Football’s Euro finals will hurt the climate

The old city of Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital. Image: By Diego Delso, via Wikimedia Commons

One country − England − is home to every finalist in the Euro finals, Europe’s two top football competitions, this week.

LONDON, 28 May, 2019 − It’s unprecedented in the annals of European football: English clubs monopolise this week’s Euro finals.

All four finalists in Europe’s two top football competitions are from England, the first time one country has supplied all the teams playing. That might sound like great news for English football, but it’s bad news for the climate.

This Wednesday, Arsenal will take on Chelsea in the Europa League final in Baku, Azerbaijan. A few days later it’s Liverpool versus Tottenham in the Champions League in Madrid.

Thousands of fans of all four clubs will be flying from England to cheer on their teams. But air travel is one of the fastest-growing sources of climate-changing CO2 emissions.

It’s calculated that for every one of those fans making the return flight from London to Baku, the equivalent of 0.69 tonnes of CO2 will be released into the atmosphere. For the shorter London to Madrid return trip, the figure is 0.21 tonnes.

“An Arsenal or Chelsea fan flying to Baku and back is therefore using up more than half his or her entire carbon emissions budget for the year”.

Now consider the wider picture; in order to head off catastrophic climate change and keep the rise in average global temperatures compared to pre-industrial levels to within 2°C, planetary emissions of CO2 have to be radically cut back.

That means not only cutting back on emissions from power stations and industrial plants, but also reducing carbon emissions on an individual basis.

To keep within the 2°C target agreed at the 2015 Paris climate conference − now considered not to be ambitious enough − analysts say each of us should limit annual carbon emissions, whether by flying or driving or the food we consume, to 1.2 tonnes per year.

An Arsenal or Chelsea fan flying to Baku and back is therefore using up, with that return journey, more than half his or her entire carbon emissions amount − or budget − for the year.

Inescapable changes ahead

The scale of the climate crisis facing us is enormous and demands fundamental changes in our lifestyles – particularly among those in the developed world.

At present the average citizen in the US is responsible for CO2 emissions of more than 19 tonnes per year; in the UK the figure is nearly 10 tonnes.

In Kenya – a country which like many others in the developing world is already feeling the impact of climate change – the figure per person is 0.3 tonnes per year.

Why not play the football finals in England? Supporters are complaining about the large sums of money they are having to pay for flights and the expense of hotels in both Baku and Madrid.

Dismal human rights

In the case of the game in Azerbaijan, concerns have been raised about staging such a high profile match in a country with a dismal human rights record.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan, an Armenian who is one of Arsenal’s key players, is not going to Baku due to safety fears; for many years Azerbaijan and neighbouring Armenia have been locked in conflict over various territorial disputes.

Footballing officials might point out that the stadiums in Madrid and Baku were booked long ago and they cannot change arrangements.

Yet if the challenges of climate change are going to be effectively dealt with, tough decisions have to be made. If not, it will be game over for the planet. − Climate News Network