The 2010 FIFA World Cup will be broadcast this month in dozens of languages to viewers all over the planet. At its best, the world’s soccer tournament promises to remind its audience that they share a planet, a community, and a future as well as a favorite sport.
But at its worst, the World Cup threatens to create a miniature climate catastrophe. The South African and Norwegian governments commissioned a 72-page report, released last year, which finds that the tournament will have a carbon footprint of about 2.75 million tons. International travel to and from South Africa, the tournament’s host country, will generate 65 percent of the footprint. Almost all spectators from outside of the country will travel there by air, and in many cases they must fly long distances given South Africa’s location.
That footprint is more than eight times that of the 2006 World Cup in Germany when international travel is excluded from the calculation. Several factors make holding the tournament in South Africa particularly noxious to the environment.
South Africa is a large country, and the teams will play in nine host cities. Since the county lacks high-speed passenger rails between cities and light rail or subways in many cities, teams will rely on airplanes and buses for most of their travel, according to the report.
South Africa also relies on coal-fired plants for 77 percent of its electricity, meaning that additional electricity use resulting from the tournament will be especially harmful.
Some local governments are doing what they can to neutralize the World Cup’s harm to the atmosphere. Recycled rubble was incorporated into the construction of Soccer City, the Johannesburg stadium, and it will use captured rainwater and nonpotable, recycled water for irrigation and other purposes.
Johannesburg planted 200,000 trees as well, and tens of thousands more have been planted in Cape Town, Rustenberg, Tshwane/Pretoria, and Durban. Many observers give Durban special praise for its plan to purchase hydroelectricity and electricity generated from landfill emissions.
But FIFA—the international governing body of soccer—and the South African government are facing criticism for their failure to provide a comprehensive plan for managing the World Cup’s environmental effects. The South African government called for proposals to offset the carbon emissions from the tournament in November. But it was too late to put them into effect by the time proposals had been submitted and reviewed. Such proposals typically require two years or more to plan and implement.
FIFA’s “Green Goal Programme” includes an ambitious list of objectives for an environmentally friendly World Cup, and local governments in South Africa have acted on many of them. But FIFA does not have a plan for achieving those objectives or for evaluating whether or not they were reached.
The program specifies, for example, that “that local public transport including bicycles and other non-mechanised means of transport account for a minimum of 50 per cent travel to and from stadiums on match days.” Reaching this goal would go a long way toward reducing the tournament’s carbon footprint, but it’s unclear whether this goal is anything more than an aspiration.
The South African government’s website, “Greening 2010,” similarly lacks facts about the tournament’s impact and concrete actions for reducing it, though the page is full of noble intentions.
The website states, for example, that since the new stadium in Durban will be used extensively after the World Cup is over, only 596 of the 102,803 tons of carbon dioxide emitted in its construction should be attributed to the World Cup itself. But according to Friends of the Earth’s Bobby Peek, Durban’s existing stadiums could have been renovated at a lower environmental cost and building a new stadium was not necessary. If so, the figures from “Greening 2010” are a bit too optimistic.
The World Cup presented South Africa with a chance to modernize its infrastructure. FIFA also had an opportunity to increase global awareness of climate change’s urgency with a television audience of 40 billion and lots of corporate sponsorship. South Africans may see lasting benefits from improvements in public transit and increased public consciousness of environmental responsibilities as a result of the international scrutiny that comes with hosting the World Cup. But to some extent, these are missed opportunities.
So whether you’re watching this summer’s matches from Providence or Pretoria, keep in mind that much remains to be done to protect our climate and our environment. It is one goal that all of the players and their fans at home can shoot at.