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Is The Qatar World Cup Really Carbon Neutral?

FIFA says Qatar 2022 will be the first World Cup to be entirely carbon neutral. Does this claim stand up to scrutiny?

By Chris Cummins

„The changing weather patterns are impacting the environment and its rich biodiversity,“ remarked Gianni Infantino, the head of Football’s world governing body FIFA, earlier this year. "We published the carbon footprint of the FIFA World Cup 2022 and together reconfirmed our joint pledge to make this next major tournament fully carbon neutral.

Let’s be honest, Infantino has said some pretty astounding and debate-inviting things about the Qatar World Cup, but this claim that will end up as climate neutral, begs, let’s say, a certain amount of scrutiny. A carbon-neutral World Cup in a fossil-fuel state in the desert with the outisde stadia being air-conditioned? It sounds... well hard to believe.

Well that much needed scrutiny has been provided by Gilles Dufrasne of Carbon Market Watch. He has authored a report which has called FIFA’s carbon-neutrality claims „misleading“.

“Clearly this tournament is going to have a significant climate impact,” he told me, “and there’s nothing showing that FIFA or the organisers are really compensating for that impact in any way.

New Stadia and Lots of Flights

Carbon neutrality means having a balance between the greenhouse gases emitted and those absorbed into the atmosphere. Balancing these would seem tricky at the World Cup because the emissions connected to the World Cup are huge:

“The construction of massive infrastructure is the main source of emissions for the tournament, and the second biggest source is from air travel of flying in hundreds of thousands of people from all around the world to attend the matches.”

Fudging The Figures

But Qatar hasn’t included the flights in its carbon neutrality calculations, because they are “international” and as for the stadia, it has found a reason not to include them in the report either, explains Dilles Dufrasne:

“They say the stadia will be used in the future. They’re basically giving the responsibility of a large portion of emissions to future organisers of events and saying, well, we are only going to use these stadiums for about one month or two and so for the next 60 years other people will be using those stadiums and they should be responsible for those emissions.”

Green Pitches In A Desert

But even if you don’t include those gigantic carbon elephants in the room, the emissions are eye-watering – even keeping the pitches green has involved a lot of energy:

Reuters reported that 140 tonnes of grass seed were flown in from the United States on climate-controlled aircraft. Then, in the run up to the tournament, each pitch was reported to require 10,000 litres of desalinated water daily in winter and 50,000 litres in the summer.

“Some of that water comes from treated sewage water and the rest comes from desalinated sea water,” explains Gilles. “The latter is actually quite energy intensive. It takes a lot of energy to take the salt out of seawater. And so that can generate significant emissions as well.”

Metro in Doha

APA/AFP/Giuseppe CACACE

Where Is The Electricity From?

Qatar, which is smaller than Upper Austria, bases its ecological credential on its compact size. This has meant many fans have used its electrified metro and bus system to get to games. But as Jasmin Duregger of Greenpeace points out, electricity is only clean if it is renewably sources: “99% of Qatar’s energy comes from oil, coal and gas, so its energy mix is very dirty,” she points out.

Off Sets: effective mechanism or greenwash?

The organisers say the emissions it will admit to are cancelled out by carbon offsets. They have planted bushes, shrubs and trees, a solar plant has been built in Qatar and a wind farm supported in Kosovo. But Gilles is unimpressed, he says only half the necessary credits have been purchases. And there is another problem:

“Regardless of the fact that FIFA or someone else is buying these carbon credits, these renewable energy projects are just profitable. They’re economically viable on their own. They don’t need to sell those credits. And therefore, it is misleading for FIFA to use those investments to say that they’re compensating for their own impacts.”

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