The upcoming World Cup has already been branded a human rights disaster, as the construction of stadiums has caused the reported deaths of thousands of migrant workers since FIFA gave the tournament to Qatar. Now, there’s another controversial issue for the organizers to face: the big environmental impact of the tournament.
No matter where they take place, World Cups usually produce a high level of greenhouse gas emissions because of the construction of hotels, stadiums, and updated infrastructure. Plus there’s the air travel of the soccer teams and most importantly, the hundreds of thousands of spectators going there.
Qatar has said this edition will be the first carbon-neutral World Cup. But the facts say otherwise.
The climate cost of the World Cup
Carbon neutrality is achieved when the amount of emissions released into the atmosphere is equal to the emissions removed by various means, leaving a zero balance. Many organizations can’t reduce their emissions immediately so instead they invest in emission reduction projects, known as offsets, to compensate for their own footprint.
Qatar has estimated that the tournament will generate 3.6 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, compared with 2.1 million generated by the previous edition, in Russia in 2018. Most of these emissions, about 95%, are indirect, they said, coming from things like housing, transport (the many flights), and infrastructure building.
Organizers have emphasized the “compact” design of the tournament. Fans, players and officials will fly into one airport and stay in one location. The longest distance between stadiums is 75 kilometers and five of them are connected by the subway. However, this is just not enough, environmental and climate experts have claimed.
Carbon Market Watch, an advocacy group, has said that the World Cup organizers are misjudging some greenhouse gas emissions from their calculations -- to put it lightly. They criticized Qatar’s method of spreading the greenhouse gas emissions from building stadiums over the lifetime of the facility, instead of counting it all toward the tournament.
To achieve carbon neutrality, Qatar has vowed that all the emissions generated will be offset by investing in renewable projects elsewhere (in Turkey, for example). However, Fengqi You, an energy system engineer at Cornell University, told Reuters it’s still too early to describe the event as carbon neutral, raising doubts over the feasibility of this claim.
“Our goal is to offset all greenhouse gas emissions, while advancing low-carbon solutions in Qatar and the region,” a statement on the Qatar 2022 website reads. “A carbon-neutral tournament is delivered through a four-step process: awareness, measurement, reduction and offsetting. We are progressing rapidly in all areas.”
Greenpeace said FIFA has been greenwashing by claiming the event will be carbon neutral. Douglas Parr, Greenpeace UK Policy Director, told Newsweek said the World Cup’s emissions and workers’ deaths should be a wake-up call for Qatar and FIFA to make start transformational work “towards a more renewable and peaceful world.”
Simultaneously, an anti-carbon advertising campaign has conferred on Qatar and FIFA an ironic Bad Sports Award because of its greenwashing. Run by the New Weather Institute, a think tank from the UK, the campaign has called Qatar’s climate claims dubious, raised doubt on its offset programs and questioned its fossil fuel sponsors.