If nations don't address high greenhouse gas emissions, by the 2080s, all but one of the 21 cities that previously hosted the Winter Games wouldn't be able to do so again, a new study has found.



Two weeks from now, the Winter Olympics will get underway in Beijing. But could we one day be saying goodbye to the Winter Games as we know them? Well, a new study by the University of Waterloo says that is a possibility thanks to climate change. NPR's Jaclyn Diaz has more.

JACLYN DIAZ, BYLINE: It goes without saying - the Winter Olympics need snow, ice and overall cold temperatures. Rosie Brennan is an Olympic cross-country skier.

ROSIE BRENNAN: You know, it's a wide-ranging sport of endurance, strength, power, kind of all of it wrapped into one on snow.

DIAZ: To do this, Brennan really needs that perfect snowy condition.

BRENNAN: You know, obviously, we need snow on the whole course to ski.

DIAZ: But researchers say a warming climate is disrupting Olympic sports like cross-country skiing as well as the cities that host these games. They say if greenhouse gases are not seriously reduced, virtually none of the previous 21 cities that hosted the Winter Olympic Games could reliably do so again. Daniel Scott is one of the researchers at the University of Waterloo.

DANIEL SCOTT: Under the high-emissions scenario, it's a very different outcome. To end late century, we're left with one climate-reliable location, being Sapporo, Japan.

DIAZ: By reliable, he means a cold enough location that offers prime safe conditions for winter athletes to compete in. Athletes and their coaches have started to notice the changes. Here's Brennan again.

BRENNAN: You know, I think the thing that we see now is with warmer weather, there's less snowfall. So we're much more reliant on man-made snow, and man-made snow doesn't act the same as natural snow. It tends to be much firmer. It gets icier faster. It's a faster surface.

DIAZ: And that poses a risk for more injuries. Climate change isn't just affecting Winter Games. Last summer's games in Tokyo saw extreme heat and heavy rains. Scott says there may come a point when outdoor games may have to move indoors or be held at a different time of year altogether. Brennan says if that happens, something is lost.

Jaclyn Diaz, NPR News.

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