Qatar 2022 set their sights on the first net zero World Cup, but new calculations and analysis leave their ambitions open to criticism.
Impressive claims made by Qatar 2022 that it will be the first net zero FIFA World Cup
Qatar 2022 will be the first FIFA World Cup in the Middle East and Arab world; pride in the region drove early ambitions to create and deliver what the organisers themselves describe as “a mega-event in a sustainable fashion”.[i] In pursuit of this, in 2020, a sustainability strategy was released; this was the first of its kind to be jointly developed and implemented by FIFA, the host country and local organisers.[ii]
Stadium 974- Made of repurposed shipping containers
Source: Qatar 2022
In 2020 the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC), FIFA and the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 LLC published the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Sustainability Strategy.[iii] The compact size of the competition is at the heart of many of the steps adopted to limit carbon emissions. During the event, fans, players, and officials will all fly into the same airport and stay in the same hotel. Because five of the stadiums are connected to the Doha Metro, and the other three are accessible by connecting bus services, spectators will be able to attend at least two matches in a single day during the group stage, with the biggest distance between venues being only 75 kilometres.[iv] The SC has also collaborated with Qatar’s hotel industry to promote green practices that reduce carbon emissions from the accommodation.[v]
Carbon neutral claims “misleading.”
At the end of May, Carbon Market Watch (CMW) revealed their research and calculations that undermined the claims made by Qatar 2022. CMW reported an underestimation of emissions related to the construction of permanent new stadiums that should be assigned to the event, which might be underrepresented by a factor of eight, as one of the key reasons why the Qatar World Cup’s carbon-neutrality claim appears far-fetched.[vi]
Aside from the apparent undercounting of emissions, the quality and environmental integrity of the carbon credits that have been announced so far are also in dispute. Worryingly, a new standard was devised specifically for the competition, raising concerns about the certification scheme’s integrity and independence.[vii] CMW say that The World Cup will not be “carbon neutral” if such low-quality credits are used.
One example is the establishment of a large-scale tree and turf nursery in the desert, which will produce trees for stadium parks and grass for stadiums and training locations. According to the organisers, this will be the world’s largest turf farm, totalling 425,000m2.[viii] The tree and turf nursery is near a huge sewage treatment facility, and the processed water will irrigate the plants. However, it is uncertain whether this will undermine the need for water in this arid region to meet the demands of the local people and their livelihoods.
Tree and turf nursery in Qatar
Source: Carbon Market Watch
Is it too early to make a judgement?
The Qatar 2022 organisers responded to the CMW report calling it “speculative and inaccurate”, and FIFA has said that they had “at no point” “Misled its stakeholders”.[ix] Fengqi You of Cornell University also criticised the claims. Still, contrary to CMW, he cast doubts on the veracity of the claim based on its timing and not on its methodology.[x]
“Can they claim it’s a carbon neutral event at this point? Too early,” “That will depend on factors like how many people will attend,” “Carbon Market Watch criticised Qatar’s method of spreading the emissions from building stadiums over the lifetime of the facility, rather than counting it all toward the World Cup. But that is a common practice” “Once the event is over, and all emissions are accounted for, offsetting it all is a question of how much money Qatar is willing to spend buying offsets, generally backed by carbon negative activities like planting trees,”
It may well be too early to confirm whether Qatar 2022 will be a net zero event, and it may take until long after the event to be sure. It is important to engage critically with any claims of high-profile carbon neutrality to better understand their truth, whatever the nature of that is, in order to learn from it.
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