World Cup-Scale Building Projects Are Risky in a Warmer World

This story was supported by the Pulitzer Center.

When Qatar, a small Gulf kingdom with plenty of money and an old sports arena, won the bid to host the 2022 soccer World Cup in 2010, it had no choice but to launch a massive construction campaign to build stadiums, transport vehicles, and more. , and hotels are required to host, move and accommodate more than 1.5 million fans and players. And he did it with great enthusiasm. More than $220 of its oil billions have been channeled into world-class infrastructure projects that have transformed the once-sleepy pearl fishing village of Doha into a dazzling architectural extravaganza in just over a decade.

It was a construction boom driven by hundreds of thousands of migrant workers working in harsh conditions that are getting warmer every year in one of the hottest places on the planet—Qatar’s daily high summer temperatures have risen an average of 1.4°F since 2010. This trajectory is likely to continue. The Middle East is one of the fastest warming places on the planet due to climate change; According to a study published in 2020, by 2100 temperatures could rise to the point where just going outside for a few hours would exceed the “upper limit of livability.” Advances in science.

But the World Cup is just one aspect of the gas-rich kingdom’s efforts to diversify its economy into a world-class destination for business, sport and leisure. Even as workers put the final touches on stadiums and hotels shortly before the opening ceremony, scaffolding was being erected at hundreds more construction sites across the peninsula. But if temperatures continue to rise, how long can construction—work limited by the limits of human heat tolerance—continue?

Read more: Thousands of migrant workers died in extreme heat in Qatar. The World Cup forced a reckoning

Qatar’s November 20 World Cup opening ceremony began hours after the conclusion of the UN’s 27th global climate conference, known as COP27, in Sharm Al-Sheikh, Egypt. There, 196 member nations and representatives of the European Union narrowly missed the Paris COP15 goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F) above pre-industrial levels, after scientists warned of threats – floods, droughts, wildfires, heat waves and the destruction of the ecosystem – is growing significantly. The world has already warmed 1.2°C (2.16°F) and Climate Action Tracker, a research organization that calculates potential warming based on national commitments to reduce emissions, warns that we are now on track to reach 2°C (3.6°F) . ) by the end of the century, and that’s only when countries reach their 2030 targets. If they don’t, it will be 2.7°C (4.86°F).

According to a study published in August, even an optimistic scenario means that by 2050 the Gulf states will see up to 250 dangerously hot days a year. Communication Location and Environment. “Dangerous” heat days are defined as temperature and humidity index exceeding 103°F (39.4°C). These extremes can easily cause heat exhaustion for the unprotected, and continued exposure to dangerously hot days can lead to chronic diseases, the authors say. The study predicts that by 2100, “extremely dangerous heat stress will be a regular feature of the climate” not only in the Gulf region, but also in parts of Africa and South Asia. By “extremely dangerous,” the authors mean an index of 124°F (51.1°C), which can cause heatstroke and death within hours. It is hard to see how construction, at least as it is now, can continue under these conditions.

Read more: What Extreme Heat Does to the Human Body

There are some technological fixes. According to James Russell, managing director of Europe, Middle East and Australia for UK-based cooling clothing, Qatar has invested a “significant” amount of money into developing the undisclosed but clothing that can keep workers cool in extreme temperatures. Techniche, a company that cooperates with Qatar to create gear. But the clothing distributed to World Cup stadium workers and government-employed street cleaners only provides comfort in high heat and is not yet designed for workers to work longer hours or higher temperatures. Night jobs are already a part of the construction scene in the Gulf, but that will likely need to increase, Russell said. So will the number of construction workers. “If we reduce the amount of work people do by increasing the number of people on the sites, then we reduce the overall risk,” he says.


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In the long term, construction projects may need to be converted into prefabricated projects that can be assembled in air-conditioned warehouses and then assembled outside with the help of heavy machinery. But machines break down and outdoor workers will still be needed. In the meantime, more can be done to reduce the radiant heat emitted from construction equipment and scaffolding, Russell says. “This is not beyond our technologies. It just needs further development and, of course, more money.”

There is no shortage of money, as Qatar’s World Cup build-up clearly demonstrates the boom. The only problem is that the money needed to adapt regional construction to a warming climate comes from the fossil fuels that drive it.

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