AL RAYYAN, Qatar (AP) — In a suburban park near Doha, the Qatari capital, cool air from floor vents hit joggers on a November day that hit nearly 32 degrees Celsius (90 Fahrenheit degrees).
The small park with air-conditioned trails is a good illustration of World Cup host Qatar’s responses so far to the rising temperatures facing its people. The wealthy Gulf Arab nation has been able to afford extreme adaptation measures like this thanks to the natural gas it exports to the world.
A small peninsula jutting out into the Persian Gulf, Qatar sits in a region that, outside of the Arctic, is warming faster than anywhere else in the world.
“It’s already bad. And it’s getting worse,” said Jos Lelieveld, an atmospheric chemist at the Max Planck Institute in Germany. Part of the reason is warming waters in the Persian Gulf, a narrow, shallow sea that helps stifle Qatar’s humidity for a few months.
“It’s a pretty tough environment. It’s quite hostile,” said Karim Elgendy, an associate member of London-based think tank Chatham House. Without its ability to pay for imported food, heavy air conditioning and desalinated seawater, he said, the contemporary country could not exist.
Qatar has already faced a significant increase in temperatures compared to pre-industrial times. Scientists and others concerned about climate change are trying to prevent the Earth as a whole from warming by more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) on average because research shows it will be profoundly disruptive. leaving many people homeless, flooding the coasts and destroying the ecosystems.
“Qatar has a lot to lose in terms of the effects of climate change,” said Mohammed Ayoub, a professor at Qatar’s Hamad bin Khalifa University Institute of Energy and Environmental Research. It is one of the hottest countries in the world and will experience even more extremes of heat, floods, droughts, and sand and dust storms.
If Qatar is one of the richest nations per capita in the world, it is also one of the most polluting per person. In this country, slightly smaller than the US state of Connecticut, large SUVs are a common sight, filled with cheap gasoline. Air conditioning explodes inside buildings throughout the year. Even the country’s drinking water consumes a lot of energy, and almost all of it comes from desalination plants that burn fossil fuels for the force needed to push ocean water through tiny filters to make it consumable.
In recent years, Qatar has inched up making climate promises. At the 2015 Paris climate talks, it made no commitment to cut emissions, but set a target six years after cutting emissions by 25% by 2030. One way would be to use carbon capture and storage at facilities gas production, a much-discussed technology. that has yet to be implemented at scale.
The country also recently connected a solar power plant to its power grid that could meet 10% of the country’s power needs at full capacity.
In Doha, there’s a new metro system, more green spaces and parks, and the upscale Msheireb district, which was designed to take advantage of natural wind flows.
But it is not clear that Qatar can reach its reduction target in seven years. At the recent UN climate conference in Egypt, Qatar’s environment minister, Sheikh Faleh bin Nasser bin Ahmed bin Ali Al Thani, said the country was “working to translate these ambitions into action.”
The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change did not respond to multiple requests from The Associated Press for comment on its emissions reduction plan.
In the past, he has said that a key effort will be to diversify Qatar’s economy.
Many observers say hosting the World Cup is part of oil and gas’s expansion to become a destination for entertainment and events. But to celebrate the event, Qatar built massive amounts of infrastructure over a 12-year period, with a massive carbon footprint, despite claims to the contrary.
“They can’t diversify without spending money,” Elgendy said. “And that money will come from oil and gas. It’s a bit of an enigma.”
GLOBAL DEMAND FOR GAS
Qatari officials and some academics argue that exporting liquefied natural gas to the world can help the transition to clean energy because the fossil fuel is less polluting than oil and coal. That view is less and less supported by science as the extent of leaks from natural gas infrastructure becomes clearer. Leaking natural gas is much more damaging to the climate than carbon dioxide, ton for ton.
Earlier this year, state-owned gas giant Qatar Energy joined an industry-led commitment Reduce nearly all methane emissions from operations by 2030. Methane is the main component of natural gas.
But a true shift away from fossil fuels has not yet begun.
After Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, Europe’s race to replace that country’s gas left Qatar, among the world’s leading producers and exporters of natural gas, in first position to benefit.
Qatar signed new agreements with several energy companies, including a recent 27-year deal to provide liquefied natural gas to Chinese oil and gas company Sinopec.
“Since the war in the Ukraine, everyone is talking to the Qataris now to see if they can get that gas,” Elgendy said.
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