Ironies abound in the choice of the diminutive Gulf state of Qatar as host of the latest round of UN climate talks which began this week in the Qatari capital Doha. Those who view Qatar as an incongruous destination for such an event have a long list of embarrassing facts to point to.
According to World Bank data, Qatar’s per capita emissions of CO2 are by far the largest in the world. On average, a resident of Qatar consumes nearly three times as much energy as one living in that bugbear of environmentalists, the United States. A member of OPEC, and the world’s largest supplier of liquefied natural gas, Qatar has no record of promoting energy conservation. On the contrary, it provides free electricity and water (produced through energy-intensive desalination) to all citizens and select government employees. Recycling is still a novel notion, and despite Qatar edging towards the top of the global list of GDP per capita, the government generously subsidises fuel, meaning petrol is cheaper than bottled water. The Qatari government has set no targets to reduce its CO2 emissions.
But whatever one’s view of the agreement reached on reducing global carbon emissions by the conference’s 17,000 delegates, it may be unwise to mock Qatar’s commitment to becoming an environmental leader, unlikely as that may sound.
Having leveraged its formidable oil and gas wealth in the last decade to increase its diplomatic profile in the Middle East region, its global ambitions were shown by its success in achieving another unlikely feat: winning the bid to host the 2022 football World Cup. That bid was secured on the undertaking that the indoor stadia to be used will be air-conditioned using solar energy.
And although Qatar’s current production of renewable energy is nil, it has announced a target to raise this to 20% of domestic consumption by 2024. It is also building a $1 billion plant to produce polysilicon, a material used in solar energy production, which is set to open next year. This summer the first contracts were awarded for a $36 billion metro network in the capital, Doha. Conscious of the image of brand Qatar, and spurred on by competition with other Gulf States, not least with Abu Dhabi whose zero-carbon, zero-waste Masdar City project has grabbed headlines, Qatar is likely to become a major market for renewable energy investment in the coming years.