.[17] Rio’s Olympic Park recently began construction and this building will focus on preserving the environment, while making use of existing structures in the area.[18] After the games have ended, Rio has a goal to use at least seventy percent of the new infrastructures built for the Olympics, including the Olympic Park. [19]

As part of the selection process, the IOC required Brazil to build arenas for the 2016 games to high environmental standards for low carbon emissions and energy efficiency.[20] Venues such as the Rio Olympic Village must demonstrate a range of requirements meant to meet a series of environmental criteria that include low energy consumption and use of local construction materials.[21] These facilities will reduce energy usage through measures such as increasing the use of natural light, adding solar panels to reduce power from the grid and installing “intelligent” elevators that are designed to make fewer trips to save energy.[22]

Other private organizations are getting involved with green development in Brazil as well. The Zurich based RAFAA Design Studio has also begun implementing a concept for a 345-foot tall solar city tower.[23] The tower is projected to be built atop the island of Cotonduba and would be the welcome symbol to the 2016 Games.[24] This tower is proposed to consist of a massive power plant that will generate energy for the Olympic village in Rio and will allow excess energy from the solar panels to pump seawater into the tower.[25] At night, the seawater can be released to power a turbine, which will be able to generate a substantial amount of energy.[26]

                                   iv.         Waste Management and Social Responsibility

The Brazilian government is introducing waste management systems that will help ensure the maximization of recycling waste products, with a plan to eradicate all illegal landfills in Rio by 2010.[27] The government is also planning on launching a new concept for the reuse of materials in all phases of the Olympics by installing methane gas pumps from landfills for energy production.[28] In areas where new venues are needed, buildings are going to use materials made from recycled objects such as plastic bottles and avoid paint and carpeting with toxic materials.[29]

  1. Conclusion

While Brazil is taking steps in the right direction for environmental protection, many countries tend to ignore the IOC regarding environmental regulations because they are often difficult to follow. While there are mechanisms in place for the IOC to sanction a host country for not following the standards set out in the Olympic Charter, in reality the IOC is unlikely to issue a sanction since it also has an interest in seeing the Games commence on time. Once a country is selected, the IOC should enter a legal contract with the host country to demand the country follow certain requirements that have been established. These revisions will hopefully reform substantive Olympic and international policies and bind all international parties to uphold their commitments to protect the environment.


[1] The Olympics have had a clear impact on the interest in green construction in Rio, where nearly all of the buildings under development by the city and state governments include LEED sustainability criteria. Brian

Ellsworth, Brazil Olympics spurring green construction, REUTERS (Nov. 3, 2010), http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/11/03/us-brazil-construction-green-idUSTRE6A25RZ20101103.

[2] Rio 2016 Olympics Report: Brazil’s moment to Shine, UK Trade & Investment 68 (2011), available at http://www.coneq.org.uk/Brazil_docs11/Brazil_Rio2016Olympics_2011.pdf.

[3] The National Environment Policy, Lei No. 6.938, de 31 agosto de 1981, DOFC de 02.09.1981 (Brazil), available at http://www.planalto.gov.br/ccivil_03/leis/l6938.htm.

[4] These programs are the Guanabara Bay Sanitation Program and the Barra-Jacarepagua Sanitation. Rio 2016 Olympics Report: Brazil’s moment to Shine, UK Trade & Investment 68 (2011), available at http://www.coneq.org.uk/Brazil_docs11/Brazil_Rio2016Olympics_2011.pdf.

[5] This treatment of sewage water is the process of removing contaminants and household sewage to produce an environmentally safe fluid waste stream and a solid waste suitable for disposal or reuse. United States Environmental Protection Agency, Primer for Municipal Wastewater Treatment Systems 8 (2004), available at http://www.epa.gov/npdes/pubs/primer.pdf.

[6] Id.

[7] Water quality index provides a single number ranging from 1 to 100 and scores are determined for temperature, pH, fecal coliform, bacteria, dissolved oxygen, total suspended sediment, total phosphorus, and total nitrogen contained in the water. Scores are combined and results tabulated over time to produce a single yearly score for each sample station. Boulder Area Sustainability Information Network, Water Quality Index (December 27, 2005), http://bcn.boulder.co.us/basin/watershed/wqi_info.html. With the beaches in Rio, the water quality index number the beaches are at currently will increase by a percentage of fifty to 80 percent. Rio 2016 Olympics Report, supra note 4, at 97.

[8] Rio 2016 Olympics Report, supra note 4, at 97.

[9] Ministry of Environment, Proconve: Program Air Pollution Control For Vehicles (2006), available at http://www.mma.gov.br/estruturas/163/_arquivos/proconve_163.pdf.

[10] These air quality-monitoring stations are monitors of several components of ambient air and pollutants such as Carbon Monoxide (N02); Sulfur Dioxide (SO2); and Ozone (O3). Summary reports of this data are then made available to the public at large to make sure that the air levels are not polluted. Fabiana Frayssinet, Fresh Air for the Rio Olympics, Inter Press Service (Dec. 24, 2012), http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/12/fresh-air-for-the-rio-olympics-2/.

[11] Rio 2016 Olympics Report, supra note 4, at 88.

[12] Interministerial Committee on Climate Change, National Plan on Climate Change (2008), available at http://www.mma.gov.br/estruturas/208/_arquivos/national_plan_208.pdf.

[13] The plan does not have a name at this point. Rio 2016 Olympics Report, supra note 4, at 88.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Scot Horst, Let the Sustainability Games Begin, U.S. Green Building Council (Sep. 4, 2012), http://new.usgbc.org/articles/let-sustainability-games-begin.

[17] All of the trees should be planted by 2016. Rio 2016 Olympics Report, supra note 4, at 88.

[18] Id.

[19] Horst, supra note 16.

[20] These standards line up with LEED standards. Brian Ellsworth, supra note 177.

[21] Brian Ellsworth, Brazil Olympics spurring green construction, REUTERS (Nov. 3, 2010), http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/11/03/us-brazil-construction-green-idUSTRE6A25RZ20101103.

[22] Id.

[23] Solar Waterfall Could Power Rio Olympics, Environmental Leader: Environmental & Energy Management News (Aug. 3, 2012), http://www.archivenue.com/solar-city-tower-for-rio-olympics-2016-by-rafaa/.

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

[26] Id.

[27] In Brazil, there has been a problem of many recyclable materials being forwarded to landfills even though they should have been recycled. These new plants will be implemented to minimize waste that is forwarded from the recycling plants to landfills and hopefully lead to a zero waste approach of recyclable materials. Rio 2016 Olympics Report, supra note 4, at 89.

[28] Id.

[29] Brian Ellsworth, supra note 21.

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