COP26 and Climate Action Plan: Is Qatar getting serious about global warming?

    18 Nov 2021

    Photo: Amiri Diwan

    Qatar is the world’s largest producer of liquefied natural gas. The latest cabinet reshuffle by Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani last month saw the re-creation of an environment and climate change ministry headed by Minister Faleh bin Nasser Al Thani.

    This Gulf state was among the participants at the global COP26 Summit. Among the most recent activities by the new ministry, formed just weeks ahead of the ambitious UN Climate Summit or COP26 in Glasgow, was the unveiling of a national climate change action plan to achieve a 25% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

    This is in line with Qatar’s latest updated NDC (National Determined Contribution) submitted to UNFCCC in August as part of the Paris Agreement Commitment, Doha News states.

     

    The new strategic plan by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MoECC) comes in the framework of Qatar’s commitment to fighting climate change by diversifying its economy, building capabilities, and enforcing new and necessary legislation and regulations.

    Qatar’s move follows other Gulf Arab states, including the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, both of which announced net-zero emission targets by 2050 and 2060, respectively, ahead of the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow.

    Qatar’s national action plan on climate change was developed in coordination with more than 50 entities within the country. The comprehensive plan sets goals at the national level to confront climate change through more than 35 mitigation initiatives and more than 300 adaptation initiatives.

    Recently, Qatar criticized nations for making vague net-zero pledges, saying it would be wrong to commit to eliminating planet-warming emissions without having a proper plan in place after neighboring country UAE announced it would become the first of the Persian Gulf’s petrostates to announce Net-Zero by 2050.

    This was followed by Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, which set their eyes on 2060.

    The issue is that the UAE and several other nations planning to net-out emissions have offered few details on how they’ll achieve their targets; beyond that they’ll invest more in renewable energy. 

    Qatar is the world’s largest producer of liquefied natural gas and still aims to expand LNG production to 127 million tonnes annually by 2027. It says its gas production helps combat climate change globally because it can help the world shift from high-polluting fuels like oil and coal to renewable energies. The plan pledges to intensify efforts at carbon capture and storage at its gas production facilities.

    This planned pledge was recently criticized by Clean Air Task Force researcher Jonathan Banks, who was quoted by Climate Home as saying: “Qatar has maintained a pioneering role in the international efforts to tackle climate change & promote sustainable development through the export of natural gas and its derivatives to the world’s energy market is a misleading statement for sure.”

    Burning gas produces less carbon dioxide than burning coal or oil – but emissions from the production process can sometimes cancel out these benefits.

    Well, for oil and gas countries like Qatar who are planning a fair transition away from fossil fuels, this will take a long time – so it’s best to start early.

    While its long-term vision may be ambitious with the 25% reduction of CO2 by 2030, some quick wins like tackling methane emissions, a more potent warming gas than carbon dioxide, can be undertaken.

    This was the case – and a positive step – started by the United States, Canada, Norway, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar at the Net Zero Producers Forum, which outlined strategies to stop methane leaks and flaring, deployment of carbon capture and storage technologies, diversification from reliance on hydrocarbon revenues, and other measures, in line with each country’s national circumstance.

    Also, a plastic ban could be another quick win, especially as plastic production continues to expand worldwide, fuelled in part by large oil production.

    Some reports say plastic contributes to greenhouse gas emissions at every stage of its lifecycle, from its production to its refining and how, it is managed as a waste product.

    Plastic is just a form of fossil fuel. The emissions associated with plastics production and incineration could account for 56 gigatons of carbon between now and 2050.

    Also, individual attention to our own footprint is also critical to understanding our own impact on the environment. Carbon emissions from your lifestyle choices, from transportation to diet, impact the climate.

    This is a global problem, but anyone can be part of the solution, as seen in a recent project led by the Arab Youth Climate Movement Qatar Measuring Household Carbon Footprint project as part of a broader program to increase awareness among stakeholders in Qatar of the climate impact of community actions.

    In the long run, economic diversification is one of the key, high-profile and long-term initiatives proposed by Qatar to propel growth and prosperity in a bid to move beyond its dependence on fossil fuels.

    Although various diversification initiatives have been rolled out, Qatar has yet to venture fully into innovation.

    However, a recent announcement by Qatar and Rolls-Royce to team up in a multi-billion-pound project to develop and invest in green technology start-ups in the UK and the Gulf Arab state is a great start.

    Qatar needs such a parallel economic stream that depends on research, innovation, and technology in the field of the low carbon sector, which is not limited to renewable energy but rather exploring a broader scope that looks into water, waste, transport, etc.

    The new frontier for climate action

    In the last few months, there has been a heightened interest in climate change issues across the Gulf region, with new climate envoys, ministries, net-zero announcements, and more focused implementation of various strategies and roadmaps to reduce emissions and achieve net-zero.

    We’re witnessing a noticeable shift, with greater involvement and even leadership coming from senior members of governments keen on moving away from the positions of the past.

    The new targets align the state of Qatar with most major economies and have undoubtedly raised expectations. Furthermore, the participation of Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim – the only Gulf leader at this year’s COP26 UN Climate Summit in Glasgow – shows Doha’s commitment to climate action beyond its borders.

    Neeshad Shafi is an environmentalist, speaker, and policy-oriented social change advocate, best known for his work on environmental and climate change policy in the Gulf and the Middle East.

     

     

    Opinion: Immediate change is the only way to tackle the climate crisis

    Let’s get to know what Peter Harrison had written for Arab News on the climate change issue.

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    For as long as I can remember, there has been talk of saving the planet – it is nothing new.

    Now, in a cold, gray, and rather damp Glasgow, the world’s leaders are yet again speaking about the same subject.

    So far, there have been pledges to end deforestation, reduce methane emissions and slow the increase in global temperatures all good sense.

    But cast your mind back to December 2015, when the world agreed to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions substantially. The aim was to limit the global temperature increase this century to 2° C above pre-industrial levels, while pursuing the means to limit the increase to 1.5° C, but that has not happened yet.

    In his opening remarks in Glasgow, COP26 President Alok Sharma acknowledged that time was running out for the planet. He said that “we know the window to keep 1.5° C within reach is closing.” Sharma referred to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report in August, which made the not-so-shocking revelation that “human activity is unequivocally the cause of global warming.” Now I might be missing something here, but what else could it have been?

    OK, flatulent cows have a lot to answer for. The methane they emit is absolutely a cause of global warming; the gas traps heat in the atmosphere. But just pause for a moment and consider this: Why are there so many cows on the planet in the first place? It is not because of a calf boom brought on by frisky bovine — it is entirely because of people’s greed for meat.

    And it is not just the methane that is a problem. In February, the World Resources Institute revealed that one of the main reasons for deforestation was to make room for cattle ranchers. Another reason for such widespread loss of the world’s forests was the creation of palm oil and then soy, both used in the bulking out of produce.

    The unifying factor of these? They are all profit-driven and absolutely unessential; we can live without them, or at the very least, reduce our consumption of them.

    We cannot save the planet for future generations if all we are going to consider is profit.

    Under Donald Trump’s presidency, the US left the Paris Agreement because he said it was bad for the US economy. If we are to save the planet, then we must accept that profits will fall, at least while we diversify — it is happening in some places.

    Take oil-rich Saudi Arabia, a country whose economy has been driven by the black stuff for decades. The Kingdom this week offered to lead the way toward a cleaner economy driven by hydrocarbons that are less harmful to the planet and are a gateway to even cleaner fuels.

    Who would have thought it? Saudi Arabia offering to make such a massive lifestyle change, and at a time when the likes of Australia and the UK are still talking about burning coal?

    When I was a child, there were droughts and famine, extreme weather that left a trail of destruction in its path — the climate has been suffering for as long as I can remember.

    The leaders in Glasgow need to commit, change their laws and change the way they look at the economy, while we all need to change our eating habits.

    The climate activists, the Greta Thunbergs of this world, have been the only people with a consistent message throughout: Make changes now or, in the not-too-distant future, face up to the consequences of our greed.

    I have six nieces and nephews it is they and their friends who will have to deal with the consequences of our inaction. I shudder to think what things will be like for their children.

    The leaders in Glasgow need to commit, change their laws and change the way they look at the economy, while we all need to change our eating habits.

     

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    The real difficulties in climate change and how to address them

    Let’s read the opinion of Nidhal Guessoum, a professor at the American University of Sharjah, UAE, published in the Arab News.

    The COP26 conference on climate change has just ended, and the results were mixed. On the positive side, a large majority of people worldwide, particularly the young generation, are fully convinced that climate change is a big problem and must be seriously addressed now. And on the ground, several governments have pledged to make a series of efforts: To reach “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, 2060, or 2070; “phase down” coal (close coal-fired power plants within a decade or two); stop deforestation by 2030 (although even that is not fast enough); other small steps.

    On the negative side, however, I think there has been too much focus on goals and target dates, and too little on the paths and scenarios that will get us there. Indeed, it is not enough for a country to announce, say, 2060 as its target date for net zero emissions; what is needed is a clear plan to achieve that. And judging from the media coverage that has accompanied COP26, I think most people still do not understand the most (and least) effective ways that will help us solve the problem (to a significant degree).

    So how can we do that? My simple advice to everyone is: Read Bill Gates’ recent book, “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster.” In it, he deconstructs the problem, explaining climate change clearly and documenting what a disaster it is now and how much bigger it will soon be, why we need net zero as soon as possible (although 2030 is not feasible), what areas of human activity (industry, transportation, energy, agriculture, etc.) are most impactful, and what to do about each.

    One important idea that Gates stresses is that we must be cognizant of the needs of developing countries in terms of energy and food production, building and infrastructure, etc. Thus, we cannot expect developing countries to cut down on emissions as much as rich countries, net-zero and we need to compensate rising countries for the efforts and sacrifices they will make.

    It is important to understand the reason for the problem we are facing: Fossil fuels are so widely used because they are abundant, powerful, very cheap, and easy to move. For almost a century now, we have developed whole industries for drilling, processing, and moving them. Conversely, renewable and clean energies are still expensive and inefficient. For example, compared to fossil fuels, nuclear and solar energies are (at least now) five to 10 times less efficient; other energies (wind, hydrothermal, etc.) are even less potent.

    The biggest difficulty in getting to net-zero is not in the transportation sector; it is in industry and electricity production.

    So the first lesson to learn is the need to develop effective energy production technologies: Solar power, safe nuclear (including small reactors for big ships), electric batteries for cars and buses, etc.

    Speaking of transportation, contrary to what one gets from the media (“why does so and so use private jets?”), it is not the primary source of global warming. It is so in the US (Americans fly and drive a lot), but not for the whole world. In fact, transportation contributes only 16% of global greenhouse gases, far behind industrial emissions (31%) and electricity production (27%). Even agriculture, particularly meat production (cow methane emissions), contributes 19% of greenhouse gases. This is mainly why, in 2020, when the pandemic wiped out 90% of flights, greenhouse gas emissions dropped by only 5%.

    Clean transportation, especially in cities, can certainly help to reduce both global warming and the pollution in the air we breathe. Indeed, many cities are now using electric buses, which can run for a few hours, then get charged again. And if gasoline is expensive (as in Europe), the “green premium” for going electric is very low, perhaps reaching zero, thus encouraging people to adopt it. In Europe, electric cars are already a good alternative for people who drive mainly around the city (not far and not for too long).

    Flying and shipping are more complicated, and we need to develop technologies for those: Alternative but efficient and clean fuels for planes, nuclear power for big ships, or other solutions. Additionally, we need to use video conferences more extensively to reduce the number of trips.

    The biggest difficulty in getting to net-zero is not in the transportation sector; it is in industry and electricity production. Gates says that when someone tells him they have a plan for the climate change problem, he asks them: “What’s your solution for cement?” By “cement,” he means “industry,” where we have not found a way to produce cement, steel, and plastic without filling the atmosphere with tons (or rather billions of tons) of carbon dioxide and other bad gases. Likewise for the power plants that produce electricity, which are still hugely needed in many parts of the world.

    To sum up, if we are going to address climate change properly, we must understand the specifics of the problem and the possible realistic solutions in each case. We need new technologies (better solar panels, better electric car batteries, better industrial processes, etc.) and effective policies (carbon tax, green subsidies, etc.). And we need clear, detailed governmental plans. The rest is just rhetoric.

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    What’s the real difference between “phase out” and “phase down” (speaking about COP26 pledges)? Let’s read the explanation here.

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