Qatar Airways CEO defends 160 additional daily flights for a ‘climate neutral’ World Cup

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Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (CNN) —

The CEO of Qatar Airways is defending a plan to operate more than 160 extra flights to transport spectators from the region to Doha and back each day, for what has been announced as the first “carbon neutral” FIFA World Cup.

Qatar Airways announced last Thursday that it had teamed up with regional airlines to allow World Cup ticket holders to fly to Doha and back from neighboring countries during the 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 Monday, adding that he was confident the flights would be full.

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“We have planes with very low emissions compared to the normal planes that most other airlines fly,” including long-haul flights, he said.

It did not explain how the planes’ emissions would be lower than others, but the airline’s website says it runs “one of the youngest fleets in the sky” and has implemented 70 fuel optimization programs.

Aviation is one of the main culprits for human-caused climate change.

Qatar’s economy is based on oil and has one of the largest carbon footprints per capita in the world.

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Before Thursday’s announcement, organizers had calculated a carbon footprint for the tournament of more than 3.6 million metric tons of CO2, more than half of which will come from fan travel.

Emissions from new daily flights, from Dubai, Muscat, Riyadh, Jeddah and Kuwait, will add to the current estimate.

In response to questions from CNN, FIFA said its previous carbon footprint estimate was released in February 2021 and any real differences would be addressed after the tournament.

Qatar has said it will offset emissions by “investing in green projects,” a common way for companies and individuals to offset their carbon footprint.

The organizers also created a “Global Carbon Council” tasked with “identifying quality projects.”

However, climate experts have highlighted the limitations of offset programs such as tree planting, arguing that they are overused and their impact sometimes exaggerated, to allow emissions from burning fossil fuels remain the same.

The official emblem of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 is unveiled in Doha on 3 September.

Carbon Market Watch published a report on Tuesday stating that the World Cup carbon credit scheme supported projects with a “low level of environmental integrity” and had so far only issued 130,000 credits out of 1.8 million. promised.

The World Cup will start at the end of November.

The Carbon Market Watch report also claims that FIFA’s estimated carbon emissions for the tournament have been grossly 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 any conclusions” about its commitment to carbon neutrality.

“The methodology used to calculate the carbon neutrality commitment is best practice and was designed to be based on actual activity data, after the FIFA World Cup has concluded,” he said in a statement sent in response to CNN questions.

“This will be published, and any discrepancies will be explained and compensated for.”

FIFA also responded to the report and defended its own accounting method, saying it was based on the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, a widely used standard.

It added that it had not “misled its stakeholders” and that it was “fully aware of the risks that mega-events pose to the economy, the natural environment, and people and communities.”

In a September press release, the event’s Qatari organizers said that one of the advantages of hosting the World Cup was “the compact nature” of their country.

The short distance between the stadiums would avoid the need for fans to travel by plane within the country and reduce the carbon footprint of the tournament.

The organization said air travel is “recognized as one of the world’s largest sources of carbon emissions.”

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But concerns have grown that the small country of less than 3 million people will not be able to cope with so many fans.

Airlifting spectators in one day would alleviate the need for higher levels of accommodation.

However, Al Baker stated that the plan was always to carry out additional flights to transport people only during the day.

“His Highness the Emir always wanted to share the benefit of this tournament with all our neighbors,” he said.

“It’s doable because, first of all, we have a good state-of-the-art facility. They process people very quickly. We’ve also put in place great transportation, like the subway,” said Al Baker.

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