Poor tackling: Yellow card for 2022 FIFA World Cup’s carbon neutrality claim

Executive summary

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. 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.

This investigation objectively assesses the credibility of the “carbon neutrality” claim and identifies where it misleads the public. 

The organisers estimate that the World Cup will emit 3.6 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e).  Our analysis finds that this does not accurately represent the tournament’s actual footprint due to the choice of accounting approach. 

The footprint of permanent stadiums purpose built for the tournament was allocated to the event based on a “use-share” basis. To put it simply, this means that the number of days of the tournament were divided by the estimated lifetime of the stadiums to arrive at the share of the total emissions associated with the construction of these facilities attributed to the World Cup. This is problematic because these stadiums have been constructed specifically for the World Cup. 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.  

Moreover, stadiums are unlikely to be the most efficient or effective venues for the community services that legacy plans envision. In our estimation, the total footprint of the permanent stadiums constructed for the World Cup might be underestimated by a factor of eight, amounting to 1.6MtCO2e, rather than the reported 0.2MtCO2e.

In addition, other sources of emissions could have been underestimated, such as those due to the exclusion of emissions from maintaining and operating stadiums in the many years following the tournament. 

This report does not assess the full extent of the impact of implemented climate mitigation measures. However, some of the proposed actions also lack integrity. For example, the World Cup organisers have created a large-scale tree and turf nursery – the largest turf farm in the world – in the middle of the desert. While irrigation uses treated sewage water, the claim that this will absorb CO2 emissions from the atmosphere and contribute to reducing the impact of the event is not credible as this carbon storage is unlikely to be permanent in these artificial and vulnerable green spaces, while carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for centuries to millenia.

To compensate the remaining emissions associated with the World Cup, organisers have contributed to establishing a new carbon credit standard, the Global Carbon Council. While it is supposed to deliver at least 1.8 million credits to offset World Cup emissions, it currently, just months away from the tournament, only has two registered projects, and has issued just over 130,000 credits.

Finally, it is unclear how the World Cup in Qatar relates to FIFA’s own climate neutrality goal for 2040. The international footballing federation announced this target in 2021, but few details are available, and basic information such as the coverage of the target, reference years, and GHG inventory do not seem to be publicly available.

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Poor tackling: Yellow card for 2022 FIFA World Cup’s carbon neutrality claim