Controversy has erupted over the environmental impact of football fans travelling across Europe in coming weeks – to watch English sides play each other hundreds of miles from home.
Campaigners say staging games between Liverpool and Tottenham in Madrid and Arsenal and Chelsea in Baku, in Azerbaijan, will trigger the release of thousands of tonnes of carbon dioxide from planes carrying supporters to the Champions League and Europa League finals.
At a time of heightened fears over the impact of climate change, caused by rising fossil fuel emissions, the matches’ effect on the environment is seen by many as dangerous and inexcusable. And others warn that the problem will get worse next year when the Euro 2020 finals are held in a new transcontinental format that will greatly increase the amount of travel for supporters as their teams move back and forth across Europe.
The problem was summed up by Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green party. “With Arsenal and Chelsea each being given just 6,000 seats, and sitting just a few miles apart in the capital, surely we are missing an open goal by not hosting the final in London. Packing thousands of fans on to flights is damaging to the environment. The 45,000 fans travelling to both finals will emit around 35,490 tonnes of carbon dioxide. It’s time Uefa did better.”
Commenting on the general travel chaos, Jürgen Klopp, the Liverpool manager, said: “How can you have finals in Kiev [where Liverpool played last year’s Champions League final] and Baku? I don’t know what these travel guys have for breakfast.”
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Kevin Miles, chief executive of the Football Supporters’ Federation, added: “We can understand Uefa’s desire to share events around member associations, but this is a clear example of the absurdities it can generate: two very well supported clubs, both from the same city, are having to go thousands of miles away at the same time. That puts enormous pressure on what’s available.”
Yet every indication suggests that this process will be repeated next year – in an even more intense, damaging manner. Euro 2020 games will be held not in a single nation or pair of nations, as has happened in the past. Instead matches will be staged in 12 host cities, paired for the six groups of finalists. They are Glasgow and London; Munich and Budapest; Rome and Baku; Amsterdam and Bucharest; Copenhagen and St Petersburg; and Dublin and Bilbao. Fans will have to travel from one to the other, and possibly back again.
An example of the travel absurdities this will generate is provided by England. Their group games will be in the UK but if they reach the tournament’s semi-finals then the team’s possible routes back to Wembley for the last four would be via Dublin and Rome if they win their group or via Copenhagen and St Petersburg if they come second, or even Budapest and Baku if they come third. Crucially, fans will not be able to book flights between these cities until they know the results of individual matches – triggering a last-minute frenetic rush to book seats on planes and a massive increase in carbon emissions.
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This startling carbon-hostile plan has been hatched just as the government is showing signs of pulling back from its expansion of aviation. On 2 May the government’s Committee on Climate Change urged Britain to adopt policies that would allow it to produce no emissions of carbon dioxide by the year 2050. Action is needed now to achieve this goal, warned the committee, which highlighted the aviation industry as one of the trickiest sectors to decarbonise.
Some improvements in fossil fuel use could be achieved, it acknowledged. However, curtailing travel by plane in future would be inevitable – a point that has just been acknowledged by Caroline Low, head of aviation at the Department for Transport, who hinted that the government could act to restrict the growth of flying in the UK. According to the BBC she has written to the environmental group Plan B, which is campaigning against the proposed expansion of Heathrow airport. “It may be necessary to consider the Committee on Climate Change’s recommended policy approach for aviation,” she states.
The admission was greeted with enthusiasm by Tim Crosland from Plan B. The choice was clear, he said: “The government can either take the necessary action to avoid climate breakdown or it can stick to ‘business as usual’ and expand aviation, the most polluting mode of transport.”