It’s almost been two years since the United Nations hosted the first ever United Nations Climate Conference (COP21) in Paris. The event was a success, with the world’s nations agreeing to commit to the goals of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees and holding the increase in global average temperature to below 2 degrees. But despite this agreement, the United Nations has announced that the next global climate change summit will be held in the United States in 2020. With the United States in the center of the climate change debate, and the possibility that Donald Trump will be running the country during the summit, are we merely seeing the climate debate migrate north of the border? Or could the meeting be a true game changer?

The basis of the upcoming Euro 2020 tournament receives plenty of attention, but what about the overall environmental impact of staging the tournament in 11 countries across Europe? The official climate cost of hosting the tournament in 11 countries is a cool €2.8 billion, according to the 2010 researchers’ report, “Euro 2020 – Climate Impact Assessment and Mitigation Options”, by a team of scientists from the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels and the Basel Institute on Climate Change.

Soccer—especially the European variety—is a high-energy sport. And so, it makes sense that it has a high carbon footprint. To support Euro 2020, 11 countries will be hosting games—the five that qualified for the 2012 finals and six that will be appearing for the first time—and an estimated 100 million fans are expected to attend. The tournament is already projected to emit a total of 2.3 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide, or about 2% of Europe’s total emissions. That means the European Union’s contribution to the global total of greenhouse gases could be as much as 15% higher than it would have been otherwise.

word-image-7431 Euro 2020 promises to be a tournament like no other in the world. More countries will host the event than any other international football event in history. And while the coronavirus is dominating preparations for the championship – the initial list of 12 host nations was reduced to 11 in April, and stadium capacity will be limited – it is far from the only major global concern for this European championship. As the world struggles with the threat of irreversible climate change, does it really make sense for players, officials and fans to travel across the continent like never before?

From Seville in the west of the continent to Baku, 4,766 km to the east, Euro 2020 will involve a lot of air travel, both for the players and the thousands of fans who want to see their team. The restrictions imposed by Covid mean that air traffic will be much less than the original estimate of two million additional flights during the tournament, but it will still be significant. Experts and climate activists say we should avoid or reduce flying because greenhouse gases from burning fuels are a major cause of global warming. Scientists warn that such warming could have catastrophic consequences for the planet. According to Carbon Brief, aviation only contributes 3.5% of global carbon dioxide emissions, external link, but only a very small percentage of the world’s population flies regularly, meaning that those who do fly are disproportionately responsible for these emissions. A return flight from London to New York, for example, causes about 11% of the average annual carbon dioxide emissions of a UK resident, or about as much as someone living in Ghana emits in a year. In addition, nearly a third of the current proposed budget for carbon dioxide emissions per person would be spent for the entire year. word-image-7432

Long range, high emissions

Previous European Championships were either hosted in the same country or by two hosts together, reducing long-distance transport and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. This has also led to reduced dependence on air transport, as trains and other modes of transport have become viable alternatives. But that rarely happens at Euro 2020. If the tournament is played on a draw basis, a fan of the Swiss national team will have to travel 20,377 km (12,662 miles), more than fans from any other country. It’s three separate trips to Baku, interspersed with matches in Rome and Amsterdam. This total distance is roughly equivalent to flying twice from London to New York and back. If they qualify for the final, their total mileage will increase to 21,656. Even if the Swiss are eliminated in the group stage, fans who have come to watch each of their matches will have travelled 13,115km, almost double the distance travelled in all previous European Championship appearances combined (6,750km in 1996, 2004, 2008, 2016). You’re not alone. Of the 22 teams that have participated in the European Championship so far, 13 will have to travel further this tournament than at the previous Euro, even though many of them are hosts. word-image-7433 Only England, Russia, Italy, Denmark, Hungary and the Netherlands, who host the group matches, and France (who travelled the whole country in their home tournament in 2016) have covered more kilometres at their previous European Championships than is expected this time around. Hosts Scotland and the Czech Republic will cover almost the same distance as in the previous European Championships. Most qualified host countries are at the lower end of the distance they can go. Seven of the ten teams with the shortest distance are the hosts. word-image-7434 Putting these distances into a climate context, Switzerland’s participation in the quarter-finals (if the result matches the seating plan) would result in the emission of 3,973 kg of CO2 (almost four tonnes) by each fan who travelled to the tournament. This figure is similar to the world average per person for all activities over a full year (4,000 kg), although it is higher in western countries. The UK average is 10,000 kg. Of all the British teams participating in the tournament, Wales fans have to travel the most. Like Switzerland, they play in Baku and Rome, and if they make it to the group stage – as their ranking suggests – that means their fans will have to travel 8,892km. If they finish second in the group and qualify for the quarter-finals, they will have to travel to Baku again and will have covered 16,410 km.

Position The last 16 years Quarter-finals Semi Finals/Final
Victory in the group 8,940 10,772 10,781
Second in the group. 9,155 16,410 16,410
Third place in the group (with the round of 16 in Seville) 10,534 11,930 11,939
Third place in the group (with the last 16th place in Bucharest) 10,731 12,447 12,489
Third place in the group (with the round of 16 in Glasgow) 9,755 12,827 12,876
If Wales are eliminated in the group stage, they will have covered 8,892km.

According to our criteria (more on how we calculated these figures at the end of the article), the Netherlands would only travel 720 km, play three group games in Amsterdam and then draw in London. Even if they win the whole tournament, they will only travel 2,560 km if they finish second in Group C. Winning the group would mean a lot of kilometres, as it would mean a trip to Baku for the quarterfinals. Even if they win their group, the English will not have to travel more than 2,874 km (a return trip from London to Rome).

Position The last 16 years Quarter/semi finals
Victory in the group 0 2,874
Second in the group. 1,916 4,208
Third place in the group (with the round of 16 in Seville) 3,269 4,413
Third place in the group (with the round of 16 in Glasgow) 1,108 3,959
Third place in the group (with the last 16th place in Budapest) 2,903 8,003
If England are eliminated in the group stage, they won’t be travelling any miles because all their games are in London.

This means that the Three Lions will have to travel less than during the last three European Championships. Distance in kilometres an England fan would have travelled to see them at each Euro. word-image-7435 All of Scotland’s group matches will be played in Glasgow or London, meaning the Scots will have to travel 1,108km overland if they reach the group stage. Glasgow and London are two of five possible locations in the last 16 years.

Position The last 16 years Quarter-finals Semi Finals/Final
Victory in the group 2,216 5,067 5,090
Second in the group. 3,207 5,373 5,962
Third place in the group (with the round of 16 in Seville) 5,225 6,402 6,500
Third place in the group (with the round of 16 in Glasgow) 1,108 5,044 5,067
Third place in the group (with the last 16th place in Budapest) 4,792 9,765 10,056
If Scotland are eliminated in the group stage, they will have covered 1,108km.

The decision to move the group matches from Dublin to St Petersburg and from Bilbao to Seville (both Group E matches) resulted in additional travel costs of 3,982 km for Poland, 2,840 km for Slovakia and 2,191 km for Sweden. Poland have three separate trips to Russia, with matches in Seville and Copenhagen in between. The draw for Dublin in the 1/16 final, which has been moved to London, is likely to save both teams air miles. Dublin was the westernmost city where the match would be played.

What is Uefa doing to limit the impact of Euro 2020?

Uefa say they are committed to making the Euro more environmentally friendly and have already offset the carbon emissions of all Uefa spectators, teams and officials travelling to and from matches through Gold Standard programmes. Full capacity of the stadiums was assumed. He also points out that only one new stadium has been built for this competition – in Budapest, Hungary. By comparison, four of the ten stadiums in France hosting Euro 2016 were built recently. According to Uefa president Alexander Ceferin, the nature of the 2019 tournament offers many advantages over the traditional tournament. Not only can matches be played in more diverse communities across Europe, they also avoid the need to build new stadiums and transport links, which have a huge environmental impact, for example due to the materials and other resources required to develop this infrastructure. Uefa, which is a signatory to the UN Sport for Climate framework (external link), also says ticket holders will receive free public transport on match days. It added that one of its objectives is to reduce waste at stadiums as much as possible and that the amount of recycled waste will be taken into account by Uefa.

What do the climate experts say?

However, climate advocates say that these measures are not enough and that much more radical changes are needed. Uefa has already gone down the road of compensation, which is highly problematic and not scientifically credible, said Andrew Sims, coordinator of the Rapid Transition Alliance and co-director of the New Weather Institute. Some arguments suggest that the idea of the possibility of compensation prevents further change and makes the status quo even more likely. This means that when designing events, you need to think about design and impact reduction as a key criterion. So keeping the competition in 11 countries is the opposite. It’s almost like going outside and saying: How can we be competitive while maximizing our environmental impact? We are already crossing climate red lines, and what we are going to do now will accelerate the rate at which we cross those lines. But what is almost worse than the direct carbon effect is that they are sending the message that this problem is not important enough for sport to address, when we know that it is fundamentally important for society to address it. This implies that the laws of physics do not apply to Uefa, which sends a very bad signal. It is poisonous, harmful and dangerous. Only when organisations like Uefa stand up and acknowledge that they are part of the problem will there be meaningful change.

How we calculated the distances

In calculating the dates, we have assumed that the tournament will be played according to the Uefa rankings. The numbers are thus calculated according to the end of each group: the winner of first place in first place, the winner of second place in second place, and so on. The four teams finishing in third place with the most points will qualify for the Round of 16, eliminating the last two placed teams. From that point on, we decided that the highest seeded team would win in any draw in the knockout round. Belgium beat England in the final, Ukraine and Germany lost in the semi-finals and Switzerland, Poland, Spain and Italy were eliminated in the quarter-finals. Turkey, Austria, Portugal, Croatia, France, Russia, Denmark and the Netherlands reached the final. We have calculated the number of fans who start and finish in the capital of their country – or in the host city in the case of Spain, Russia, Scotland and Germany. They flew straight from match to match without going home in between. This figure does not take into account the fact that there are no direct flights on many routes – thus the number of flights may increase. B. CO2 emissions in Switzerland are higher than expected because there are only a few direct flights to Baku, which means that multiple flights are needed and therefore additional emissions are generated. Nor does it take into account that some journeys to neighbouring countries – for example, from Glasgow to London – are made by land rather than air.   word-image-7436 word-image-7437The Euro 2020 tournament, supporting the UEFA European Football Championship, is to be staged across 11 venues in 11 countries in 7 days. For those keeping track, this is a total of 55 matches, or 81 matches if you include the preliminary rounds, or a total of 100 if you include the qualifying matches. The tournament may also be the first major football championship to take place in an area of the world that is already heating up due to climate change.. Read more about euros and let us know what you think.

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