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Environmental tech for Tokyo Olympics touted as reusable resource for cities outside Japan

by Rina Chandran

Thomson Reuters Foundation

Innovations such as roads that reflect heat and water-absorbing pavement that will help the 2020 Olympic Games be a carbon- neutral event could also be adopted by other cities looking to mitigate climate risks, urban experts said.

Tools set for the 2020 Games, including uniforms made from recycled plastic and cool zones for pedestrians to escape hot weather, can become regular features in Japanese cities and elsewhere, said an official at the Tokyo environment bureau.

“The Olympics are a big event, so it is a good opportunity to get our citizens involved in addressing the issues of climate change and sustainability,” deputy director Kumiko Sugawara said on the sidelines of a United Nations urban forum in Penang, Malaysia.

“Tokyo is facing more climate risks like hotter weather and more frequent typhoons. By getting the public involved in meeting the goal of being a zero-carbon city, we hope efforts will continue even after the games,” she said last week.

Earlier this month, several matches in the Rugby World Cup were called off for the first time in the tournament’s 32-year history because of Typhoon Hagibis.

The International Olympic Committee’s sustainability strategy seeks to maximize the use of existing facilities, ensure new construction benefits communities and limit the event’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Organizers of the Olympic and Paralympic Games aim to offset all carbon emissions generated, said Junichi Fujino, an environmental researcher on Tokyo’s task force.

Few new facilities are being built, with the main stadium where the opening and closing ceremonies will be held made from sustainable-sourced timber, he said, and wood used for some venues will be re-used in public benches and buildings.

All medals will be made from metal extracted from recycled consumer electronics, including about 6.2 million used mobile phones. The Olympic torch is made from aluminium waste, and the podiums from recycled household and marine plastic waste.

Electricity for the games will come from renewable sources.

The challenge is also to limit the impact of high humidity and temperatures that commonly exceed 30 in July and August, Fujino said.

“Hotter summers are a challenge, and the games are in the summer. So we are taking all measures possible to reduce the impact on athletes and visitors,” he said.

These include asking companies and the public to cover buildings with plants, installing vapor sprays, sprinkling water on the ground, and ensuring there are shaded areas and cool zones in the city.

The timing of some events will be adjusted for the heat, with innovations such as heat-minimizing pavement and a resin-based material that can reflect infrared rays, cutting surface temperatures on road by as much as 8 degrees, Fujino said.

The International Olympic Committee earlier this month said it will move the marathon and race-walking events to Sapporo because of worries about the heat in Tokyo.

“We of course want the games to be a big success, but we also want to ensure it is a zero-carbon and sustainable event, with innovations that reduce heat impact that can be adapted in Tokyo and elsewhere even after the games,” Fujino said.

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