Will the World Cup in Qatar be carbon-neutral? Probably not, experts claim

The upcoming World Cup has already been branded a human rights disaster as stadium construction has caused the reported deaths of thousands of migrant workers since FIFA awarded the tournament to Qatar. Now the organizers must face another controversial issue: the tournament’s major environmental impact.

Photo credit: FIFA.

Regardless of where they take place, World Cups usually generate high levels of greenhouse gas emissions due to the construction of hotels, stadiums and upgraded infrastructure. Add to that the air travel of football teams and, most importantly, the hundreds of thousands of spectators who travel there.

Qatar has announced that this edition will be the first carbon neutral World Cup. But the facts say otherwise.

The climate costs of the World Cup

Carbon neutrality is achieved when the amount of emissions released into the atmosphere equals the emissions removed in various ways, leaving a zero balance. Many companies cannot reduce their emissions immediately, so they instead invest in emission reduction projects, called offsets, to offset their own footprint.

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Qatar has estimated that the tournament will generate 3.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, compared to 2.1 million tonnes generated at the previous edition in Russia in 2018. Most of those emissions, about 95%, are indirect, they said, and come from things like housing, transportation (the many flights), and infrastructure construction.

The organizers have emphasized the “compact” design of the tournament. Fans, players and officials fly to one airport and stay in one place. The longest distance between the stadiums is 75 kilometers and five of them are connected by subway. But that’s not enough, according to environmental and climate experts.

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Carbon Market Watch, an advocacy group, has said that World Cup organizers are miscalculating some greenhouse gas emissions in their calculations — to put it lightly. They criticized Qatar’s method of spreading the greenhouse gas emissions from building stadiums over the life of the facility, instead of counting everything towards the tournament.

green washing

To achieve carbon neutrality, Qatar has pledged that all emissions generated will be offset by investing in renewable projects elsewhere (e.g. in Turkey). However, Fengqi You, an energy systems engineer at Cornell University, told Reuters it was too early to call the event carbon neutral, casting doubt on the feasibility of that claim.

“Our goal is to offset all greenhouse gas emissions while promoting low-carbon solutions in Qatar and the region,” read a statement on the Qatar 2022 website Compensation. We are making fast progress in all areas.”

Greenpeace said FIFA has been greenwashing by claiming the event will be carbon neutral. Greenpeace UK Policy Director Douglas Parr told Newsweek the World Cup emissions and worker deaths should be a wake-up call for Qatar and FIFA to start the transformation work “towards a more renewable and peaceful world”.

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At the same time, an anti-carbon ad campaign has given Qatar and FIFA a tongue-in-cheek Bad Sports Award for their greenwashing. The campaign, run by the New Weather Institute, a UK think tank, has called Qatar’s climate claims dubious, cast doubt on its offset programs and questioned its fossil fuel sponsors.

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