UEFA opens ‘climate fund’ for community-led carbon offsetting

The football governing body will make the funding available on a competitive basis through a new ‘climate fund’ launched earlier this month.

For every ‘unavoidable’ tonne of CO2e emissions set to be generated throughout the Euro 2024 tournament this summer, UEFA will add €25 to the fund. Pre-event emissions projections would bring the likely total available to around €7m.

Amateur football clubs across Germany, where the tournament is being held, have until 30 June to apply for financial support for their sustainability projects. Clubs will need to select from a list of eligible projects covering four challenges: the energy transition, water stewardship, waste management or smart mobility.

All projects need to be new. Each club can apply for a maximum of €250,000, with a streamlined application process on offer for applications of less than €25,000.

The hope is that UEFA’s financing of these initiatives can mitigate emissions over the long term in a manner that engages and involves football fans and local communities.

Bernd Neuendorf, president at Germany’s football association, DFB, said the UEFA climate fund “strongly symbolises the importance of amateur football in our country and will give many clubs the chance to step up their commitment to environment and climate protection”.

Neuendorf emphasised that the DFB has been working with Germany’s federal Government, UEFA and other key stakeholders to reduce the projected carbon footprint of the tournament in the first instance to minimise the need for offsetting.

Large-scale sporting events face multiple complex decarbonisaiton challenges, chiefly transportation for fans, staff, players and equipment. This accounts for 60-70% of football’s emissions footprint by some estimates.

Offsetting challenges

UEFA’s approach to offsetting is innovative in that the focus is on community engagement rather than precise accounting for every single tonnes of emissions.

Another differentiator is that the body is investing in small-scale local projects, whereas many corporates have opted to invest in mega-projects across the world. These are mostly nature-based but interest in early-stage backing for man-made carbon capture and removal technologies is swelling.

2023 was a challenging year for proponents of large, international nature-based carbon offsetting schemes through voluntary markets.

The year began with an investigative journalism project exposing flaws in one of the world’s most popular rainforest credits programmes, Verra, leading to overstated climate benefits. Verra denied some of the claims but nonetheless set plans into motion to phase out and replace the scheme by mid-2025.As the year rolled on, this same issue was claimed to be far broader than Verra by researchers at UC Berkeley.

Concerted efforts are being made to weed out these issues as voluntary carbon markets grow. These markets collectively surpassed $1bn in value in 2021. The Taskforce on Scaling Voluntary Carbon Markets is predicting that their scale in 2050 may be up to 160 times larger than in 2020.

The Voluntary Carbon Market Integrity Initiative (VCMI) launched its Claims Code of Practice last summer, for example. This acts as a rulebook for companies to follow when choosing projects, making offsetting claims and strategizing to balance decarbonisation with offsetting. The VCMI has also partnered with the Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Markets (ICVCM), on broader workstreams to boost confidence in the market.

For now, some businesses are choosing to prioritise smaller and more local offsetting or even insetting schemes to better verify the benefits. Others such as OVO Energy are cutting down on offsets or discontinuing them altogether.

Related feature: How can football deliver a class act on climate?

Related report: edie Explains – carbon offsetting

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