Fewer flights and a pesticide-free pitch? Here’s how Australia’s football codes can cut their carbon bootprint


Brett Hutchins, Monash University; Libby Lester, University of Tasmania, and Michael Ambrose, CSIRO

Australian sport’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been remarkable. Major leagues reorganised with impressive speed to keep games going. Schedules dissolved, seasons were compressed and players relocated. And the once unthinkable is now reality: the AFL grand final will be held in Brisbane.

What if the Australian sport industry could apply the same urgency and innovation to a different but no less significant global crisis – climate change?

Each week, teams and fans fly vast distances, producing significant carbon emissions. And that’s not to mention their other activities. According to the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework, “sport’s contribution to climate change – through associated travel, energy use, construction, catering, and so on – is considerable”.

Professional sport has enormous power to influence positive change. So ahead of this weekend’s grand finals, let’s examine the carbon emissions of our major men’s football leagues: the AFL, NRL and A-League, as well as Australia’s Super Rugby teams.

Football players struggle in the heat
Players struggle in the heat during an A-League match between Melbourne City and Perth Glory in Melbourne last year. Sport is a major contributor to carbon emissions and resulting global warming.
Julian Smith

The carbon cost of football

Our small-scale study analysed air travel-related emissions for the final four rounds of 2019 regular season games. We used the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s measurement methodology to create a snapshot of carbon dioxide-equivalent (CO₂-e) generated by flying teams to and from games in different cities.

Air travel from just one month of football competition in Australia across the four men’s codes generated emissions equivalent to about 475 tonnes of carbon dioxide. Across the codes, teams travelled 231,000km in a single month.

Here’s how each league compared:

– AFL: 18 teams travelled 72,316km across Australia, producing an estimated 187.4 tonnes of CO₂-e or about 10.4 tonnes per team

– NRL: Largely concentrated in NSW and Queensland, the 16 teams covered the shortest distance: 46,400km. They generated 92.1 tonnes of CO₂-e or around 5.7 tonnes per team.

– A-League: 62,660km of air travel, which generated 107.5 tonnes of CO₂-e. The team average (10.7 tonnes) is higher than the AFL and NRL, as teams are spread between Perth and Wellington in New Zealand.

– Super Rugby: the four Australian teams in 2019 produced 87.8 tonnes of CO2-e from 49,624km in the air, with a team average of about 21.9 tonnes. Two games in Tokyo increased this average, although the Sunwolves are now defunct. Nonetheless, teams also flew to Argentina, South Africa and New Zealand during the season.

Unsurprisingly, far-flung teams produced the highest CO2-e emissions. However, the relatively short Melbourne-Sydney air route is the second most carbon-intensive at around 34 tonnes, exceeded only by Melbourne-Perth. The 25 teams in Sydney and Melbourne (plus Geelong) mean many return flights between the cities are required each season.

Explore the full results in this interactive graphic:

Come fly with me

Full seasons ran between 18 and 27 rounds, depending on the code. The results prompted us to consider how leagues and fixtures might be organised to reduce the number of flights taken during a season.

Many teams are located in the Newcastle-Sydney-Wollongong corridor (plus Canberra) and Melbourne/Geelong. So visiting interstate and New Zealand teams could play two or three fixtures in these locations before returning home. Depending on the code, similar arrangements are possible in southern Queensland, Adelaide and Perth.

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Organising teams into geographically proximate conferences, as Super Rugby does, is worth considering. This might mean, for example, that Melbourne-based AFL or A-League teams, and Sydney-based NRL or A-League teams, might play each other more often in front of large crowds in their home city.

Representative fixtures, such as the State of Origin rugby league series, could be shortened and based in one location. Teams could travel to play two or three games, then return home.

Even minor reductions in travel-related carbon emissions are worth investigating, and publicly showcasing, in an effort to spur more serious environmental efforts by leagues and teams.

AFL players board a plane
Sports teams regularly fly across Australia, creating considerable emissions from air travel.
Scott Barbour/AAP

Greening the game

There are other ways leagues can encourage a sustainable sporting future. In Britain, for example, League Two’s Forest Green Rovers is the world’s first carbon-neutral football club.

Its home ground features solar panels, electric vehicle charging points and a vegan matchday menu. The team plays on an organic pitch, cut by a solar-powered robot lawnmower, and collects and recycles rainwater. Clubs in Australia could follow this lead to achieve meaningful environmental credentials.

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Carbon measurement, reduction and offset strategies and environmentally responsible sponsorship policies are also needed.

Codes could hold environmentally themed rounds and games, and promote current and former sportspeople speaking about the need for action on climate change and environmental issues, such as:

Ballboy fainting in the heat
Officials assist a ballboy who fainted in the heat at The Australian Open tennis tournament. Major sports competitions are already being adversely affected by climate change.
Nic Bothma

Leading, not following

Last summer’s extreme weather in Australia was a taste of what’s to come under climate change.

Bushfires covered the Australian Open tennis in thick smoke. Cyclists in the Tour Down Under rode through bushfire-ravaged landscapes, and the three previous tours had stages shortened or modified due to extreme heat.

In other parts of the world, sports have been disrupted by events such as floods and reduced snow and ice cover.

Reducing the carbon footprint of sport is clearly in the interests of both the planet, and the leagues themselves. It’s now time for sport’s decision-makers to face reality.

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The Conversation

Brett Hutchins, Professor of Media and Communications Studies, Monash University; Libby Lester, Director, Institute for Social Change, University of Tasmania, and Michael Ambrose, Research Team Leader, CSIRO

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


This is how universities can lead climate action

Gabi Mocatta, University of Tasmania and Rob White, University of Tasmania

Universities are vital hubs of research and teaching on climate change. As large organisations, they also have significant emissions, which contribute to our climate crisis. Universities should therefore lead global action to limit climate change. How best can they do this?

It’s Global Climate Change Week. This annual event aims to encourage universities – staff and students – to engage with each other, their communities and policymakers on climate change action and solutions. As organising committee members and academics working on climate change, we explore here what leadership in university-based climate action looks like.

The reasons to act are obvious. In Paris in 2015, the international community agreed to pursue all possible measures to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. But current policies have us on track for an increase of about 3.6°C by 2100.

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The need to cut greenhouse gas emissions is urgent – the consequences of not doing so catastrophic.

What university climate action looks like

Universities are big consumers and emitters – some sectors more than others. Universities also have the autonomy to make decisions on sustainability and are increasingly doing so, individually and collectively.

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Many universities are basing their efforts on the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Sustainability includes radically reducing carbon footprints.

Organisations like the International Universities Climate Alliance and Australasian Campuses Towards Sustainability support such efforts. Campaigns like Race to Zero, Countdown and the Global Colleges and Universities Climate Letter provide forums for institutions to commit formally to reducing emissions.

Tasmania, a case study

And what does this climate action look like on the ground? We’ll start with our university, the University of Tasmania – the case we know best.

The university recently ranked third in the world in the Times Higher Education university rankings for climate action. The rankings measure research on climate change, energy use and climate change adaptation.

Our university punches above its weight, with many climate change research groups and more IPCC authors than any other Australian university. Researchers in social sciences, law, education and humanities are also influential in the study of climate change and its impacts.

The University of Tasmania has closely audited and reduced emissions and offset its remaining emissions. Certified carbon-neutral since 2016, it’s one of only two Australian universities to achieve this status (the other is Charles Sturt University).

Divesting from fossil fuels

Fossil fuel divestment is a process of transition with three elements:

  • negative screening – no new investments in fossil-fuel-related industries

  • positive screening – investment in renewable energy and ecologically sustainable industries

  • phased withdrawal of existing investments in fossil-fuel-related industries and activities.

To mark Global Climate Change Week, the University of Tasmania has just announced it aims to divest from any fossil-fuel-exposed investments by the end of 2021. The university already has no direct shareholdings in fossil fuel companies. Its investment strategy will include positive screening, investing in companies that are working towards a zero-carbon economy and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Many universities are making divestment the core of their climate action. In Australia, La Trobe started that trend in 2016.

Globally, one of the largest divestment pushes has come from the University of California Berkley. In 2019, it announced it would divest completely from fossil fuels in its US$126 billion investment portfolio and $70 billion pension fund.

Here in Australia, an ongoing campaign is pushing the 450,000-member higher education superannuation fund, UniSuper, to divest from fossil fuel investments.

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Generating power on campus

Some universities are generating their own renewable power.

For example, Deakin University has developed an industrial-scale microgrid: a 14.5 hectare solar energy farm with a 1 megawatt central battery. The project integrates rooftop solar panels and smaller batteries across the Waurn Ponds campus.

The University of Queensland has set up and maintains a A$125 million solar farm just outside Warwick to offset its annual electricity needs.

UQ now offsets 100% of its electricity use with renewable generation.

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Monash is investing A$135 million in its Net Zero initiative. Already partly solar-powered, the university has committed to carbon-neutral infrastructure and operations by 2030.

UNSW plans to expand its onsite solar generation and buy 100% renewable power for the remainder, reducing its emissions in line with keeping global warming under 1.5°C.

Universities can and must do more

Many universities have made a start, but they must be more ambitious as climate action leaders. All universities can and should take meaningful and visible action.

This Global Climate Change Week, students, staff, university communities, get informed. Urge your university to divest from fossil fuels, use renewable energy and commit to achieving net zero emissions – soon. Organise your own campus sustainability initiative, or get active in your university’s existing one.

Only by acting to understand and reduce their own climate impacts can universities be credible climate leaders. Their role as platforms for climate change research and engaged political commentary, as well as sustainable institutional practices, makes them global exemplars on climate action. In this, universities are essential to all of our futures.The Conversation

Gabi Mocatta, Lecturer in Communication, Deakin University, and Research Fellow in Climate Change Communication, Climate Futures Programme, University of Tasmania and Rob White, Professor of Criminology, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

You’ve probably heard of the Green New Deal in the US — is it time for one in Australia?

Kate Crowley, University of Tasmania

After the 2008 global financial crisis, Green New Deals were proposed in various countries as a way to pick up the pieces of the economy. The general idea is to create jobs while rebuilding societies, by targeting environmental innovation as the key to economic recovery.

We’re in the midst of another global financial crisis that’s infinitely more crippling than in 2008, and the global pandemic that brought it on shows no signs of easing. So is now really the right time to, yet again, advocate for a Green New Deal?

Read more:
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In his speech to the National Press Club last week, national Greens leader Adam Bandt reiterated his push for the deal. He lambasted the Morrison government’s economic response to COVID-19 in the federal budget, which largely shunned renewable energy investment, calling it “criminal”.

The Greens’ proposal echoes Labor, business, unions and environmental groups, and even some conservatives, who think green policies are vital to strengthen the economy post-pandemic.

And they’re right, the Green New Deal is explicitly designed to assist recovery after a crisis. With many countries already taking on similar ideas, the Coalition government’s steadfast investment in fossil fuels will only hold Australia back.

What is a Green New Deal?

The Green New Deal is an environmental version of economic stimulus, modelled upon US President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal of massive public spending to create jobs after the 1930s depression.

It couples climate action with social action, creating jobs while reducing emissions, and reducing energy costs by adopting renewables. It’d come at a cost, however, to the fossil fuel industry.

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The Greens want Australia to quit coal by 2030, and have an independent authority, Renew Australia, to manage a just transition for workers, create jobs and see no one left behind in the transition to 100% renewable energy.

Even the International Monetary Fund sees a global green fiscal stimulus, with investment in climate change action and transitioning to a low carbon economy, as the right response to the COVID crisis.

Green New Deals around the world

In the socially democratic Scandinavian countries, green-led economic recovery has been the go-to policy response to political, banking, fiscal and resource-based economic crises in recent decades.

Energy taxation, offset by cuts in personal income tax, and social security contributions have driven economic recovery. As a result, Nordic economies have grown by 28% from 2000–17, while carbon emissions have fallen by 18%.

In late 2019, before the onset of COVID, the European Union announced a Green New Deal worth €1 trillion in public and private investment over the next decade to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

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‘Green Deal’ seeks to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050

However, this funding is no longer assured. The COVID crisis has put a hole in EU finances, caused divisions over spending priorities and seen few environmental strings attached to member country bailouts.

In the US, the Green New Deal featured strongly in the Obama administration’s grappling with the global financial crisis. Now, during the pandemic, it’s featuring again as a proposal from the Democrats.

Between September 2008 and December 2009, South Korea and China outstripped the post-GFC efforts of the rest of the G20 nations with their astonishing green stimulus spending of 5% and 3.1%, respectively, of GDP.

Today, South Korea is using its COVID response to trigger environmentally sustainable economic growth, spending US$61.9 billion to invest in wind, solar, smart grids, renewables, electric vehicles and recycling.

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South Korea’s Green New Deal shows the world what a smart economic recovery looks like

It’s clear nations around the world have decided a Green New Deal is exactly the right stimulus response to crises, including the current fallout from the global pandemic. So how is Australia tracking?

Australia risks being left behind

The lessons for Australia are, firstly, that it risks being left behind in the technological advances that come with shifting to a greener economy, if it neglects the environment in its COVID stimulus planning.

It should embrace the COVID crisis and the climate crisis as dual challenges, given Australia’s urgent need to reduce its emissions in electricity, transport, stationary energy, fugitive emissions and industrial processes.

Australia can be confident investment in clean energy that sets it on the path to carbon neutrality by 2050 will not only be rewarded economically, but also diplomatically, as it joins the global, willing climate coalition.

The UN chief economist, Elliott Harris, has called for Australia and other nations to

place more ambitious climate action and investment in clean energy at the centre of their COVID-19 recovery plans.

Instead, the Coalition government has given fossil fuels four times more stimulus funding than renewables, and has prioritised coal-fired power, carbon capture and storage, and gas industry expansion in its recent federal budget.

This is a risky investment strategy. The International Energy Agency sees a poor economic future for fossil fuels, with demand for coal on the decline and jobs in renewables expected to increase.

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However, the government’s COVID advisory commission — led by a former mining executive, and criticised by independent MP Zali Steggall for lack of transparency — is recommending a gas-led, not green-led, recovery.

If the Coalition were to attempt it, a Green New Deal would ease the shift away from fossil fuels. It would focus, as such deals do elsewhere, on creating jobs by accelerating the transition to a low-carbon economy. It’s time to get on board.The Conversation

Kate Crowley, Associate Professor, Public and Environmental Policy, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.