Qatar at the epicenter of global sustainability discussions for hot and arid environments

Dr. Gonzalo Castro de la Mata
10 April, 23

Countries in hot and arid environments such as those in the Gulf Cooperation Council or the MENA region face unique sustainability challenges. On the one hand, due to climate change, these countries will become even hotter and drier, placing additional pressures on their people, environments, and economies. On the other, these countries are often major exporters of hydrocarbons, which make them critical actors in the energy transition necessary to mitigate climate change.

Yet, the bulk of global sustainability discussions have focused on tropical and temperate regions, almost assuming that all countries have vast forests and abundant water. These frameworks have little applicability to hot and arid countries such as Qatar.

Fortunately, this is starting to change, and the recent Earthna Summit that took place in Doha last month is a good example of this. The Summit brought together over 1,500 participants in more than 20 sessions carefully designed to start new discussions about sustainability for these countries. The outcomes will not only have implications on Qatar but also more broadly for countries facing similar realities.

Defining sustainability

A main conclusion relates to the definition of sustainability itself. Qatar’s desert ecology, means it cannot be supported by its natural ecosystems alone – it relies on non-renewable natural capital in the form of natural gas. However, we can’t look past how this has transformed into human capital, infrastructure, investments, and savings. Therefore, sustainability needs to be understood in this context.

At the same time, very often we forget the great progress that human societies have achieved in the last centuries, and how human wellbeing is also an essential part of sustainability. Around the world, indicators related to societal wellbeing continue to improve thanks to innovation, science and technology. We cannot go back on this progress but rather, learn to make this progress environmentally sustainable.

Regarding food security, climate change will exacerbate desertification and may result in major losses of agricultural lands and subsequent human suffering, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. At the Summit, leaders from Zambia, Sierra Leone, Liberia and The Gambia committed to a new collaborative approach with Earthna to enhance food security and farmer resiliance. In cooperation with food and agriculture partners including UPL Ltd., AGRA, CGIAR, EMBRAPA and the Indian Institute of Management Rohtak, governments agreed to launch a pilot program focused on capacity building and demonstration plots for crops suited to climate tolerance, a significant step for adaptation.

Tackling energy and climate impact

On energy and climate, discussions focused on the pivotal role that energy exporting countries play in the energy transition. It was emphasised that not all fossil fuels have the same level of environmental impact, and that cleaner and less carbon intensive fuels such as natural gas must be a key component of the global energy mix for years to come as it displaces dirty fuels such as coal and oil. As the gas chain decarbonises through technology, the useful life horizon of natural gas can be increased, and its positive environmental impacts extended.

The importance of biodiversity

Discussions were had around biodiversity and the critical importance of reestablishing a connection with nature based on values and ethics. In this regard, discussions took place regarding how we can draw inspiration from Islam and other faiths to revitalise biodiversity conservation. This also includes drawing on cultural heritage and indigenous knowledge to inspire modern sustainability approaches.

Sustainability in an urban environment

Finally, participants at the inaugural Earthna Summit were actually able to experience what sustainability means in an urban setting. The meeting, which was carbon neutral, took place in Msheireb, a Doha redevelopment with extraordinary sustainability features: renewable energy throughout, water saving features in every building, enhanced walkability, and the maintenance of cultural heritage through the maintenance of traditional Arabic architecture.

The 2023 Earthna Summit has placed Qatar at the epicenter of sustainability discussions for hot and arid environments. For those that were unable to attend, all sessions are available to watch on YouTube. We look forward to welcoming leaders in sustainability to future Summits.

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