Her Excellency Sheikha Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, daughter of the Emir, spoke at the panel on the role of women in climate change on Tuesday, and she indicated that much as the women want to see things through a different lens, so do the people of Qatar. In some ways, it seems incongruous to have the climate talks taking place in an oil-producing country with the highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions. Her Excellency explained that Qatar is in the process of change itself, especially as it moves from an energy-based economy to a knowledge-based economy. While she didn’t elaborate, Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary to the UNFCCC, pointed out that Qatar “fought” for the right to host the conference and put forward many good arguments.
In many ways, Qatar seems to be behind in terms of environmental policies. Just this week, they have started a pilot program for city-wide recycling. Oil is clearly a cheap commodity, with a 15-minute taxi ride costing only $3.50. SUVs are commonplace. Yes, they are the second-richest country in the world with the highest per capita emissions.
Despite this, Qatar does seem committed to change. They have always had to worry about water – they have to rely on desalinated water for all domestic use. For agricultural use, farmers use water from the aquifer, but they are using 250 million cubic meters/year, and the recharge rate is only 56 million cubic meters/year. In 2008, global food prices shot up rapidly, and as they import 90% of their food, this was very alarming. That year, the Qatar National Food Security Program (QNFSP) was established, and they are actively exploring ways to ensure food and water security. For water, they are moving towards using renewable energy for the desalination process, with excess water being diverted to the aquifer. They are also exploring different agricultural practices, including man-made “oases” with tiered plantings (trees providing shade for lower crops) and urban gardens.
Much of the new construction is “green” and LEED-certified, including the convention center where COP 18 meets. Qatar also won the bid for the World Cup in soccer for 2022, and they are designing the required new stadiums to be “carbon neutral,” relying heavily on solar panels for the energy to keep the stadiums at a cool 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
While much of the world will still need to be convinced, I can only be hopeful that Qatar will take the lead in moving from fossil fuels to renewables, and from an energy-based economy to a knowledge-based economy. Like the rest of the world, they recognize that they are vulnerable to climate change, and they are taking steps for mitigation and adaptation.