why this World Cup will not be carbon neutral

In response to growing concern about climate change, more and more countries, local authorities and companies are committing to carbon neutrality.

But this proliferation of claims of “carbon neutrality” calls into question the true ambition of the promises, so there are many attempts to frame these declarations.

Latest controversy? The 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar: its organizers promise the first “carbon neutral” Cup – understanding who will not generate more greenhouse gas emissions (GHG or “CO2e”) than it can withdraw from the atmosphere by other means.

The estimate of the event’s emissions is the first point that causes anger: analyzed at 3.6 million tons of CO₂e in the study commissioned by Qatar, the NGO Carbon Market Watch and the start-up Greenly estimated that the number this is underestimated… by half!

Organizers have pledged to cover emissions for which they consider themselves directly responsible – only half of the 3.6 million tonnes – through certified offset credits.

A controversial compensation project

Aside from the dubious question of “responsibility for emissions”, the offset project poses two problems.

First, a conflict of interest in the certification program in charge of ensuring the quality of the credits, as the certification standard was developed in collaboration with the Cup organizers. Thus, the true effect of absorbing emissions associated with these credits is questioned.

Second, the projects funded so far are far from achieving the announced payoff. All of these factors led Carbon Market Watch to file a complaint for false advertising of carbon neutrality.

So, is this Cup carbon neutral?

“Carbon neutral”, a definition and multiple geometry rules

The number of definitions of “carbon neutrality” affects its understanding and implementation.

Both the IPCC and the ISO generally converge on the same concept: carbon neutral, or “net zero”, means that emissions are balanced – or “neutralized” – by absorptions generated by humans. These emissions cover only CO for the IPCC, and all GHGs for the ISO, over a specific perimeter and a specific time period.

The flexibility in defining the scope of accounting poses a problem, because the smaller the scope, the lower the ambition and therefore the impact of the commitment of carbon neutrality. A reflection that can lead to the consideration of no event or company, or carbon neutral product.

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Then, the rules that allow you to declare yourself carbon neutral are not very clear, despite the dedicated PAS 2060 standard.

Many refer to the sequence “avoid, reduce, pay”: we avoid emissions, we fail to reduce our emissions, and finally, we pay for the “residual emissions”, that is, those that we failed to shoot.

But then, what small reduction goals are compatible with planetary carbon neutrality, which aims to ensure the security of humanity, but requires enormous efforts?

To also read:
Why global warming is an issuegenerational area

According to the Paris agreement, emissions must be reduced by about 5% per year, i.e. the impact of Covid in 2020… every year!

Thus, the Science-Based Target (SBTi) initiative, a key benchmark for the commitment to carbon neutrality, recommends that companies set a minimum target of reducing 90% of current emissions. Then there are good practice guidelines for neutralizing a maximum of 10% residual emissions.

Difficulties in accounting for emissions

The first step in planning for carbon neutrality is knowing how much you emit. To quantify it, several approaches coexist: those of the GHG Protocol, of life cycle analysis, or even of national inventories.

Each method, supported by specific data, leads to different assessments, the robustness of which is poorly understood. In particular, the emission data used in the calculations vary in quality, generating uncertainties in the results of the models.

Ultimately, the meaning and reliability of the assessment is poorly understood.

Neutralizing emissions: the limits of compensation

To neutralize the remaining emissions, carbon can be captured and stored or used, through natural (photosynthesis) or technological means. Neutralization financed outside its production chain is called offsetting: buying the credits associated with avoided or captured emissions.

Credit certification processes aim to ensure their real impact on reducing emissions according to 4 standard criteria: addition, retention, leakage and double counting.

Often in the past, the intended effect was not achieved.

In addition, credits are a problem on a planetary scale: today, most credits that do not come from carbon markets come from reforestation/afforestation projects. These include restoring or creating carbon sinks, thus sanctifying natural spaces, at the risk of later releasing the stored emissions, thus canceling the effect of the credits.

In the future, these natural areas cannot be used for other activities (agriculture, energy production). Unlimited use compensation is therefore incompatible with the finiteness of the earth’s surface, and it is urgent to plan land use that will allow a fair and sustainable net zero in the future.

Is the Cup’s carbon neutral claim misleading?

In the case of the World Cup, the description of the quantification model published in the emissions report does not make it possible to estimate the reliability of the assessment. This lack of transparency also does not comply with the ISO 14044 LCA standard.

Beyond the level of project emissions, the carbon neutrality commitment approach is not misleading if we consider the right to offset emissions described in PAS 2060, the reality of offset commitments, and their full validity. . But it clearly lacks ambition.

To also read:
Why carbon footprints are uncertain – and how to improve them

First, it does not have a reduced emission balance compared to the old World Cups, on the contrary.

Then, the compensation announced is dubious, especially the quality of the certification, and covers only 50% of the emissions of an “optimized” carbon footprint.

Finally, the organizers do not assume responsibility for the future consequences of building the infrastructure necessary for the World Cup. Will infrastructure serve climate change? Not likely. For example, will the meters be used to reduce transportation emissions in the region? It is doubtful. Fixed stadiums, if they are reused for future events, won’t they generate air traffic? Yes, and it’s probably the biggest source of emissions, as flights make up 40% of the event’s current emissions.

Make data truly trustworthy

The scale of reducing emissions to ensure life on Earth is so great that it does not make sense to continue to finance non-essential investment projects, which do not contribute to reducing emissions in the future, and consume a resource that will soon become scarce : real offset credits.

Carbon neutrality must go through large emission reductions and renewable carbon neutralization, that is, which does not consume finite resources as our natural spaces do.

In addition, planning for carbon neutrality first requires quality data to accurately assess emissions from human activities and the best decarbonization solutions. The research places little value on the development and reliability of the data. However, the impartiality of science is needed to improve and complete these databases.

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