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Qatar's 'carbon neutral' World Cup heavily criticised by climate advocates

The new world cup stadium in Qatar.
The new world cup stadium in Qatar.   -   Copyright  Reuters   -  
By Jill Pole  with Reuters

Qatar's efforts to host football's first 'carbon neutral' FIFA World Cup are being heavily criticised by climate advocates.

The Gulf Arab state claims it will either offset or eliminate emissions resulting from the matches that contribute to global warming.

But the organisers are "omitting some greenhouse gas emissions from their calculations" and will rely on "flimsy carbon offsets" to reach carbon neutrality, said a report released today, compiled by Carbon Market Watch, an advocacy group.

In a statement, Qatar's tournament organisers dismissed the conclusions as speculative, saying emissions will be calculated using "best-in practice" methods after the matches end, to ensure they are based on actual activities.

When did Qatar offer to host the next World Cup?

Qatar, the world's largest producer of natural gas, pledged to host a carbon neutral tournament when it bid for the event more than 11 years ago.

"Can they claim it's a carbon neutral event at this point? Too early," said Fengqi You, an energy systems engineer at Cornell University in the US.

That will depend on factors like how many people will attend, You said.

AP Photo
A miniature replica of the Khalifa International Stadium is displayed at the Doha Exhibition & Convention Center in Doha, Qatar.AP Photo

But can the tournament really be carbon neutral?

Carbon Market Watch criticises Qatar's method of "spreading the emissions from building stadiums over the lifetime of the facility", rather than counting it all toward the World Cup. But that is a common practice, You said.

The academic said it would be impossible for the event to reach carbon neutrality without buying offsets. Once the event is over and all emissions are accounted for, offsetting it all is a question of how much money Qatar is willing to spend buying offsets, generally backed by carbon negative activities like planting trees, he said.

Qatar is building a large-scale grass farm, which has negligible water resources, in the desert to produce stadium-ready turf.

The decision to offset its emissions should be "recognised rather than criticised," a spokesperson for the tournament organisers, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, said in a statement.

Qatar's organisers have highlighted the tournament's carbon limiting efforts, such as introducing solar-powered stadium air conditioning, building a reusable stadium from shipping containers and the fact that fans won't need to fly from one match to the next in tiny Qatar.

But Carbon Market Watch's report cast doubt on several initiatives, like a large-scale grass farm that Qatar, which has negligible water resources, has built in the desert to produce stadium-ready turf.