That Time the Rio Olympics Boldly Addressed Climate Change

Opening ceremonies at the Olympics are notorious for being ludicrously long, over-the-top lavish and pretty boring even for the people who are there. In this year’s Olympic Games, however, the Brazil introduced a new element to the party: a segment on climate change that wasn’t necessarily well received.

Yet, the opportunity to raise awareness about climate change with the whole world watching wasn’t one to miss. Many activists and members of the public concerned about the environment were glad to see the brief video about sea level rise, which included narration by Judi Dench. 

This year is a particularly good time to highlight climate change because athletes from the Marshall Islands, South Sudan and Afghanistan joined forces to produce a video on the topic. Entitled “the record we must not break,” the video warned about the consequences of a global temperature rise greater than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Climate change is on everyone’s minds, and for many athletes at the games, it’s a very personal issue that affects their homelands, communities and livelihoods. Brazil isn’t just being preachy while the world watches an Olympics plagued with problems.

Rio is one of many locations that could be affected by sea level rise. The city was featured in the video, which showed the sea slowly overtaking some of the world’s most precious and vulnerable shorelines, from Dubai to Florida. Brazil’s precious Amazon rainforest is also vulnerable to climate change, and its destruction further contributes to environmental problems, in a bitter feedback loop.

While this year’s Refugee Team didn’t include any climate refugees, that might change in the future. Already, over 20 million people around the globe have been displaced by climate change-related issues, including sea level rise and abnormal weather conditions. That number will only get bigger without decisive action on the issue — something many hoped for during the Paris climate talks. But with a growing number of countries faltering on their promises, things don’t look good.

The Olympics are a time when the global community highlights its collective commitment and sets aside political rivalries so athletes can compete. While politics has sometimes kept nations out of the Olympics during periods of diplomatic tensions, the Games represent a tremendous opportunity for international cooperation.

Climate change is something that can only be addressed through such collaboration, so it seems appropriate to devote a segment of the Opening Ceremonies to the subject.  The organizers didn’t stop with climate change when it came to radical programming on opening night: They also explicitly addressed the legacy of slavery in Brazil, a move which made some viewers uncomfortable.

An audience of three billion is hard to beat, and Rio’s decision to tackle challenging issues was a credit to its organizers. Those complaining about a climate change “lecture” might want to consider that the preaching wouldn’t be necessary if the international community could set aside differences to address the most pressing environmental issue of our generation.

Photo credit: U.S. Army


Lorraine A
Lorraine Aabout a month ago

Thanks for sharing.

JoAnn Paris
JoAnn Parisabout a month ago

Thank you for this very interesting article.

Sue H
Sue Habout a month ago

I wonder what it would take to get the Olympic committee to go along with making this a priority?

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

hank you for sharing.

Jen S.
Jen S2 years ago

I thought the message, albeit brief, was a fairly courageous act. While it does ignore the country's own issues with deforestation, and other problems, after listening to our own gaggle of climate change deniers, it is refreshing and has generated conversation globally.

Larry McDaniel
Larry McDaniel2 years ago


Peter P.
Peter P2 years ago

Well done Brazil

Margie F2 years ago

Thank you

Patricia H.
Patricia Harris2 years ago

Now, if Brazil would just stop deforestation as it only makes the situation even worse.

Manuela C.
Manuela C2 years ago

Good video. Short but does its job.