A group of fans in Moscow's Red Square display a banner reading 'See you in Qatar' in reference to the 2022 World Cup. Photo: AFP / Jewel Samad
A group of fans in Moscow's Red Square display a banner reading 'See you in Qatar' in reference to the 2022 World Cup. Photo: AFP / Jewel Samad

Climate change, as is now well established, poses a grave threat to human civilization that warrants urgent attention from all quarters, and the reduction of carbon footprints should be the pinnacle of all relevant policies and actions.

A report published on March 18 by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warns that “natural disasters [are] occurring three times more often than 50 years ago,” and reiterates the importance of taking global and local actions to curb carbon footprints wherever possible. In this context, it is heartening to note that Qatar is making a carefully planned effort to align sports with, and make the sector sensitive to, climate change.

The country’s plans and strategies for handling the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 mega-event may offer interesting lessons and inspirations for other nations and communities. The organizers are committed to contributing to the global fight against climate change by delivering a fully carbon-neutral World Cup.

According to the Supreme Committee (SC) for Delivery & Legacy, the prime institute that has been entrusted with the responsibility of the preparing for the World Cup, carbon neutrality refers to achieving net zero carbon-dioxide emissions by balancing the carbon dioxide footprint with removals and offsets.

The SC expects that total offsets will be more than the estimated carbon footprint and therefore carbon neutrality will be assured before the kick-off of the soccer tournament in 2022.

Qatar developed a strategy paper in collaboration with the Federation of International Football Association (FIFA) that identified five pillars and 70 initiatives. With the aim of achieving carbon neutrality, Qatar is following a five-step model: carbon inventory, mitigation projects, offset projects, carbon legacy, and raising awareness.

These activities are further aligned with different modi operandi, starting from the design, then construction, and finally the operational phases. In short, the carbon-neutrality target will likely be achieved through the construction of low-emissions stadiums and buildings, reduced energy demand wherever possible, creation of green space around stadiums, reduced air travel, and making a rail service available to the people.

At the fundamental level, the designs of the stadiums will likely have positive impacts in offsetting the carbon footprint. For example, Ras Abu Aboud Stadium has been framed in a way that is compatible with the use of containers of ships that are less exposed to the emission of carbon compared with traditional building materials.

Nevertheless, the completely demountable nature of the stadium showcases how Qatar is organizing an energy-efficient tournament. Emission-reduction measures being applied in the construction of World Cup stadiums and other facilities include utilizing solar panels to power toilets, lighting and weather-monitoring stations, and imported power from the grid instead of diesel generators, where possible.

All stadiums will be able to use solar energy during the tournament. One high-profile example lies in the advanced stadium cooling technology developed by Qatar. The cooling actually only targets outdoor player and visitor spaces within the stadium and is done by creating a bubble across the field of play, stands and main concourse areas that is then used as a barrier to avoid hot air creeping into the venue.

Cooled air comes in through grilles in the stands and large nozzles on the soccer pitch. Using the air-circulation technique, the cooled air is drawn back, re-cooled, filtered and pushed out. Because of this unique method, the stadiums only need to be cooled two hours before the match, which will help to achieve the desired energy efficiency.

Planting trees is only one of the many methods of offsetting carbon footprint. All stadiums, precincts and team base camps are been decorated with turf and trees. For this purpose, the SC has developed a turf and tree nursery spanning an area of 880,000 square meters that features a total of 679,000 shrubs and 16,000 trees.

The SC estimates that World Cup Qatar 2022 will be able to attract as many as 1.5 million visitors. One of the sources of carbon footprint will be associated with fan travel, accommodation and food and beverage operations.

During the tournament, energy-efficient local ground transportation has been planned. Incentives will be given to fans for using public transport – use of the Doha Metro, Lusail Tram, buses and other sources of mass transport through initiatives such as free public transport access with a World Cup 2022 ticket and a journey planner.

Qatar is planning to deploy low-emission electric buses throughout the tournament. There is also a plan to convert all taxis into electric-powered cars.

Most of the stadiums are a short distance from the metro stations, which means the use of cars can be hugely reduced. Most important, visitors will not be required to undertake air travel, as the stadiums are not far from Doha city.

The SC is committed to working with stakeholders such as Qatar Rail and various government ministries to ensure that the sustainability objectives of the tournament are met. One example of such engagement is with the hospitality industry, where the SC has partnered with the Qatar Green Building Council and the Qatar National Tourism Council to promote green practices in hotels. 

With the aim of achieving the desired carbon footprint, the SC plans to use solar energy during the tournament. In January 2020, Qatar signed an agreement with France’s Total and Japan’s Marubeni to build a solar power project in Al Kharsaah with a capacity of about 800 megawatts, which is about 10% of Qatar’s current peak electricity demand.

The project will generate about eight times the amount of solar energy Qatar had pledged to build, helping the organization deliver a carbon-neutral tournament. This plant will generate enough energy in one month to power all of the stadiums for one year. 

The energy sector of Qatar, as in many countries, is the top source of air pollution. The second-largest contributor is industrial processes. To address this problem, Qatar Petroleum launched a new sustainability strategy this January for reducing the emissions intensity of Qatar’s LNG (liquefied natural gas) facilities by 25% and of its upstream facilities by at least 15% while reducing flare intensity across upstream facilities by more than 15%.

Qatar has launched the Umm Al-Houl power plant, one of the largest water-desalination and power-generation plants in the region. The plant is committed to environmentally friendly best practices, thereby minimizing pollution and protecting the environment.

The SC intends to procure accredited local and regional carbon credits from several sectors to neutralize the emissions associated with the event. 

Finally, Qatar carbon-inventory data reveal that the National Program for Conservation and Energy Efficiency (Tarsheed) reduced carbon emissions by 4.5 million metric tons in 2019. On the other hand, the Siraj solar power project is expected to reduce the carbon footprint during its lifetime to 26 million tons.

All in all, Qatar has been able to align FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 with climate policy quite nicely.

Goal 13 of the United Nations’ Agenda 2030 called for urgent action to combat climate change by regulating emissions and promoting developments in renewable energy. The Paris Agreement on climate change also established carbon-neutrality targets for limiting global warming below 2 degrees Celsius. Qatar is a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol 2005 and the Paris Climate Agreement 2017.

Overall, Qatar’s strategies and actions to reform the relevant components of the sports sector currently pivoting around the FIFA World Cup go a long way to underscore the crucial significance of environmental and climate factors. These examples may serve to inspire other countries to follow suit, and strengthen their respective efforts toward the global fight against climate change. 

Muhammad Rahaman

Muhammad Mustafizur Rahaman is a counselor (labor) at the Embassy of Bangladesh to the State of Qatar. He holds a PhD in international public policy from Osaka University, Japan. He was also an international research fellow at Kyoto University for two years (2014-16).

Niaz Ahmed Khan

Niaz Ahmed Khan is a professor and former chairman of the Department of Development Studies, University of Dhaka. He was also senior academic adviser of the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development and National Defense College, Dhaka.