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Qatar’s carbon-neutral World Cup is a fantasy

By Ira Boudway and Eric Roston

10 Nov 2022 · 10 min read

Editor's Note

Qatar has made some big claims about sustainability in advance of the World Cup. In this Bloomberg long read, we discover that the claims may not be all that they seem.

Twelve years ago, when Qatar successfully bid to host this year’s men’s FIFA World Cup, its organizers made the eyebrow-raising promise that their edition of the tournament would be carbon-neutral. Qatar was not the first World Cup host to make such a claim — that distinction belongs to Germany in 2006 — but as a tiny, oil-rich country on a desert peninsula in the Persian Gulf, its net-zero promise seemed to take greenwashing to a new extreme. On a land mass smaller than the state of Connecticut and with a population of about 3 million, Qatar had very little of the infrastructure needed to put on a World Cup — yet planned to build seven stadiums and host more than a million visitors without contributing a single kilogram to global carbon emissions.

When the tournament’s organizers — a triumvirate made up of FIFA, the World Cup Qatar 2022 LLC (Q22), and the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC) — released its greenhouse gas accounting, the report did little to quell doubts. Their calculations, prepared by the Swiss carbon management firm South Pole, set the total emissions for the World Cup at 3.6 million metric tons. But independent researchers at the watchdog group Carbon Market Watch and the Paris-based carbon-management startup Greenly say this is an undercount. Greenly’s own assessment puts the total emissions for the event at 6 million tons, roughly equivalent to a year’s worth of emissions from 750,000 US homes. Greenly CEO and Co-Founder Alexis Normand calls the 2022 World Cup “the most emissive ever.”

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