Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
The CEO of Qatar Airways has defended a plan to operate more than 160 additional flights to transport spectators from the region to Doha and back each day, in what has been announced as the first “carbon-neutral” soccer World Cup.
Qatar Airways announced on Thursday that it has partnered with regional airlines to allow World Cup ticket holders to fly to Doha and back from neighboring countries all day only. Climate advocates say the decision goes against the tournament’s sustainability goals.
Please don’t believe people who only say negative [things]Akbar al-Baker told CNN’s Becky Anderson in an interview on Monday, adding that he was confident flights would be full.
“[We] It has planes with very low emissions compared to the regular planes that most other airlines fly,” including on long-haul flights, he said.
It did not say how the aircraft’s emissions would be lower than others, but the airline’s website says it uses “one of the smallest fleets in the sky” and has implemented 70 fuel optimization programs. Aviation is a major contributor to human-caused climate change. Qatar’s economy is dependent on oil and has one of the largest per capita carbon footprints in the world.
Ahead of Thursday’s announcement, organizers estimated the tournament’s carbon footprint at more than 3.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, more than half of which will come from traveling fans. Emissions from new daily flights – from Dubai, Muscat, Riyadh, Jeddah and Kuwait – will add to existing estimates.
In response to questions from CNN, FIFA said its previous estimate of the carbon footprint was published in February 2021 and that actual differences would be addressed once the tournament ended.
Qatar has said it will offset emissions by “investing in green projects” – a common way for companies and individuals to offset their footprint. The regulators established a “World Carbon Council” tasked with “identifying quality projects”.
However, climate experts have highlighted the limitations of offsetting programmes, such as planting trees, arguing that they are being overused and their impact is sometimes exaggerated, to allow for business-as-usual emissions from burning fossil fuels.
Carbon Market Watch published a report on Tuesday that said the World Cup carbon credit scheme supports projects with a “low level of environmental integrity” and has so far issued only 130,000 credits out of the 1.8 million pledged. The World Cup is scheduled to start in late November.
The Carbon Market Monitoring report also claims that FIFA’s estimated carbon emissions for the tournament have been significantly underestimated, criticizing the “choice of accounting approach”.
Commenting on the report, Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, which is responsible for the event, said it was “speculative and inaccurate to draw conclusions” about its commitment to carbon neutrality.
“The methodology used to calculate the carbon neutral commitment is best in practice and has been designed to be based on actual activity data, after the FIFA World Cup has ended,” she said in a statement sent in response to CNN’s questions. “This will be published, and any discrepancies will be explained and compensated.”
FIFA also responded to the report and defended its approach to accounting, saying it was based on the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, a widely used standard.
It added that it did not “mislead stakeholders” and was “fully aware of the risks that mega-events pose to the economy, the natural environment, people and societies”.
In a press release issued in September, the Qatari organizers of the event said that one of the advantages of hosting the World Cup is the “embedded nature” of their country. The short distance between stadiums will eliminate the need for domestic air travel by fans and reduce the tournament’s carbon footprint. She went on to say that air travel is “recognized as one of the largest sources of carbon emissions in the world”.
But there were growing concerns that the small country of less than 3 million people might not be able to handle so many fans. Flying spectators in and out of the day would mitigate the need for higher levels of accommodation.
However, Al Baker said the plan was always to only operate the extra flights to carry people per day.
“His Highness the Amir has always wanted to share the benefits of this tournament with all our neighbours,” he said.
“This is possible because, first of all, we have good state-of-the-art facilities. They treat people very quickly. We have also brought in huge transportation facilities including the metro,” Al Baker said.