World Cup in Qatar, a good time to end carbon neutrality?

typhoon/Getty Images/iStockphoto Construction of a new stadium in the desert of Qatar, Middle East

typhoon/Getty Images/iStockphoto

To host the 2022 World Cup, Qatar had to build new stadiums like this one. In return, the country and Fifa announce they will finance CO2 capture projects and affirm that the world will be carbon neutral.

ENVIRONMENT – “It’s worse than doing nothing”. Asked by The Huffpost, Larry Lohmann doesn’t mince words. The director of the British environmental NGO Corner House is not the only one in the sector to denounce this practice which, on the occasion of the launch of the 2022 World Cup, raises many concerns: carbon neutrality. This promise is that of Qatar and FIFA. It is above all a must for any business or organization embarking on a new project. But isn’t it time to recycle it?

Carbon offsetting, at the heart of the idea of ​​neutrality, is here to stay. Created in the late 1980s, it was institutionalized by the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, which established a carbon market in which rich (and polluting) countries “pay” for their CO2 emissions by financing so-called green projects. The consequent notion of “carbon neutrality” is based on a simple principle: each emission must be compensated by the absorption of an equivalent quantity of CO2, by trees or other capture systems.

In the 2000s carbon neutrality became a commercial topic: from Google, pioneer of the movement in 2007, through Easyjet which proclaimed itself the first carbon neutral airline in 2019… Up to the World Cup in Qatar and its seven stadiums built specially for the occasion.

A certification without control

Shouldn’t that be good news for the planet? Carbon offsetting actions are far from always unanimous. In 2019, American investigative media ProPublica published an in-depth investigation into carbon offsetting. A relentless charge, entitled ” Because forest conservation credits could be worse than nothing in which a list of projects was reviewed.

Lies about the number of trees saved, forests cut down a few years after being planted, projects counted multiple times… The survey results are sad. The heart of the machine is seized. ” There are good projects, but the vast majority of them have nothing to do there screams Anja Kollmuss, environmental policy analyst.

The problem, for her, stems in large part from how the offsets work: the organizations in charge of creating the link between companies and the government on the one hand, and nature conservation projects on the other are extremely poorly controlled. ” Who issues the certifications to companies? The companies that sell them carbon offsets “, alarmed the specialist. A system suitable for all parties: the buyer, who can then communicate about his action, the selling country that receives the funds, as well as the famous intermediary. The big loser is the planet.

Should we really save the carbon neutral soldier?

Because even when the compensation works, it is not unanimous. In August 2021, the NGO Oxfam published a vitriolic report, denouncing today’s “net zero” as absurd from a simple arithmetical point of view. ” There is simply not enough land available plant the number of trees desired by governments to achieve carbon neutrality, explained the association.

It would take 1.6 billion hectares, or five times the area of ​​India, covered with trees by 2050 to reach “net zero”. Nonsense for scientists and environmentalists, who fear that the compensation mechanism is nothing more than a license to pollute, without changing anything.

The famous musical group Mass attack he had made a habit of offsetting the carbon impact of his concerts by purchasing forested land to preserve it. But in late 2019, group members announced they would stop carbon offsetting. And certainly not for lack of having the survival of the planet at heart. ” Ultimately, carbon offsetting is the movement of pollution from one place to another, rather than its reduction “.

Reducing emissions rather than “cancelling” them.

This point of view, Larry Lohmann shares it. ” All of this is based on the misconception that somewhere on the planet there is a positive action equivalent to pollution. It is a false principle at its root “, he protests. Anja Kollmuss wants to be more realistic, even if she shares this little love for this system. ” I think it is always a useful idea to tell ourselves that we must become neutral in terms of pollutant emissions. But I don’t think the carbon offsetting system can really be improved. »

What to do then? Make the message much more controlled, believes the analyst, and give less space to carbon capture projects in favor of more direct actions. In order to claim carbon neutrality, organizations should no longer simply finance projects, but plan to reduce their emissions. Which, in the case of a unique event like the World Championships, is impossible… Thus the precious labeling has disappeared.

Carbon offsetting would then cease to serve as generalized greenwashing, to become a mere minor component of a zero-emissions project. Some labeling companies also place more emphasis on reducing pollution and not just relocating to a poorer country. But carbon offsetting is here to stay. ” If I were queen of the world, I’d cancel carbon offsetting, laughs the specialist. But I live in reality. »

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