Qatar moves to establish more sustainable developments

Gulf state looks to counter effects of rising temperatures with multibillion-dollar projects.

    Qatar is developing a number of sustainable settlements [Reuters]
    Qatar is developing a number of sustainable settlements [Reuters]

    During Doha's sweltering summers, when temperatures hit 45 degrees Celsius and steamy humidity makes the air feel even hotter, museum manager Fahad al-Turky tends to drive a lot and stay mainly indoors.

    But staying cool is getting easier in Msheireb Downtown Doha - an under-construction district of the Qatari capital - where he works.

    Developers of the 76-acre regeneration zone, which aims to become "one of the largest sustainable cities in the world", are outfitting it with green features, from rainwater harvesting to shady overhangs that make walking outside cooler.

    "To be able to walk to get coffee outside or to a restaurant - it is a different kind of experience," said al-Turky, 30. Around Doha's traditional office towers, he said, "there really isn't much shade". 

    Many of the more than 100 buildings in Msheireb - apartments, offices, hotels, a shopping mall and a primary school - are fitted with solar panels, solar water heaters and overhangs designed to shade the surrounding sidewalks.

    The mixed-use district - eight years in construction and preparing for its first residents this spring - also has hidden features, such as underground waste collection stations, and will connect to planned public transport in the city.

    There are systems that recover rainwater and air conditioning condensation into basement tanks, where the water is reused for irrigation and to flush toilets.

    "In Msheireb, we are taking the responsibility of building a sustainable city and looking after our environment here, and looking to lower carbon dioxide emissions," said Ali Saleh al-Yafei, the project manager at Msheireb Properties, which is developing the district.

    Gas-rich Qatar emits more carbon dioxide per person than any country in the world, a problem as the world tries to rein in climate change and avoid challenges ranging from extreme weather to sea level rise.

    Across the oil-producing Gulf, officials are eager to demonstrate that their countries can be as effective stewards of the environment as other nations.

    But that effort faces many challenges. Fossil fuel-produced electricity and water, for instance, are provided so cheaply in many countries that incentives to use less are limited for consumers.

    Rising temperatures in an already blisteringly hot region, however, are a reminder that the Gulf, too, will face powerful impacts of climate change.

    Msheireb developers hope their project could show how Qatar - and the rest of the Middle East - could cut emissions to help hold the line on climate change, in part by using fewer fossil fuels and less water.

    "This is the way forward in the region, and many developments are thinking about sustainability and green buildings to help the climate not to get hotter," al-Yafei told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

    Karim Elgendy, a sustainability consultant and founder of Carboun, an initiative to promote sustainable cities in the Middle East, calls Msheireb Downtown Doha "the best example of urban regeneration I've seen in the region in a while".

    "Msheireb is a genuine effort to fix the city centre," he said.

    The effect in the Middle East

    The 20 billion Qatari riyals ($5.5bn) Msheireb Downtown Doha project is a venture by Msheireb Properties, a subsidiary of the Qatar Foundation, an education and research organisation founded by the ruling emir's father.

    The project is part of a wider mission to meet Qatar's National Vision 2030 plan, which aims - among other goals - to reduce energy consumption and the nation's carbon footprint.

    Qatar, which will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, is looking at ways to reduce emissions around that event, and in cities beyond the capital.

    In Lusail, a new city being built 23km north of Doha and the planned home of one of the World Cup stadiums, a light rail system and water-saving irrigation systems are being put in place.

    The city is also being designed with plenty of trees and green spaces, to help keep a nation that swelters in summer heat and humidity cooler, said Radhouane Ben Hamadou, head of biological and environmental sciences at the Qatar University.

    The World Cup will be held in November and December, Qatar's winter season. But all the stadiums will have cooling technology installed, officials say, to encourage their year-round use after the tournament.

    Ben Hamadou said he thinks each city in Qatar will need its own individual path to reducing emissions, though new cities can draw lessons from Lusail.

    That includes the need for parks, open spaces and community facilities "to create a functional and complete city".

    The Msheireb Downtown Doha project can provide some "guiding principles" of sustainability in Qatar, he said, but "it is not just by itself a unit that can be just replicated", he said.

    The project, for instance, lacks enough green roofs to help keep buildings cool, and does not provide many green park areas, he said.

    He warned, as well, that carbon-cutting green changes in Qatar and other Middle East countries will not, by themselves, be enough to cool rising temperatures.

    Because climate change is a global problem, action by many countries across the world will be needed to successfully address the problem, he said.

    "The climate system is not defined by the emissions of one country or another," he said. "The climate will not change because of Msheireb."

    Other countries in the region, however, also are taking early steps towards cutting carbon emissions and building cities that are more liveable in hotter conditions.

    In Muscat, the sweltering capital of Oman, where summer temperatures sometimes don't drop below 42 degrees Celsius - even at night, a city extension based on the Msheireb Downtown Doha project is being planned.

    Allies and Morrison, the British firm that designed Msheireb Downtown Doha is designing the Madinat Al-Irfan project in Muscat as well.

    When it comes to creating greener and cooler housing in the region, "everybody wants to do it". "Actually doing it is harder," Elgendy said.

    A new 'liveable'

    At Msheireb Downtown Doha, streets have been designed as "tunnels for air" to channel breezes through the area, and taller buildings have been purposely placed to best throw shade on other buildings, al-Yafei said.

    At Msheireb Downtown Doha, streets have been designed as "tunnels for air" to channel breezes through the area, and taller buildings have been purposely placed to best throw shade on other buildings, al-Yafei said.

    The compact district, designed to make walking easier and more comfortable, also aims to get people out of the cars.

    With the first apartments in the district opening this spring, Ben Hamadou thinks the district can help change ideas of what a liveable neighbourhood should look like.

    "Raising the awareness of young people mainly here in Qatar and the region, and (awareness) of how we can save our resources - Msheireb will be a very good demonstration of that," he said.

    Al-Turky has already adopted some of the ideas he's seen used in the green district where he works for his own new home in a suburb of Qatar.

    His house has recessed windows to reduce sunlight coming in, for instance, and window tinting.

    "It's a reminder and a challenge to oneself that you might want to take some of these experiences and maybe implement them at home," he said.

    SOURCE: Reuters news agency