Doha, Qatar - With summer temperatures often rising to 50 degrees, the small state of Qatar seems like an appropriate place to discuss global warming. The oil and gas rich country in the Arabian Gulf will host international climate negotiations in Doha, the capital, from November 26 to December 7. With more than 17,000 delegates and 1,500 journalists expected, the COP18 conference will be the largest the country has ever hosted.
Known for massive sport utility vehicles roving the streets, constant air conditioning, fossil fuel exports and a lack of democracy, some experts question whether Qatar is the best place to discuss solutions to climate change. Others say the conference will allow for greater Arab involvement in environmental negotiations, giving regions disproportionately affected by climate change a greater say in finding solutions.
Al Jazeera's Chris Arsenault spoke with Fahad bin Mohammed Al-Attiya, a conference organiser and chairman of Qatar's National Food Security Programme, to discuss the COP18.
Al Jazeera: How would you respond to critics who say that it's inappropriate for Qatar, the world's highest per capita greenhouse gas emitter, to host a climate change conference?
Fahad bin Mohammed Al-Attiya: We have the right to do so [host negotiations on global warming]. Qatar, like any other country, is impacted by climate change. As a matter of fact, they call this place the epicentre of climate change – there is no water and there is no food. We are impacted by all of these variables that happen outside of our borders. Add to that we import 90 percent of our food. Climate change is a strategic issue for us, hence the decision to host the climate change conference.
This conference highlights the issues that we face. It also allows the international community to come and see for themselves the sort of development that we are going through, despite the fact that such development is subject to all sorts of constraints – water [and] food.
Hosting the conference in this region hopefully should be a game changer. Many countries here will be attending. A lot of people from around the Arab world will be attending because the conference is being held in their region for the first time.
AJ: As the conference chair, how does the Qatari government plan to navigate the divisions between developed and developing nations on who should be responsible for emissions reductions?
FA: Bridging the gap is a long-term goal. I hope we can do it sooner, but it doesn't seem to be the case. I think one thing the world needs today more than ever is trust building.
One of the problems with bridging the gap is that a lot of the countries are not receiving enough investments. The reasons are very obvious: a lack of infrastructure, a lack of capacity… We in the Gulf have gone through this 50 years ago and I think many countries will go through this, perhaps more efficiently and effectively.
It took us 50 years to get where we are. I don't think it will take any other country that long today, given how integrated we are. Many countries could transform, given their resources, but unfortunately many of the resources in poor countries are not exploited to the benefit of their citizens. Bridging the gap is something that can happen; it just needs a bit of support and organisation by the international community.
AJ: What would a successful outcome of the conference look like? Would it be an extension of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol?
FA: The extension of the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol is one very important outcome of the Doha conference. Equally, the end of the Long-term Cooperative Agreement (LCA) - which is not an end onto itself of the negotiation process, but the beginning of an implementation process between now and 2020.
The third element of this is the work plan for the Durban platform between now and 2015. We all know that by 2015 we have to reach universal agreement. We all know this universal agreement will remove distinctions between countries, and every country will be responsible… depending on their capacity towards climate change.
Doha COP18 is a key milestone in this negotiation process. It is when the second commitment period is going to start. It is when the Durban platform negotiation work plan will start. It is when implementation between now and 2020 to bridge the gap will start. There are a lot of expectations to come from Doha and I hope it works well for everyone.
AJ: Protests are not normally permitted in Qatar. How will you respond to environmentalists who want to demonstrate against what they see as international in-action on climate change?
FA: We welcome the NGOs. They play a vital role in ensuring governments and other international organisations are kept in check all the time. They also play a very important role in feeding us the necessary information on how the world evolves environmentally. Protest has become part and parcel of this event. We welcome them to participate, to protest and get their voices heard towards policy leaders and others.
Qatar will be open about a lot of the ideas, suggestions and opinions such NGOs will bring to the table and I hope we will have a fantastic conference to host.
AJ: As one of the world's largest exporters of natural gas, one of the cleanest forms of fossil fuels, do you think Qatar should be getting emissions credits for its exports?
FA: Natural gas is a newcomer to the scene – it has been around for some time but not to the scales we have seen recently. In the years to come, we will witness a lot of transition to natural gas. If the world completely switched to natural gas, according to one climate scientist, we would be able to bridge the gap of ambition. But that means everyone has to switch from other forms of fossil fuels to natural gas. Whether that switch will generate the necessary credits you have referred to, I can't comment on that as I'm not aware of the technicalities.