Qatar’s longest-lasting legacy following the World Cup won’t be football or even its human rights record – it will be the climate crisis, according to a new report warning that its huge expansion of gas extraction could push the planet into catastrophic global heating.
Should Qatar exploit all of its oil and gas reserves it will eventually add an enormous 50bn metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere once burned, which is more than the entire annual emissions of the whole world, the new research, shared with the Guardian, has found.
This vast output of emissions will in itself push the world beyond the internationally agreed limit of 1.5C of global heating beyond industrial times, beyond which scientists warn there will be increasingly disastrous impacts from heatwaves, droughts, floods and biodiversity die-offs.
QatarEnergy, the state-owned petroleum operation that is overseeing a huge escalation in the country’s oil and gas output, is a sponsor of the World Cup currently under way in Qatar.
Fifa, which has been accused of falsely claiming the World Cup will be carbon neutral, has featured QatarEnergy in sponsorship slots in stadiums and online even as the global football body launched a campaign called #SavethePlanet in which it warned the climate crisis “threatens the essential ingredients of good health” and causes “increasing destructiveness of extreme weather events”.
Qatar’s vast oil and gas resources have greatly enriched the small Middle Eastern country, which this year became the world’s largest exporter of liquified natural gas (or LNG), superseding the US and Australia.
It is now looking to further cement its position by ramping up production from a vast offshore gas deposit called the north field, which will account for 70% of the emissions growth according to the new report by BankTrack, an NGO that used data from BP to ascertain the extent of Qatar’s “carbon bomb” projects.
The emissions from Qatar’s oil and gas resources will cause $20tn in damages and 11m deaths around the world, BankTrack said, citing calculations based upon recent research looking at the economic and mortal cost of fossil fuels.
QatarEnergy has signed recent partnership deals with western oil giants including Shell, Total, ConocoPhilips, Exxon and Eni in order to boost output of the north field by 60% over the next five years. Separate deals have been struck in the past month with Germany and China to provide the countries with gas amid concerns over supplies disrupted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Saad Sherida al-Kaabi, Qatar’s energy minister and chief executive of QatarEnergy, said last month Qatar will “provide reliable and credible LNG supply solutions to customers across the globe”.
No new fossil fuel infrastructure can be built if the world is to avoid breaching the 1.5C limit, the International Energy Agency has warned, but despite this there has been plenty of financial support for Qatar’s gas expansion. JPMorgan Chase, Citi, HSBC, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, MUFG, Credit Suisse and Bank of America have all backed planned projects in the north field, providing nearly $12bn in bond underwriting services to QatarEnergy.
“There’s a massive amount of emissions about to come from oil and gas taken from Qatar, although there hasn’t been much attention to it until now,” said Henrieke Butijn, climate campaigner and researcher at BankTrack. “What’s happening in Qatar is awful in terms of these projects and also worker conditions, but there is a level of hypocrisy here because Qatar isn’t acting alone.
“Fifa selected Qatar for the World Cup and chose QatarEnergy as one of the main sponsors, even while they push their own climate campaign. And banks which have made net zero emissions commitments all know what they are doing when they are underwriting QatarEnergy. These banks need to cut off any finance that isn’t aligned with the 1.5C goal.”
At the recent UN Cop27 climate summit in Egypt, the world’s governments again committed to keeping below 1.5C, although emissions reduction pledges currently fall drastically short of meeting this target.
While wind and solar energy deployment is growing rapidly – clean energy is set to overtake coal as an energy source globally by 2025 – the world is still teeing up vast quantities of fossil fuels that would push societies into climate meltdown should they be burned. A huge 3.5tn tons of greenhouse gas emissions will be emitted if governments allow identified reserves of coal, oil and gas to be extracted and used, a recent released in September found.
Qatar’s 50bn tons of emissions will occur if it allows all of its deposits to be burned. While this may not happen if other countries move decisively away from fossil fuels as an energy source, there is currently no commitment from Qatar that it won’t completely exhaust its reserves. In previous years there have been claims Qatar’s gas reserves could last more than 130 years.
QatarEnergy was contacted for comment on the research. On its website, the state-owned body states that the climate crisis is “one of the most critical issues of our times and requires prompt and dedicated action at a global scale”.
“Fossil fuels are weapons of mass destruction, carbon bombs ticking against the time we have left to avert the very worst of the climate crisis,” said Harjeet Singh, head of global political strategy at Climate Action Network International.
“Fossil fuel companies, the banks that fund them and the governments that support them are complicit in the suffering of millions. It is time to strip them off their social and economic licenses and make them pay up for climate damages.”