The Qatar World Cup is the global equivalent of leaving all the lights on

If the delegates currently attending the global climate conference in Mexico need any reminding of the magnitude of their task in the face of human stupidity and hubris, they do not have far to look. At another meeting of a distinguished international body, the decision has been made to hold the most needlessly energy-wasting sporting event that the planet has ever seen.

 As a symbol of the confusion and hypocrisy which surrounds the questions of climate change and energy conservation, the Qatar World Cup of 2022 will surely take some beating.

Qatar may be small but, when it comes to profligate use of energy, it punches well above its weight. According to the recently published Living Planet Index, its per capita consumption of the world’s energy resources is higher than that of any other country, with the exception of the United Arab Emirates. Oil and gas usage in Qatar increased by 310 per cent between 1999 and 2009.

The response to these dubious claims to fame from international football’s ruling body, Fifa, has been to invite Qatar to go on a massive energy binge. Twelve new stadia will be built. There will be training grounds. The infrastructure to support an influx of between one and two million fans will be created. The venues will all be air-conditioned, reducing the outside temperature of 40 degrees to 27 degrees, even when the roof is open to the sun. Spectators will enjoy cool air projected from the back and neck of every seat. Similar facilities will be supplied to training grounds and, one assumes, to the buildings where visitors will spend their time when football is not being played. In fact, most of the country will have to be air-conditioned.

Then, when it is over, the stadia will be dismantled and shipped to different parts of the world where they will be re-erected. The true hypocrisy here lies not in the sheer idiocy of this organised spree of wastefulness, but in the way it is presented. A month-long, air-conditioned World Cup is, we are told, good for the planet. The Qataris, knowing that there is no fool like a green-washed fool, included in their plans the promise to use photovoltaic panels, situated in the desert, to power the stadium’s cooling systems. These will be carbon-neutral venues, it is claimed.

To put it mildly, these plans have caused surprise among scientists. Air-conditioning famously requires a vast amount of energy, even in temperate climates. The idea that solar energy can power cooling systems in a number of large stadia, reducing the temperatures from 40 degrees to 27, would seem to belong in the realm of dreams.

There are other niggling little problems. Air-conditioning units do not only use an inordinate amount of energy. They emit greenhouse gases – HFCs – which are incomparably more powerful than carbon dioxide. Then there is the small question of the construction process. The stadia are built. They are air-conditioned for a month, and then taken down, shipped across the world and re-erected. What happens to the millions of solar panels sitting out in the desert remains unexplained.

A perfect, tragic example of man’s arrogant belief that he can build his way out of trouble – save energy by accelerating his use of it – the Qatar World Cup is the global equivalent of someone leaving all the lights and heating appliances blazing away in a house, and claiming to be green because there is a wind turbine on the roof.

It is a mad Ozymandian desert folly. In Mexico, they should look on the works of Fifa, and despair.

Independent, Tuesday, 7 December 2010