Energy-rich Qatar faces rapidly increasing climate risks at home

AL RAYYAN, Qatar (AP) — At a suburban park near Doha, the Qatari capital, cool air from vents in the ground blasted runners on a November day that reached nearly 32 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit).

The small park with air-conditioned pathways is a case in point of World Cup host Qatar’s responses, so far, to the soaring temperatures its people face. The rich Gulf Arab nation has been able to pay for extreme adaptation measures like this thanks to the natural gas it exports to the world.

A small peninsula jutting out into the Persian Gulf, Qatar sits in a region that, outside of the Arctic, is warming faster than anywhere else on earth.

“It’s already bad. And it’s getting worse,” said Jos Lelieveld, an atmospheric chemist at Germany’s Max Planck Institute. Part of the reason is warming waters in the Persian Gulf, a narrow, shallow sea that helps stifle moisture in Qatar for some months.

“It’s a pretty tough environment. It’s quite hostile,” said Karim Elgendy, an associate member of the London-based think tank Chatham House. Without its ability to pay for imported food, heavy air conditioning and desalinated ocean water, he said, the contemporary country could not exist.

Qatar has already faced a significant increase in temperatures since pre-industrial times. Scientists and others concerned about climate change are trying to keep the Earth as a whole from warming by more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) on average because research shows it will be profoundly disruptive, rendering many people homeless, flooding coasts and destroying ecosystems.

“Qatar has a lot to lose in terms of the effects of climate change,” said Mohammed Ayoub, a professor at the Environment and Energy Research Institute at Qatar’s Hamad bin Khalifa University. It is one of the hottest countries in the world and will experience even more extreme temperatures, floods, droughts, and sand and dust storms.

COMMITMENTS TO THE CLIMATE

If Qatar is one of the richest nations per capita in the world, it is also one of the most polluting per capita. In this country slightly smaller than the US state of Connecticut, big SUVs are a common sight, filled with cheap gas. Air conditioning blows up building interiors year-round. Even the country’s drinking water is energy-intensive, and nearly all of it comes from desalination plants that burn fossil fuels with enough force to push ocean water through tiny filters to make it consumable.

In recent years, Qatar has made progress in making climate pledges. At the 2015 Paris climate talks, it did not pledge to cut emissions, but set a target six years later to cut emissions by 25% by 2030. One way could be to use capture and storage of carbon at gas production facilities, a much-discussed technology that has yet to be implemented on a large scale.

Recently, the country also connected a solar power plant to the electricity grid that could supply 10% of the national energy needs at full capacity.

Doha has a new metro system, more green spaces and parks, and the unique Msheireb neighborhood, designed to take advantage of natural wind flows.

But it is unclear whether Qatar can meet its reduction target in seven years. At the recent United Nations climate conference in Egypt, Qatar’s environment minister Sheikh Faleh bin Nasser bin Ahmed bin Ali Al Thani said the country was “working to translate these ambitions into reality”.

The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change did not respond to multiple requests from the Associated Press for comment on its plan to cut emissions.

In the past, he has said a key effort will be to diversify Qatar’s economy.

Many observers say hosting the World Cup is part of the expansion from oil and gas to become an entertainment and event destination. But to stage the event, Qatar built massive amounts of infrastructure over a 12-year period, leaving a huge carbon footprint, despite its claims to the contrary.

“They can’t diversify without spending money,” Elgendy said. “And that money will come from oil and gas. It’s a bit of a conundrum.”

GLOBAL GAS DEMAND

Qatari officials and some academics argue that exporting liquefied natural gas to the world can help the clean energy transition because the fossil fuel is less polluting than oil and coal. This view is increasingly unsupported by science as the extent of leaks from natural gas infrastructure becomes clear. Natural gas leaks are far more damaging to the climate than carbon dioxide, ton for ton.

Earlier this year, state-owned gas giant Qatar Energy joined an industry-led pledge to reduce nearly all methane emissions from operations by 2030. Methane is the major constituent of natural gas .

But a real move away from fossil fuels has yet to start here.

After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Europe’s rush to replace gas from that country has left Qatar – one of the world’s top natural gas producers and exporters – in pole position to take advantage.

Qatar has signed new deals with several energy companies, including a recent 27-year deal to supply liquefied natural gas to Chinese oil and gas company Sinopec.

“After the war in Ukraine, now everyone is talking to Qatar to see if they can get that gas,” Elgendy said.

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Follow Suman Naishadham on Twitter: @SumanNaishadham

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