Rio Olympics: Why the opening ceremony’s spotlight on climate change matters


Blogpost by Diego Gonzaga for Greenpeace

There is such a complex mix of political, social and economic issues happening in Brazil right now, it is hard to know where to start. Should I mention the president’s impeachment? What about the corruption scandal involving so many Brazilian politicians right now? And don’t get me started on the Zika virus.

Performance around climate change during Rio Olympic Games opening ceremony. Credit: Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil/Wikimedia Commons

I’ve lost count of how many articles I’ve seen talking about the water pollution in Rio and concerns for the health of the athletes and tourists. Even though I knew deep down that Brazil was not going to be able to meet the world’s expectations — or my own — before the Olympics started, I really hoped that they would somehow figure it out. Unfortunately, that did not happen.

Don’t get me wrong, amongst so much bad media, there is still good news. Brazil just celebrated the tenth anniversary of the Soy Moratorium, an agreement that helps protect the Amazon from deforestation for soy farming. And I cannot forget to mention the huge news that the license for building a mega-dam in the heart of the Amazon was cancelled just last week. But there is always more to be done.

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Question for this article:

How can sports promote peace?

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Brazil may have missed the opportunity to have the sustainable event it planned, but the silver lining is that in this international spotlight, Brazil’s leaders can make the right choices for the environment. There are still other hydroelectric dam projects in the Amazon that should be cancelled. Brazil’s focus needs to be on clean energy options like solar and wind instead — energy sources that protect Brazil’s biodiverse ecosystems and the climate.

Watching the opening ceremony, I was glad to see that at least one opportunity was not missed: bringing climate change front and center. Two powerful messages were delivered during the event. The first was a video about global warming. Seeing Amsterdam, Rio, Florida and so many other places around the world being flooded due to the rise of sea level gave me chills. These are the real consequences if the whole world does not commit to fight against climate change. The second message announced that more than 11,000 trees will be planted in Rio, representing each Olympic athlete.

This part of the opening ceremony was just a symbolic act, but I hope that both messages serve as a wake up call for everyone who watched it — and that the sense of togetherness it provided can make people feel that it is possible to make a difference, even through small acts like planting a tree. The fight against climate change is everyone’s fight. Even some Olympic athletes are recognizing the role they can play.

The whole ceremony was amazingly beautiful, inclusive and exceeded my expectations. It made me feel proud of being Brazilian, because it showed the whole world our culture, history and diversity. And it reminded us all that, if we are capable of joining forces to celebrate Olympic Games together, we can make the world a better place as well.