Qatar braces for Climate Conference

It is still six months away, but already the first shots have been fired in what may turn out to be a very interesting face-off in Doha.

    It's still six months away but already the first shots have been fired in what may turn out to be a very interesting face-off in Qatar. 

    It will take place in Doha on November 26, when some 17,000 people are expected to arrive for the 18th "Conference of Parties" (COP) meeting.

    Known as COP18, it's the official annual gathering of the UN's ambitious "Framework Convention on Climate Change" and it will be Qatar's largest international event to date.  

    I say "face-off" because, well, that's what a lot of people are expecting.

    If last year's conference in Durban, South Africa, is anything to go by, a vocal minority amongst that 17,000 crowd will be here not to talk but to criticise and provoke, and organisers here that I have spoken to are already very worried about how the conference will be policed. (FIFA will doubtless also be a little concerned, and keeping a close eye on that aspect of things.)

    However, the "first shots" that I'm referring to involved an entirely different confrontation, and they were not so much fired but gently hinted at inside the conference venue, Doha's impressive new National Convention Centre.

    I was among a small (and very well-behaved) audience who had gathered there this week to see the conference agreement finalised between Qatar and the UN.

    The UN's Christina Figueres, and incoming COP President Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah, signed the papers, and spoke briefly of grand visions, new intiatives and the promise of future agreements.

    Mindful of the heated emotions surrounding the topic, Figueres even tried to pre-empt some of the criticisms, acknowledging the existence of inter-governmental disagreements and warning that "there always are glitches in a COP".

    Even so, the very first question from the press immediately exposed what will be one of the major issues at this event: the choice of Qatar as conference host.

    Even though the Convention Centre itself has been lauded as "the most green building" ever to stage this event, and one of the greenest in the entire convention industry, how, one journalist inquired gently, did Ms Figueres view the region overall, and its carbon reduction?

    It was a loaded question.

    It's no secret that Qatar's carbon footprint is the biggest in the world, indeed, per capita, the top three carbon emitting nations are all Gulf states.

    Ever since Doha was proposed as the venue, conference organisers have been wondering how to answer questions about the bizarre logic of bringing 17,000 people to the desert in mid-summer.

    Won't the energy expended in flying them here, feeding them, cooling them and transporting them around make a mockery of the idea of cutting carbon emissions?

    And what of a legacy? The UN demands that every conference host create some kind of initiative to offset the inherently polluting nature of the event. While Qatar's been toying with ideas like boosting it's mangrove swamps, no decision on a legacy has been offically announced.

    The sensitivity of the issue was immediately highlighted by the COP18 president. Despite the benign nature of the question, he accused "some" people of trying to "create scapegoats, and not recognising their own problems".

    Al-Attiyah spoke of how Qatar's role in supplying liquefied natural gas to India had played a direct role in improving air quality in New Delhi, concluding that "we contribute to the world to solve their problems, and we should be compensated".

    What that bargain might entail was not quite explained, but as warning shots go, the suggestion should make for at least one interesting discussion in November.


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