Qatar and the climate debate

Living in relative luxury in Qatar, it is sometimes possible to feel removed from the consequences of climate change. But the harsh truth is that this small peninsula is as vulnerable as it gets.  It suffers from a scarcity in drinkable water and local food supply with an average annual rainfall of only 82 mm. If average temperatures rise and rainfall does not increase, there would be moisture losses from Qatar’s water-stressed land. Two broad effects would arise – further desertification and increased water needs. Since the country is dependent on desalination, which is energy intensive, energy consumption would rise and, correspondingly, CO2 emissions. Increased temperatures would also exacerbate air quality problems and adversely affect human health.

Qatar is one of three countries in the Arabian Gulf (along with Kuwait and Bahrain) with extreme vulnerability to sea level rise as it is liable to inland flooding of 18.2% of its land area, at less than a 5 metre rise in sea level, along with the associated adverse impacts on the population as 96% are living in the coastal areas. Due to the shallow depths of Qatar’s marine waters, even small rises in temperature will have a profound influence. Furthermore, climate change would cause the extinction of species such as whales, dolphins and turtles in addition to causing coral bleaching. The Ministry of Environment’s marine sensitivity atlas classifies mangroves, coral reefs and sea grass beds as sensitive ecosystems which will be adversely impacted by climate change. Migratory patterns for some sea birds and other marine species could also change.

Taking all these factors into consideration, Qatar has as high a stake as anyone else in mitigating the negative impact of our changing climate while preserving economic and social interests. This is why our place at the negotiating table is crucial and valuable and should not be underestimated. Abdulhadi Nasser Al Marri has been part of this process for a decade now, even before he was appointed the director of the newly-formed climate change department in the Ministry of Environment, back in 2014.

While all the Gulf States were represented in the pavilion at COP22 as a single entity, the GCC doesn’t quite negotiate as a bloc. However, within the GCC there is an active climate change working group which is chaired by whichever country is currently holding the presidency. We meet and discuss our positions before the COP. We already published some general framework for adaptation strategies in the Gulf. But Qatar is very active within the Arab Group, Al Marri says. “Many of the GCC counties are part of the Like Minded Group of Developing Countries (LMDC) and the G77 and China. We don’t really work individually but we do have some distinct positions and interests, which are always accommodated through the groupings. This way, we try our best to support the ideas that are related to Qatar’s environmental, social, and economic interests,” he says.

Sitting down with us during the final hours of the summit, Al Marri talks about his expectations from COP22. “We want to lay down the rules for the implementation of the Paris Agreement, see more operationalisation. We also want to see our interests as a developing country reflected. It’s a step in the right direction to have bottom-up and nationally driven targets but we need further support from the developed world in the areas of capacity building and technology transfer,” he says. Qatar has already signed the Paris Agreement and it will be ratified in the coming weeks once the Shura Council gives its formal approval, according to Al Marri.

Qatar’s Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, which will no longer be “intended” but actual national climate goals once the Paris Agreement is ratified, lists a series of goals of economic diversification and adaptation, both with mitigation co-benefits. Al Marri says this was arrived at through a stakeholder consultation workshop to get all the concerned parties in the country involved and aware. There was also a degree of coordination with other GCC countries, for all of whom economic diversification forms the strategic core of all national development plans. “We worked with the UNFCCC who sponsored a workshop for developing INDCs in the Gulf, with consultants from the South Centre,” Al Marri says. However, unlike the NDCs of the UAE and Saudi Arabia, for example, Qatar’s INDC doesn’t set any specific, concrete targets around emission reduction or energy generation through renewables.

Al Marri assures us that this is the next step, expanding the summarised INDC into something more detailed and projects-oriented. “We are working on aligning it with the Qatar Vision 2030 so that they complement each other. In the short term, the National Development Strategy for 2017–2022 will also be developed with the Paris Agreement in mind. We are very serious about climate action and want to take a leading initiative in the Gulf and in the region; our national vision clearly places environment among the four pillars. Qatar is one of the very few countries in the region with a dedicated department for climate change. But at the same time we don’t want to rush into anything without having everyone on board or without studying the social and economic consequences of response measures. Our single-commodity economy is especially vulnerable to such policies. So we are serious and want to move forward with other parties in the convention, but we are also realistic.”

“Next year, we’ll see more news around our climate action plans after our next stakeholder consultation in the first quarter of 2017,” Al Marri says. “After this we will go ahead with the development of our NDC, with the support of our UNFCCC colleagues.” He stresses that the Ministry of Environment is not alone in this process, and the make-up of the Qatari delegation at the COP is proof of that. “We are here not only as the Ministry of Municipality and Environment but as a group representing different partners from the private sector, academic and semi-governmental organisations. For example, we have representatives here from Qatar University, the meterological department, KAHRAMAA, Qatar Petroleum, Civil Aviation Authority, etc. When we are back in Doha, these same parties will also be part of our strategy. And this is indicative of how we intend to proceed on climate action – in a fully transparent manner and with the support of our partners,” he says.

Climate finance is almost always a contentious subject during COPs and Al Marri knows this, having been a board member of the Adaptation Fund for three years. With the CDM markets on their last legs, the fund has not been healthy, he says, while underlining how important it is for the fund to continue beyond Kyoto. “It’s important to keep alive the Adaptation Fund’s direct access approach. However what we are seeing now are delays with a lot of projects in the pipelines and no clarity on how they will be financed. If the process is slow, it will take longer for developing countries to implement adaptation measures,” he says.

As a developing country, Qatar could benefit from the funds, especially considering adaptation is a priority for Qatar, Al Marri says. But Qatar is working concurrently with the likes of UNDP and UNEP to focus on capacity building and technology support outside of the UNFCCC. “These two aspects are sometimes not given as much importance as the financial side,” he says. “For Qatar, these are very important because despite all the work we are doing in mitigation and adaptation, technology limits our ambition. On the environmental side, we are focusing a lot on pollution control technology at the end of the pipe and enhancing existing performance of units. We still need to have R&D support to push the technology on the emission control side, especially suited to our harsh and arid climate. These innovations are coming up but they need to be commercialised as soon as possible. This doesn’t include just physical technology but also applied tech like blue carbon.”

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