06 Dec, 2012 |
Growing Qatar planning its long term water supply
Unprecedented progress for a desert nation, says head of food security programme
Security matters: Fahad Bin Mohammed Al-Attiya and Robert Stavins discuss sustainability

Qatar has set a precedent for a desert nation by dramatically expanding its economy despite the lack of a natural water supply.

Speaking at the UN climate change conference Fahad Bin Mohammed Al-Attiya, Chairman of the Qatar National Food Security Programme (QNFSP) said the state had adapted to water scarcity, developing and growing despite lacking this vital resource, and was now looking at new ways to ensure water and food security.

Mr Al-Attiya, who is also Chairman of the COP18/CMP8 Organising Sub-Committee, took part in two discussions on the subject of resources and said there had to be alternatives to food imports and high-energy water desalination. Qatar, he said, was aiming to find solutions through various programmes. “The bar is very high, and it is something that we have to overcome.”

“It is a precedent in history that the Gulf has developed to this point without water,” said Mr. Al-Attiya at a panel entitled ‘After Doha: Balancing Adaptation, Mitigation, and Economic Development’, hosted by the Qatar Government and the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements.

“In a sense, we have adapted, but how secure is it?” said Mr. Al-Attiya. Food security had become a national strategic issue, he said, noting that it was in response to the question of security that Qatar had launched both a national and an international initiative.

Within Qatar, the QNFSP will use a range of tools, devloping solar-powered desalination, sustainable farming and technology. “By investing to overcome our own vulnerability, we will allow others to benefit,” he said.

As part of a broader international initiative to find solutions to the common problems faced by arid lands in about 60 countries around the world and affecting about 2 billion people, Qatar has spearheaded the Global Dry Land Alliance.

While Qatar’s initiatives are “costly” according to Mr. Al-Attiya, he said the country was taking a lead because “it’s not a ‘want’ project, it’s a ‘need’ project,” and Qatar was particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.

Another speaker at the panel discussion was Robert Stavins, an economist and Director of the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements. His project’s goal was to find scientifically sound, economically rational and pragmatic policy options for addressing global climate change through about 50 research institutions around the world.

He said his project found four main lessons on how to approach climate change solutions, namely that market-based approaches are probably essential, that getting carbon prices right is necessary but not sufficient, that developing country participation is essential, and that the de facto interim policy architecture may already be emerging.

This last point refers to current carbon trading schemes that are currently working, including the CDM, or Clean Development Mechanism system that came out of the Kyoto Protocol.

In terms of adaptation to climate change effects, Rabi Mohtar, the Executive Director of the Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute (QEERI), explained some of the technology projects that Qatar is working on currently. QEERI, which is the incubator for environment and energy research under Qatar Foundation, is focusing on regional processes and variables relevant to arid climates. These include dust, heat waves and water scarcity, according to Mohtar. More than that, QEERI is looking to make solar-powered desalination a reality, with the added benefit of extra efficiency through reverse-osmosis processes.

The urgency of finding immediate ways forward in terms of stemming the tide of climate change was made clear by Carlo Carero of the University of Venice, who said that “we are on a path around or above 3 degrees” Celsius of global warming, above the 2 degrees which prominent scientists have warned is unacceptable.

“Today, greenhouse gas emissions, sea-level rise, and global temperature are in line with the highest scenarios projected in AR4,” he said, referring to the fourth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s regular Assessment Report released in 2007.

Asked about Qatar’s commitment, Mr. Al-Attiya pointed to some of Qatar’s important steps in gas flaring reduction through Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), which includes one of the largest CDM projects, its solar projects, and its significant investments in research and development.