Author: Oscar Pusey, Junior Analyst at Zero Carbon Academy
With previous attempts at sustainable action falling short of targets, UEFA has signed a memorandum of understanding with the UNECE which will be mutually beneficial in better guiding football as a tool for positive change.
A Memorandum of Understanding
A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed by UEFA and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), with the goal of demonstrating how football and hosting UEFA events can help cities become more sustainable. A side event named 'Football as Accelerator of Change' was held the Palais des Nations in Geneva to commemorate the agreement.[i]
Amongst speakers at the event was Sophie Haestorp Andersen the Lord Mayor of Copenhagen (whose city hosted matches at UEFA EURO 2020 last summer) as well as UEFA’s chief of women’s football, Nadine Kessler, who discussed her experiences as a former player transitioning to a new career in football governance and empowering more girls to take up the sport. Keynote remarks were delivered by Michele Uva of UEFA and Olga Algayerova of the UNECE.
The UNECE is a United Nations body comprised of 56 member states that attempts to foster pan-European economic integration. The collaboration between UEFA and the UNECE will also strive to promote smart and sustainable city goals, as well as knowledge exchange and safe and sustainable mobility in urban areas. The MoU will work to guarantee that partners' and hosts' investments in events help cities become more sustainable.[iii]
The signing of the Memorandum of Understanding is also in accordance with UEFA's own sustainability goals, which were laid out in UEFA's Football Sustainability Strategy 2030, published in December 2021. As part of this, UEFA is currently developing its own sustainable event management system (SEMS) which will allow for the measurement and benchmarking of event sustainability in football, as well as a transparent traceability of UEFA's impacts across all of its events. The SEMS, which is expected to be operational by 2023, will serve as a benchmark for national associations, leagues, and clubs across Europe, and will be applied to all UEFA tournaments beginning next year.[iv] As the tool is still in development (with pilot implementation set to take place at Women’s Euro 2022) it will be interesting to see how UEFA have built upon their Euro 2016 success that achieved ISO12021 classification.[v]
Ambitious targets for Euro 2020 not fulfilled by UEFA
Euro 2020 took place across 12 host countries during the planning process and UEFA did not shy away from admitting the obvious environmental implications. UEFA committed itself to offsetting the carbon emissions of all flights taken by spectators to the event and the pledge aimed to compensate for 405,000 tonnes of carbon.[vi] As part of the initiative, UEFA worked with their partner South Pole to provide efficient cooking stoves to rural populations in Rwanda, a clear example of the power of footballing governance to facilitate positive change.[vii]
Aside from carbon offsets, UEFA EURO 2020 included a number of climate-related projects including collaborating with UEFA EURO 2020 host cities to provide complimentary public transportation to attendees on matchdays. UEFA also planned to plant 600,000 trees across the hosts to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the European Championships. These UEFA EURO 2020 Forests were planned to not only serve as a lasting legacy of the tournament, but also to sequester an estimated 280,000 tonnes of CO2 over the course of their lives.[viii]
Unfortunately, this tree-planting initiative did not go to plan. Of all the host cities, figures were only reported from two and these suggested that less than 10% of the planned work was undertaken. In defence of this, UEFA said that the pandemic had interrupted their programming. However this was criticised; with Professor Ole John Nielsen saying “"Why should corona prevent people from going out and digging a hole in the ground to plant a tree?”, “It was probably really one of the only things you could do during the pandemic, because it is an outdoor activity.".[ix]
Unexpected obstacles and barriers to sustainable projects like this are not uncommon, but partnerships like the one signed by UEFA and UNECE provide stability and community, and a convergence of ideals and shared focus on sustainability can only serve to make future projects more resilient to setbacks.
*Zero Carbon Academy (www.zerocarbonacademy.com) aims to become the ‘go-to’ resource for the learning, information and community that individuals need to assess, plan, execute and monitor their organisation's migration towards a Zero Carbon footprint.
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