Critics claim Qatar’s sustainable 2022 stadium is just ‘PR’

The new modular stadium 974 built for the 2022 Qatar world cup may solve some of the issues associated with world cup venue construction: empty unused stadiums left behind. [dezeen/Qatar's Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy]

As Football comes under pressure to go carbon neutral, one major source of emissions remains the stadiums that need to be built for every world cup, something Qatar seeks to address. But critics remain unconvinced that supposedly sustainable stadiums are enough to tackle the issue.

A big part of the 3.6 million tonnes of greenhouse gas equivalent emissions associated with the 2022 Qatar world cup counted by FIFA stems from what the report describes as “permanent construction of venues”.

Some 639,482 tonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions would be emitted during the preparatory phase of the world cup during venue construction, FIFA notes.

As a result, Qatar proudly presented stadium 974 to the world on 26 November. Made from recycled shipping containers, the stadium is named after the number of containers used and its Qatari area code.

The design, based on prefabricated modular elements, reduced the waste generated during production and on-site during construction, say the owners.

The use of modular elements also reduced the venue’s construction duration, they added.

Considering the 6,500 deaths of migrant workers in Qatar since the country won its bid to host the world championship in 2010, as reported by the Guardian in February 2021, speeding up construction may be conducive to preventing more deaths.

According to the organiser, the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC), 34 migrant workers died on World Cup construction sites during the aforementioned period. 

The committee says it is transparent about these figures and doubts other “misleading” reports on the number of deaths.

The greenwashing issue

Aside from the human rights concerns and the deaths of primarily Pakistani migrant workers, environmental activists are also concerned that the new stadium may be one big greenwashing exercise.

The stadium, built from recycled materials and will be dismantled at the end of the world cup, boasts a modular design, allowing it to be disassembled and turned into multiple smaller stadiums or scraped easily.

“If you look at all the criticism for all of the big stadiums created around the world — and nobody uses them later on — this is, well, it’s useful,” Zeina Khalil Hajj, of 350, a global climate protection NGO, told Deutsche Welle

Yet, the innovative sea-side stadium, which can forego cooling due to its construction and location, is just one of eight massive stadiums Qatar built for the 2022 world cup.

“It doesn’t mean they are the biggest culprit in the world. It just means that they have a duty,” Hajj told DW. “They have a responsibility as a rich nation. They have to contribute. And that means they have to change their domestic consumption pattern.”

Residents of Qatar have some of the largest per capita carbon footprints due to their oil-based economy in a relatively inhospitable environment necessitating artificial cooling.

Instead of tackling the systemic challenges to their society, “What they’re doing instead is all this ‘PR machine’,” added Haji.

Despite all the smart design the Qatari SC employs to cut emissions and make the world cup as carbon-neutral as possible, critics are worried about their reliance on carbon offsets.

To achieve the SC’s pledge “to measure, mitigate and offset all FIFA World Cup 2022 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions” will ultimately require a massive amount of so-called carbon offsets, as a majority of emissions from air travel and venue construction are challenging to abate.

Offsetting “unavoidable emissions” by planting a million trees, as Qatar has pledged, rather than using solar power or wind energy to cool stadiums is not what Phillip Sommer, of environmental action Germany, would call sustainable, he told DW.

Neither organisers like the SC nor “FIFA should therefore not rely on offsets, but on direct investments in solar or wind power, and tie conditions for venues to the climate footprint of member countries,” Michael Bloss, Greens EU lawmaker, told EURACTIV.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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