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FIFA World Cup’s green claims are misleading, report says

A string of sporting events have claimed to be carbon neutral based on purchases of credits known as offsets.
The Khalifa International stadium in Doha, Qatar, on March 29. Image: Bloomberg

Claims that the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar will be “carbon neutral” are far-fetched and will mislead players, sponsors and fans into thinking the event will have a negligible net impact on the Earth’s climate, according to a new report.

Organisers are underestimating the carbon footprint of the event, as well as relying on offsets that can’t be guaranteed to reduce emissions elsewhere, the nonprofit Carbon Market Watch said in a study released on Tuesday.

The World Cup is the latest in a string of sporting events, including the Beijing Winter Olympics, that have claimed to be carbon neutral based on purchases of credits known as offsets. The tokens purport to balance out the event’s pollution by avoiding emissions elsewhere. Experts say for that to work, as many planet-warming greenhouse gases as possible need to actually be eliminated and offsets should only be used to make up for carbon that can’t be cut by adopting greener measures during the games.

A total of 32 national teams will play in the FIFA tournament over a four-week period in Qatar in November and December, while as many as 1.5 million fans are expected to attend. The event is estimated to generate 3.6 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, Carbon Market Watch said, citing figures made public by the organizers. That includes direct as well as indirect emissions from accommodation, infrastructure construction and travel.

Organisers say 438 000 tons of CO₂ were emitted during the construction of a temporary stadium that can be fully dismantled after the championship. But when it comes to six other new stadiums that will be used after the World Cup, they only attributed a fraction of the emissions to the tournament — an estimated 206,000 tons of CO₂. Carbon Market Watch said this was allocated on a “share-use” basis — meaning 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.

“Instead of accounting for the full emissions of the construction, they look at the days when the stadium will be used, not at the full life of the stadium,” said Gilles Dufrasne, policy officer at Carbon Market Watch and the report’s lead author. “The footprint in doing that becomes very small because they exclude a large share of emissions.”

While the World Cup hosts are keen to stress their work to ensure there are no “white elephants” after the tournament, including all emissions associated with the construction of the stadiums would boost the expected footprint of the event by 1.4 million tons of CO₂, according to Carbon Market Watch. That’s the equivalent of the emissions from almost 180 000 US households’ energy use for a year.

Qatar’s World Cup organisers, called the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC), are buying offset credits through a new standard overseen by the Global Carbon Council. This global voluntary offsetting program — which was initially supported by the SC — now operates as an independent organisation, the committee said in a statement.

The SC originally agreed to purchase 1.8 million metric tons of offsets from the GCC, but Carbon Market Watch has raised doubt that this target will be met. The GCC publicly lists only two approved offset projects — a wind farm and a hydro power plant, both based in Turkey. Only one of these has issued credits according to the public registry, Carbon Market Watch said, which would mean the current total supply of GCC credits is a little less than 150 000.

The SC said in a statement that the World Cup has still yet to start and therefore it’s “reasonable that all carbon credits are not yet procured.” A spokesperson for the SC added that it will continue to purchase credits after the tournament if its target isn’t met beforehand and it may buy offsets from other internationally recognised programs after the first batch of 1.8 million tons from the GCC.

Still, the Carbon Market Watch report raised questions over whether offsets from renewable energy projects add any “additional” benefits to the climate. Clean energy has become so cost-competitive that these sorts of projects are already economically viable, meaning they could happen regardless of whether or not they can sell carbon credits, the report said. That means in many cases no additional greenhouse gas emissions are eliminated and carbon credits are just financing projects that would be built anyway.

Separate analysis by investigative nonprofit SourceMaterial, published in conjunction with Carbon Market Watch and quoted in its report, found that it’s “highly unlikely” that the Turkish wind project is additional. The project has been operational since 2018, two years before it began issuing carbon credits, and Turkey ranks fourth in Europe for wind power installation, which suggests that it was commercially viable without offset credits, the nonprofit concluded.

The GCC said the additionality of all its projects is checked and weighted through protocols that are “well established” by the Clean Development Mechanism, a program of the United Nations.

The SC noted it’s supporting other types of carbon-reducing projects as part of its plan to offset the impact of the tournament, including the planting of 679 000 shrubs and 16 000 trees in the country. The plants will be irrigated with recycled water, a statement said, and many species are endemic to the region and drought tolerant.

Unlike other modern World Cups, the 2022 tournament will be held within a compact area — no stadium is more than 31 miles (50 kilometers) from the center of Doha. Organisers have claimed that eliminating the need for players and fans to travel long distances by plane between matches will minimize carbon emissions. They’ve also touted energy-efficient stadiums and a new public transit system.

However, Carbon Market Watch’s calculations were also conducted before the announcement of a 168-flight-per-day shuttle service that will allow fans to travel from five other cities in the region to watch a match without staying overnight in Qatar.

“It doesn’t make much sense to advertise an event as green based on the close proximity of stadiums, and then invite fans to find accommodation far from that city and commute by plane,” said Dufrasne. “It would be another example of how the World Cup organisers are not matching all their words with actions.”

© 2022 Bloomberg

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This whole thing if off sets, carbon trading, use if renewable biofuels like woodchios, transported from another part of the world, are all fake efforts of greenwashing.

End of comments.

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