In the News

What’s the Carbon Footprint of Qatar 2022?

Alice Griffiths

21st November 2022

The emissions reporting linked to the FIFA World Cup, which kicked off yesterday in Qatar, provides us with a valuable lesson about the need for scrutiny of all things carbon.

‘For the very first time, FIFA and the host country Qatar have pledged to deliver a fully carbon neutral World Cup…’ is the extremely dubious, official line sold to the world. But, as DW Planet A’s report neatly explains: ‘With seven completely new stadiums, in the desert, with air conditioning, millions of people travelling to Qatar, mostly by plane and a country running on 99% fossil fuels … carbon neutral? If it sounds fishy, and that’s because it is.’

Professor Mike Berners-Lee, of Lancaster University and an expert on carbon footprints, estimates the real carbon emissions total for the tournament to be 10 million tonnes of equivalent carbon reported the BBC. Official figures suggest 3.6 million tonnes as the likely total, with carbon offsets resulting in a 'carbon neutral' World Cup.

So, why the huge discrepancy in emissions estimates? Both DW Planet A and the BBC's reporting provide much food for thought on this, not least that FIFA and Qatar have included emissions generated by a one-way flight taken by spectators attending the games. How are they all getting home? Further, Berners-Lee argues that they have underestimated the radiative-forcing impact of high altitude emissions, from those flights.

Four years ago, the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia was estimated to have generated 2 million tonnes of additional carbon emissions. Clearly, there will be planetary costs of any large, international event. Whether these costs now outweigh the benefits is under scrutiny, with some environmentalists describing the claim that Qatar 2022 will be carbon neutral as 'dangerous and misleading'.

‘The World Cup brings people together from across the globe, which the world needs, right now, in spades', Berners-Lee noted on Radio 4's Today Programme, but keeping an eye on the carbon cost has to be a key aim of sporting awarding bodies (such as FIFA) going forward, surely? The most spectacular thing about Qatar 2022 may yet be the level of ‘greenwashing’.

Khalifa International Stadium, Doha

Alice Griffiths

Alice has taught Geography over a period of twenty years. She is a published author and editor of a wide range of A level resources and has also created award-winning, online content for younger students. An occasional presenter at the GA’s annual conference, she was head of department at an 11-18 school until 2020.

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