Qatar: Still Time to Lead

As Qatar comes closer to assuming the Conference of the Parties Presidency and leading the global negotiations for the next year, some are wondering whether having a COP in the Middle East was a big mistake. They are afraid that Qatar would be overly influenced by their neighbours the Saudis, who have been constantly labelled as obstructionist since the start of this process.

Though some governments in the region have long played a less than positive role in the international climate talks, ECO believes that as President of the COP, Qatar can be a champ and lead a more progressive bloc of Arab nations within the climate talks - not only at COP18, but well beyond.

In recent years, the Qatari government has successfully positioned itself as a key player in many high profile international arenas. As a state which has become actively involved in everything from the political situation in Afghanistan, to the various democratic movements across the Middle East and North Africa, as well as successfully securing the right to host various major international events, the government is playing a significant global role, particularly relative to Qatar's comparatively small size. 

Climate change is both a threat and opportunity for Qatar. It is a low-lying, small, semi-island state, with all its developments along the coast. This makes it extremely vulnerable to climate change impacts. However, since its main export is natural gas, this makes Qatar’s economy more resilient to a transition to cleaner fuels.

Despite these facts, climate change has not been a top public political priority for the Qatari Government.  But since they will now be thrust into the spotlight in their role as COP18 hosts, ECO has maintained the hope that Qatar would become a progressive climate leader.  Unfortunately, up until now, Qatar has not shown the leadership expected, and the Qatari government is running out of time to prove ECO right and those with concerns about a Qatari COP wrong.

This is the last negotiation session before everyone comes to Doha, and there is very limited time for Qatar to show its strong political leadership, and make sure that Parties come to COP18 with the political mandate needed to ensure a successful outcome.

There are many ways that Qatar can send a message to the international community that it is serious about climate change. One way to demonstrate leadership is to have the direct involvement of the Qatari Royal Family in climate change. This has happened on other issues; for example, H.H. Sheikha Moza, the second wife of the Emir of Qatar, has been a champion of education at home and abroad.  She is the Chairperson of the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, which has established the education city in Qatar. It would be ideal if a member of the Qatari Royal Family would become the first Arab champion of climate change. But with less than three months to go before COP 18 opens in Doha, the Qatari Royal Family still has not been involved in the issue or even made any statement in relation to the upcoming COP. 

Another way to prove leadership is for Qatar to put a meaningful mitigation pledge into the international process, as many other developing countries around the world have already done. This would make Qatar the first Arab country to do so. Although Qatar has the highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions, what matters is not where the country's emissions stand at the moment, but what it intends to do to constrain them in the future. If Qatar could help persuade other Arab countries to inscribe their own pledges in Doha, that would further demonstrate Qatar’s leadership on the issue. Many Arab countries already have national goals and policies. They only need to take the simple step of submitting these measures to the international process as pledges of action.

Finally, Qatar can ramp up its outreach to other governments in the months remaining before COP 18, becoming more familiar with both the substantive and political issues that will play a role in the success or failure of COP 18. As it has done with previous COP presidencies, Climate Action Network stands ready to provide support and advice to the Qatari government as it prepares itself to lead the negotiations in Doha.

The world needs significant progress to be made at COP 18:

·         adoption of a second commitment amendment to the Kyoto Protocol

·         successful completion of the unresolved issues in the Bali Action Plan, including ramped-up support for enhanced action by developing countries

·         agreement of a robust work plan for the new round of negotiations under the Durban Platform

Success on these fronts depends on skillful leadership by Qatar, which ECO knows it possesses, as well as the willingness of countries to make the compromises needed to reach agreement on all these fronts.

If COP18 is a success, Qatar's reputation will be further enhanced on the international stage. Conversely, without Qatar's full leadership, COP18 risks being viewed as a "do-nothing COP," or worse, a COP where the gains of Cancun and Durban were rolled back. The world can't afford this – we all have a stake in the success of the Qatari presidency. That's why ECO maintains its hope that Qatar will fully step up to its responsibilities as the incoming Presidency, and get the job done in Doha.

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