Brazil is getting ready to party next year, to the tune of 2.72 million tons of carbon emissions. That’s right: that’s the estimated amount of carbon dioxide the World Cup celebrations will generate, which is nearly double that produced in South Africa in 2010. That’s a whole lot of CO2, and the myriad sources illustrate that the lavish football extravaganza comes at a high cost for the environment, and one the organizers must consider for this and future World Cup events.
Almost 4/5 of the total will come from air travel, because reaching all of the Brazilian venues for the event requires a great deal of flying, thanks to the fact that Brazil is a big country. It doesn’t help that many of the events are being held in remote (though admittedly beautiful) areas, forcing attendees to fly in if they want to be part of the festivities. Some of the teams are even setting up in distant locales: the German national team is building its own beach retreat far from the crowds, which might be great for relaxing and getting in a game mood, but isn’t so great for the environment. Their facility will include its own airfield — for easy travel.
The International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) says it plans to use complete carbon offsets throughout the World Cup with the goal of mitigating the associated carbon emissions. This includes LEED certifications for stadiums, investment in alternative energy and contributing to reforestation programs. While all of these measures are an important step and they’re well-meant, they don’t resolve the underlying issue, which is the amount of carbon generated in the first place: can FIFA really claim the event is environmentally friendly under these conditions?
In South Africa, the event ended up producing less carbon dioxide than expected, thanks to the innovative use of green technologies including water reclamation and natural ventilation. Similar measures can be used, and are planned, for Brazil (for example, many stadiums are using efficient lighting and installing solar panels to meet energy needs), which is another step in the right direction. However, it’s clear that FIFA needs to step up its environmental game, an issue the organization claims to already be considering for this and future World Cups.
Buying carbon offsets doesn’t miraculously erase the fact that carbon was produced in the first place. Instead, it’s akin to purchasing indulgences, rather than limiting emissions to begin with. Placing a carbon cap on sporting events, and including such events in national caps, should be a critical component of an effective cap and trade system. It’s clear that sporting organizations may need to be compelled to use the environment’s resources respectfully, as FIFA’s profligacy at the World Cup is truly astonishing to consider — even for footie fans.
Meanwhile, there’s another looming problem to consider with the World Cup: what happens to all these facilities when the event is over? A similar issue tends to arise with Olympic Games, where purpose-built facilities are supposedly going to be dedicated to public use, yet end up ultimately falling into disrepair because they are too expensive to maintain.
Will Brazil be filled with slowly rotting housing, stadiums, and other facilities in the wake of this international event, contrasting sharply with the extreme poverty endured in some regions of the country?
Photo credit: Tomás.