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COP18 held on giant car city

05 December 2012, The Zimbabwean

Its roads packed with big 4 X 4 cars, Qatar, the Persian Gulf nation built upon the riches of petroleum and natural gas, ranking highly on per capita income indices, but with that ranking come huge carbon emissions per capita as well.

Was it the best choice to hold the 18th Conference of the Parties (COP18) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, taking place in Doha the country’s capital? Qatar becomes the first OPEC nation to hold the UNFCCC COP conference, it has the highest carbon emissions per capita in the world and is the largest exporter of liquefied natural gas.

Qatar has raised plenty of eyebrows with not only its hosting of COP18, but its controversial award of the 2022 World Cup. The Arab nation has already developed a name for itself with the hosting of many high-profile athletic events, and now is muscling its way onto the global political scene.

As a result, some observers say the Gulf state, as one of the planet's biggest producers of fossil fuels, is unsuitable to chair the conference.

COP18 will also shed light on Qatar’s commitment to fighting climate change and other sustainability related problems. Some accuse Qatar of simply “buying” these events.

Mentioning Qatar and sustainability in the same sentence is also a stretch, says Fatima-Zahra Ibrahim, a law student at the University of Hull and one of seven UK youth climate coalition members in Doha.

“Just walk around Doha and you will become immediately exasperated because the city was not built for walking. Trying to cross a street is a nightmare. Forget dodging automobiles and giant SUVs, Nissan Patrol, Toyota Land Cruiser safe pedestrian crossings are few and between,” Zahra says.

The country’s water is desalinated, most food is imported from afar, homes are large and each one fitted with high energy consumption, lights are often left on all night and basic concepts like recycling seem foreign.

“Yes it would be easy to lay the blame for the world’s carbon ills at Qatar and its neighbours, though in fairness we have to consider the roles manufacturing giants such as China have on global CO2 emissions. Plus the US, Canada and other nations including Venezuela certainly produce plenty of fossil fuels. But there is a slow, but undeniable change underway in the Gulf Region. Qatar, and adjacent Saudi Arabia, are beginning to invest in solar,” Zahra says.

Qatar, unlike many oil-producing countries, shares its mineral wealth with its people, from education to housing to subsidising the price of food. The government redistributes money from its resources to citizens, resulting in the record US$88,221 GDP per capita. Qatari citizens also get other perks like free electricity and water, which offers little incentive to cut back on usage.

Only 15% of Qatar's 1,7 million residents are citizens, the rest are foreign workers, ranging from Western financiers and energy executives to temporary laborers from India, Pakistan, and other Asian countries. Qatar makes most of its money GDP is $170bn a year from selling oil and gas. It has the world's third -biggest natural gas reserves and is the top supplier of liquefied natural gas, according to the US government's Energy Information Administration.

Has the world is gripped in financial crisis, with African nations struggling with mounting debt, austerity programs and political inertia, Qatar has cash, lots of it. Whether investing in a billion dollar solar plant or becoming a hub for experimental architecture and green building, the stubborn fact persists that our fate in a post-oil world party rests on countries that fed our reliance on petroleum.

Qatar has the funds, and slowly the country is mustering the political will to fund science and education programs that can help to steer us out of this fix. Businesses focused on resolving or mitigating climate change can find a friendly home in Doha.

The ripple effects of climate change have hit the Middle East as well, from the quest for investment in far off farm land to the growing thirst for energy and water.

In 2008, Qataris used nearly triple the amount of carbon than the average American, at 49 metric tons per person.

But Qatar has shrugged off criticism of its record busting carbon emissions and instead extolled the virtues of its key export, natural gas.

COP18 president Abdullah Bin Hamad al-Attiyah, who is also the country’s deputy Prime Minister sought to deflect attention from his country's reputation as the world's biggest per-capita emitter of greenhouse gases.

"We should not concentrate on the 'per capita', we should concentrate on the amount... from each country, individually what they produce, because it goes to the air, open space," Attiya says.

He said that "even countries that produce coal" had in the past hosted the UN talks, and sought to portray gas as a safer, more energy-efficient alternative.

Many of the techniques developed by desert people of the centuries could be adapted to help other nations deal with climate change today, say the hosts.

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