World Cup 2010: Its Greenness in Question

Soccer City stadium, which resembles an African cooking pot, in Soweto just outside of Johannesburg, is the main venue for the FIFA 2010 World Cup. (Photo: Alexander Joe/ AFP-Getty Images)

According to the South African authorities, there is not much to worry about. As Blessing Manale, chief director of planning and coordination and information for the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism said last year, "The games will not begin if they are not green. We acknowledge that the idea of green games began in Oslo in 1994. We are going to make 2010 the greenest World Cup yet."

Various World Cup projects with an environmental twist have been kick-started over the past years. In Johannesburg, for instance, tens of thousands of indigenous trees will be planted in the township of Soweto. This project—known as Johannesburg's biggest greening revolution—will cost the municipality 760,000 euro and aims to beautify South Africa's largest township with 300,000 trees.

Scoring green

In a press statement earlier this year, issued by the government, Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg announced his country's support for a carbon-offsetting project at South Africa's flagship World Cup soccer stadium, Soccer City, in Johannesburg.

"I would like to congratulate South Africa for deciding to make the World Cup a green World Cup, emphasizing the importance of the environment," Stoltenberg said. "When we hosted the Olympics in 1994, we also wanted to make the event as green and environmentally friendly as possible."

Norway's ambassador to South Africa, Tor Christian Hildan, added that Norway and South Africa are exploring various initiatives to make the 2010 World Cup as green as possible. "Our intention is to build partnerships and contribute to the goal of scoring green in 2010. "A decision was [made] that the most relevant area of support would be carbon offsetting of the event to ensure that the carbon footprint of 2010 is as low as possible."

2000 planes daily

However, in the second week of January, a dark shadow was cast over the optimism expressed above. According to the Cape Argus newspaper, 2000 planes will fly over South Africa on a daily basis, for the whole of the 2010 World Cup. Even if the journalists made an error in their calculations, the number of planes in South African skies in June and July will be high.

Local airlines are planning to increase their number of flights between the nine World Cup host cities tremendously, and international carriers too will increase their number of flights to South Africa. In addition, various international carriers will offer domestic flights for 2010. Also, the 2010 FIFA World Cup will draw hundreds of VIPs, from kings and queens and heads of state to wealthy businessmen and international celebrities. The number of private jets cruising across South Africa will increase significantly. Lots of airplanes, of course, means lots of carbon emissions.

2010 footprint highest of them all

South Africa's Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Buyelwa Sonjica warned Reuters in 2009 that the 2010 World Cup "will have the largest carbon footprint of any major event with a goal to be climate neutral. Our World Cup's footprint will be six times the carbon footprint of the 2006 FIFA World Cup hosted in Germany."

According a study presented last year—Feasibility Study for a Carbon Neutral 2010 FIFA World Cup—Africa's first World Cup will generate 2.75 million tons of carbon emissions. This number takes into account international travel, intercity transport, stadium construction, etc. South Africa generates 95 percent of its electricity from coal. South Africa's public transport is also far less energy-efficient than systems in Europe or the United States.

Invest in offsetting 2010 carbons

So what to do? According to Anton Cartwright, co-founder of Promoting Access to Carbon Equity (PACE), one could and should invest in renewable energy and energy-efficiency sources to offset the gas emissions. PACE is a South African-based, not-for-profit, voluntary organization that focuses on the development of high-quality Clean Development Mechanism and Voluntary Carbon Trading projects in Southern Africa.

"It would, by my reckoning, cost around R200 million [$26.8 million] to offset the 2010 emissions by investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency projects," Cartwright wrote.

"That is a large investment, but it is a fraction of the cost of our cheapest stadium, and you don't have to be a Rhodes scholar to work out that renewable energy is likely to make a longer and more positive contribution to South Africa's future than many of our stadiums," he added.

"For R200 million, South Africa would receive more positive climate change PR than any event previously. That's a bargain in a world that will become increasingly tetchy with the worst greenhouse gas polluters like South Africa. It's also a bargain in terms of escaping the health costs, water shortages and low levels of employment that are associated with the way in which South Africa currently generates its energy."

Green lung for Johannesburg

Another green World Cup project in the South Africa economic capital is the rehabilitation of Soweto's Klipspruit catchment area. Over the years, this particular region has been severely polluted by human waste, rubbish, rubble and other types of waste. The idea is to clean up the riverbanks and restore the catchment area's reeds and vegetation.

"This project is of great importance for the whole of the Gauteng province because the river flows into the Vaal system, which provides the domestic water for all consumers in the province," said the head of the city's 2010 office, Sibongile Mazibuko. "The intention is that Klipspruit will develop into a green lung with new opportunities for research and leisure along the banks."

In the meantime, Norway and South Africa have joined hands in a partnership that aims to make the 2010 FIFA World Cup—the first one organized on African soil—kind to the environment through the reduction of CO2 emissions.

Miriam Mannak is a freelance journalist and photographer based in Cape Town, South Africa. She covers an array of topics, such as South African politics, African economics and finance, social issues, health and environmental matters, and has done a lot of reporting on the preparations of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Her World Cup blog is

View the Worldpress Desk’s profile for Miriam Mannak.