Is the World Cup Really Carbon Neutral?
The 2022 World Cup kicked off Sunday with a match between host country Qatar and the national team of Ecuador. In the runup to the much-anticipated international sporting event, FIFA, FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 LLC and Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy agreed that the game would reduce or offset all of its greenhouse gas emissions.
“The Earth’s climate is changing due to human activity,” the event’s website states. “Football is not immune to these significant changes. We all need to reduce the emissions that enter the atmosphere.”
However, a recent analysis revealed that this claim amounts to greenwashing.
“The 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar is being advertised as a ‘carbon neutral’ event. This means that its net impact on the climate is zero or negligible. However, our investigation of the available evidence casts serious doubts on this claim, which likely underestimates the tournament’s true emissions levels and climate impact,” Carbon Market Watch Policy Officer Gilles Dufrasne wrote in a statement. “This is not a harmless exercise, as it misleads players, fans, sponsors and the public into believing that their (potential) involvement in the event will come at no cost to the climate.”
The main calculation failure involved the building of new stadiums for the event. Since being selected as host in 2010, Qatar has constructed seven new stadiums, 30 practice facilities and thousands of hotel rooms as well as extended the Doha International Airport, Grist reported.
“The main issue we found was with the construction of the stadiums,” Dufrasne told Grist.
The cup organizers established the event’s total emissions at 3.6 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e). However, in an October 31 update to an earlier report, Carbon Market Watch said that the event-based emissions from the permanent stadiums constructed might be underestimated by as much as eight times, releasing 1.6MtCO2e instead of 0.2MtCO2e.
This is because the stadiums’ emissions were calculated based on something called “use share,” i.e. the number of days of the World Cup divided by the total number of days the stadiums would be used into the future.
“This is problematic because these stadiums have been constructed specifically for the World Cup,” Dufrasne wrote. “Future extensive use of so many stadiums in such a small geographical space is uncertain, especially when considered against the fact that Doha had only one major stadium before it was awarded the World Cup.”
Further, Dufrasne said that it might have been possible to host future events in more efficient venues if Qatar had never hosted the international soccer tournament. This is assuming the buildings really are reused.
“You see story after story of communities that have built these venues and they become what we call white elephants — these big, embarrassing projects that are left over because nobody had any clue what to do with them afterwards,” University of Edinburgh researcher Walker Ross told DW, referring to past Olympic hosts like Rio de Janeiro or Athens.
Another problem with the cup’s carbon neutrality claims is that they rely on carbon offsets, which are a controversial tactic even when administered perfectly.
“It does not work,” Greenpeace MIddle East and North Africa program director Julien Jreissati told DW. “This whole idea of offsetting is merely a distraction away from real climate action, which is reducing fossil fuel-based emissions at the source as fast as possible.”
There are also concerns about the event’s offsets in particular. One offset touted by the event organizers is the largest turf farm in the world, built in the desert. However, Carbon Market Watch said it was unlikely such a stressed green area would store the carbon the organizers claimed. Further, the event has promised to offset at least 1.8 million credits through the Global Carbon Council, a carbon credit standard organizers helped establish, undermining its credibility, according to DW. As of the cup’s opening, only around 200,000 of these credits had been issued.
“It’s highly misleading to make carbon neutrality claims today,” Dufrasne told Grist, “and there are very, very few, if any, companies that do it correctly.”