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FIFA 2022 World Cup’s “carbon neutral” claim is far-fetched and spurious

An abandoned stadium in Bratislava, Slovakia Photo: Miroslav Petrasko

The 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar has advertised itself as a carbon-neutral tournament. However, a thorough Carbon Market Watch analysis reveals that this claim lacks credibility due to the apparent large-scale underestimation of the event’s emissions and the low quality of the carbon credits currently purchased to offset the climate impact.

FIFA, football’s international governing body, and the Qatari co-organisers of the 2022 FIFA World Cup have claimed that the event which is set to take place in November-December 2022, will have no net impact on the climate. This is despite the construction of seven world-class football stadiums, and the expected attendance of over one million people  who will reach Doha by plane.

This claim adds to the long list of misleading advertisements and announcement that companies and event organisers are increasingly presenting to the public. Carbon-intensive products and services are increasingly being marketed in ways that suggest they have no net impact on the climate.

While Qatari organisers characterised the analysis from Carbon Market Watch as “speculative and inaccurate”, they did not specify why this was the case, or point out any factual mistake in the report.

In the case of the World Cup, organisers have attributed a minuscule footprint to the construction of six brand new, state-of-the-art football stadiums, even though these were purpose built for the event and are at risk of not being used or of being underused after the event. They achieved this improbably low figure by distributing the construction-related emissions  as a proportion of the number of days during which the stadiums will be used for the World Cup divided by the total lifetime of the stadiums, which is estimated at over half a century (more details are available in our report). The more realistic and responsible accounting approach would have been to attribute all the emissions associated with building the stadiums to the tournament.

Net-zero credibility

The result is that the footprint for the construction of these stadiums might have been underestimated by a factor of approximately eight: 200 kilotonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (ktCO2e) instead of the more realistic 1.6MtCO2e.

In addition, the event organisers were involved in the establishment of a new carbon market standard, the Global Carbon Council, which seeks to register projects and issue carbon credits. A deal was already agreed for the GCC to supply 1.8 million carbon credits to offset part of the World Cup’s emissions. 

However, currently registered projects under the standard have a low level of environmental integrity. Only one project has actually issued carbon credits so far, and it is a grid-connected wind power project in Turkey. This type of activity is highly unlikely to be additional, as it generates significant revenues from electricity sales and is, therefore, economically viable without carbon credit revenues.

Crash landing

Despite the organiser’s claim that having so many stadiums concentrated in a small geographical area would help reduce emissions related to air travel, Qatar Airways announced, the day of our report’s release, that it would operate 160 daily flights with neighbouring countries as a shuttle service as part of the World Cup. 

This might help address the shortage of accommodation for fans in and around Doha, but it will widen the gap between the organiser’s claims and reality to levels approaching cognitive dissonance.

This highlights the urgent need for action to bring into check this kind of questionable and damaging practice. Although regulators and civil society are increasingly taking action against greenwashing and misleading claims, more needs to be done because far-fetched climate claims are skyrocketing.


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