Given the size of its hydrocarbons industry, Qatar has historically been a significant polluter, relative to its geographic and demographic size. However, the government is now working to take a leading role in cutting emissions and pushing the country towards international best practices on air pollution. Qatar has one of the highest rates of carbon emissions per capita in the world, standing at 53.5 tonnes per year in 2011, according to Climate Action, an environmental impact consultancy. Given its small population – 1.69m in 2010 – and the centrality of the hydrocarbons industry to the nation’s economy, accounting for 62% of government revenues in 2010/11, this is not particularly surprising. However, the government is not using this as an excuse for inaction. While Qatar is a signatory non-annex 1 country to the Kyoto Protocol, meaning that it has no legally binding international commitments on carbon emissions, it has become increasingly engaged in reducing its emissions.

CONCERTED EFFORTS: A clear sign of this was the decision by the UN to award the 18th annual Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP18) to Doha. Scheduled for November 2012, the meeting will bring together the leading players on climate change and put Qatar in the spotlight on carbon emissions. The government has already taken major strides in its bid to raise awareness of energy consumption and carbon emissions. As part of its winning bid for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the government committed to hosting a carbon-neutral event, which will include the construction and redevelopment of 12 solar-powered and solar-cooled stadiums. With its significant hydrocarbons revenues and successive budget surpluses, the Qatari government is well suited to lead the drive for green technologies that will be required to make good on this pledge. Indeed, in the medium to longer term, Qatar is hoping to develop a world-leading solar power industry.

One of the firms that will be key to this success is Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute (QEERI), a member company of the government-owned Qatar Foundation. QEERI has begun research on the application of solar technologies on the peninsula and how to deal with dust and humidity. According to Rabi Mohtar, the executive director of QEERI, “Qatar is a prime area for solar power, but where in the country nobody knows.” The institute is also looking at ways of improving solar efficiencies, including work on self-cleaning robots for solar panels affected by desert dusts. This research certainly places the country at the forefront of efforts to develop new green technologies. However, according to Mohtar, “I think we will be at the cutting edge of new technologies, but it is going to take a while.”

EMISSION REDUCTION: In the short term, emphasis will be on managing and reducing emissions from the oil and gas sector. The driving force is the Ministry of Environment, which is keen to limit or eliminate emissions. It is particularly concerned about the level of flaring, and the country has already taken significant steps in this regard. For example, Qatar is the first Gulf country to join the World Bank’s Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership, and in 2010 reduced its gas flaring by 14% to 67bn cu feet. This placed Qatar among the top 20 countries for reductions in 2010, continuing a downward trend which has seen flaring fall from 84.8bn cu feet in 2007. Work in this area is ongoing.

These efforts are supported by various other measures within the country’s hydrocarbons sector. At the 20th World Petroleum Congress held in Doha in December 2011, for instance, GE Oil & Gas announced a deal to provide advanced combustion technology to Qatar Operating Company for the purpose of reducing gas emissions at the Qatargas 1 liquefied natural gas site. Further deals are likely over the coming years as the government looks to further reduce emissions from its flagship industry.