Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Doha will host the latest round of United Nations talks on climate change. But can a major oil and gas hub with the highest carbon footprint per person in the world lead the way on a switch to a green economy?Carbon
Doha has the largest carbon footprint per person in the world. Qataris use five times the amount of carbon than the average Briton, at 44 metric tonnes per person per year in 2009. This is largely because of energy intensive air conditioning and desalination plants for water. Because water and electricity is free, there is little incentive to cut usage.
The UK spends more on gas from Qatar than any other country. In 2011 the UK spent £4.25bn on Qatari gas, 70 per cent more than our next largest import partner, Norway.
This is not because the UK imports more gas from Qatar than Norway but because it is much more expensive.
The tiny emirate has more than 15 per cent of the world’s proven gas reserves and has talked about using “unconventional sources” in future, opening the possibility of deepwater drilling or shale.
Migrant workers, including workers on gas rigs, make up more than 80 per cent of Qatar’s population and come mostly from south and south-east Asia.
According to Amnesty International they are “inadequately protected under the law and continued to be exploited and abused by employers.”
Womens rights are advanced for the region and female athletes went to the Olympics this summer.
As a developing country Qatar does not have fixed emission reduction targets, nor has it made any voluntary pledge to cut emissions.
There will be pressure on Qatar and other Middle Eastern countries to announce targets during the UN meeting.
In Qatar, 22 per cent of the land is designated as a protected area by the Ministry of Environment. This number far exceeds the 10 per cent stipulated by signatories to the Convention on Biological Diversity, of which Qatar is a signatory – although it is tiny areas since the country is so small.
Qatar has several wildlife initiatives including banning camel grazing, which can be harmful to plant growth; reintroducing and protecting threatened fish species and their coral habitats; monitoring and protecting seasonal sea turtle breeding grounds; and monitoring and protecting the migratory patterns of the dugong sea mammals.
Time to cut carbon?
Qatar is one of the 10 developing countries predicted to be most affected by rising sea levels, so it has an interest in acting on climate change.
As hosts of the conference, the Qataris have promised to do everything possible to make to keep carbon emissions as low as possible.
The Qatar National Convention Centre is certified by the US Green Building Council’s as a Leader in Energy and Environment Design (LEED). It used sustainably logged wood and some 3,500 meters of solar panels can provide up to 12.5 per cent of the building’s energy needs. Skylights built into exhibition halls bring in natural light. More than 400 buses will be laid on to reduce emissions from transport, including some run on biofuels. The website claims that materials and items used at the conference will be “disposed of responsibly, through reuse, donation to charitable organisations, recycling, and composting or energy recovery”. Paper use will be minimised through the ‘PaperSmart’ system that means documents are only printed out on request.
Christiana Figueres, head of the UN Climate talks, said Qatar should be more committed to tackling climate change.
“Climate change and increase in temperatures is making Qatar even more vulnerable to the lack of water and food insecurity” she said. “Every single drop of water that is used in Qatar needs to be desalinated. Every single gram of food that is eaten needs to be either imported or grown with desalinated water. I have no doubt they (Qatar) are committed to a (meeting) that is not only going to be successful in format but that is actually going to be successful in substance.”
A greener future
Qatar, like many other Middle Eastern nations, is aware the oil and gas will eventually run out.
The Qatar Foundation has been set up to switch the nation from a supplier of fossil fuels to a “knowledge economy”.
Billions are being spent on developing new technology to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. A greenhouse in the coastal desert uses solar panels to power desalination plants and grow food. Biofuels are being developed for aeroplanes.
Qatar also owns the forthright satellite TV station Al-Jazeera, which has attracted a growing audience, and is a powerful tool for changing attitudes.
The symbol of the Qatar Foundation is the Sidra tree, where poets and scholars would traditionally gather.
“With its roots bound in the soil of this world and its branches reaching upwards toward perfection, it is a symbol of solidarity and determination,” says the Foundation. “It reminds us that goals of this world are not incompatible with the goals of the spirit.”
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