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Fouls and Goals for Climate Change at World Cup

Daniela Estrada* - Tierramérica

PUNTA DEL ESTE, Uruguay, Jun 2 2010 (IPS) - South Africa, where the FIFA Football World Cup is to kick off Jun. 11, has introduced cleaner transportation, while Brazil is planning ecological stadiums for the championship it will host in 2014. But these and other initiatives clash with the countries’ overall environmental performance.

Cape Town's Green Point Stadium, one of the venues for the 2010 football championship. Credit: Public domain

Cape Town's Green Point Stadium, one of the venues for the 2010 football championship. Credit: Public domain

The first FIFA (International Federation of Association Football) World Cup to take place on the African continent will leave a carbon footprint more than eight times greater than the 2006 World Cup in Germany, according to a study conducted in February 2009 at the request of the South African government and the Norwegian embassy in that country.

Local transportation, the construction of stadiums and the energy use associated with the football matches and accommodations for thousands of fans are predicted to emit nearly 900,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. Another 1.9 million tonnes of this greenhouse-effect gas, the main cause of climate change, will be emitted in the international travel to and from the World Cup.

To reduce these emissions and raise awareness among South Africans and visitors about energy efficiency, Pretoria has implemented two projects with the support of the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

In 2008, South Africa began work to improve public transportation systems in seven of the nine cities where football matches will take place as a means attract use by middle and upper income passengers who would otherwise drive individual cars.

GEF’s contribution to this initiative, which is implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), is about 11 million dollars, while the national investment is more than 328 million dollars.

Among the biggest changes are the creation of a rapid transit system of buses in some cities and the improvement of infrastructure for pedestrian walkways and bicycle circulation. But the latter are very limited and it remains unclear whether the wealthier residents, who normally drive their cars, will accept the cultural changes implied in sharing buses, seats and routes with poorer passengers.

Making the most of this major sporting event to mobilise international investment, the idea is to leave a legacy for a definitive improvement of the public transportation system in South Africa’s cities, the UNDP’s lead technical adviser for climate change mitigation, Marcel Alers, told Tierramérica.

Alers was at the Fourth Assembly of the GEF, May 24-28, in the Uruguayan resort city of Punta del Este, where his account of the South African experience was heard with interest.

Another environmental project related to the World Cup, and with a budget of 10 million dollars, aims to reduce fossil fuel consumption in the six host cities through the installation of solar panels and efficient lights on the streets, stoplights and billboards, as well as actions to raise public awareness.

But the environmental will of South Africa and international organisations was called into question in April with the World Bank’s approval of a 3-billion- dollar credit for that country to build one of the world’s largest coal-fired thermoelectric power plants.

The World Bank’s decision to support the Medupi project of the South African government corporation Eskom prompted criticisms from the United States and some European countries — which abstained from the Bank vote — due to the power plant’s contribution to climate change. Activists charge that it will emit 25 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.

Achim Steiner, head of the United Nations Environment Programme, tried to soften the criticism, saying the country should not be judged for its decisions based on the urgent energy needs of the South African people.

South Africa is not the only one facing major environmental challenges.

Brazil, host of the 2014 World Cup, wants to organise the “most ecological” global football tournament in history. The nation’s environmental authorities will require environmental certification before granting financing to stadium renovation and construction projects.

There are also plans for cleaner transportation and promoting organic products, say officials. But Fernando Alvez, retired goalkeeper of the Uruguayan national team, and special guest of the GEF Assembly, told Tierramérica that Brazil needs to halt deforestation of the Amazon if it wants to send a real environmental signal before the next World Cup.

Former diplomat and president of the Argentine Academy of Environmental Sciences, Raúl Estrada Oyuela, said “an infrastructure to emit less greenhouse gas and educate the population during the South Africa World Cup are two positive things.”

“But to go from there to truly resolving the environmental problem is a long stretch,” said the Argentine expert, who said he had turned down a 2007 invitation to advise South Africa on its transportation reforms due to the lack of basic data.

“South Africa, Brazil, China and India (who united as a bloc in international climate change negotiations) have a rhetorical attitude that has yet to be demonstrated in environmental management data,” said Estrada Oyuela, who headed the committee that drew up the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

Meanwhile, the “green” initiatives associated with football seem never- ending. The transnational sports clothing company Nike announced that the nine teams wearing its uniforms — including Brazil, Portugal and Netherlands — will use jerseys made from recycled plastic bottles.

At the end of the year, an analysis will be conducted of the ecological projects in South Africa that were part of the FIFA World Cup to identify what worked and what didn’t, according to GEF officials.

(*This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network. Tierramérica is a specialised news service produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Environment Programme and the World Bank.)

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