Who would win a World Cup-style tournament on carbon emissions?

By John Licata
June 24, 2014


I love soccer. In fact, I’ve played competitively for most of my life and even came close to playing in the early days of Major League Soccer – damn knee injury.

Devoted as I am to the sport, when the 2014 World Cup in Brazil rolled around, I couldn’t help but think which country would win if, instead of a soccer tournament, there was a global competition to kick carbon out of our energy supply.

Using 2009-2013 data from the World Bank, I replicated the FIFA World Cup schedule and used carbon-dioxide emissions (metric tons per capita) as the measure of victory. The two lowest-emitting leaders in Group A, B, C, D, E, F, G and H were seeded first and second. Winners in the group stage advanced to knockout rounds of 16, 8, 4 and finally to the World Cup of Carbon. The results were fascinating.

It is overwhelmingly evident from my exercise that less-developed countries have the lowest carbon emissions. No real shocker there, but for governments and investors this presents a huge opportunity to focus on new technologies that can allow these countries to grow and modernize using effective low-carbon strategies to generate sustainable energy. This suggests big potential for capital gains may come from countries such as Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Honduras, Ghana, Colombia, Nigeria, Algeria and, yes, Brazil, the host of the 2014 World Cup, which began June 12.

Walking through my carbon tournament, Costa Rica fell to Colombia in an absolute heartbreaker. Ivory Coast beat Cameroon, Honduras topped Ghana, Brazil fell to Colombia and Nigeria bested Algeria in the second round of competition. In the quarterfinals, Ivory Coast barely advanced by Ghana with a score of 0.3 to 0.4 (lowest score wins), while Nigeria thrashed a Cinderella Colombian team 0.5 to 1.6.

With the world watching, the championship game was an all-African affair with the Ivory Coast hoisting the trophy and tasting glory over Nigeria in a thrilling finale with a score of 0.3 versus 0.5. Third-place winner was Ghana, a 0.4 team that would have won it all had it not been pitted against the potent squad from the Ivory Coast.

Unfortunately for the United States, a World Cup of Carbon championship was doomed from the start since the country had the worst carbon emissions (17.6) out of all the teams in the tournament. Hopefully, our boys will fare better in the real World Cup. More important, it’s my hope that the United States will put the critical pieces in place to challenge for future carbon World Cups if the world truly wants to see a major victory in the war on carbon. President Barack Obama’s aggressive new power plant rule is a major step in the right direction.

The motto of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil is “All in One Rhythm,” yet oddly enough, for much of the world, a game plan to reverse slow global warming couldn’t be more out of sync and uncoordinated. That needs to change. Considering how the world comes together to watch arguably the greatest sporting event for one month every four years, it shouldn’t be this difficult to rise above and lower carbon emissions like never before. Now if we could, that would be a beautiful game.

IMAGE: Courtesy of Blue Phoenix


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