Qatar has ambitious plans to go green, but the reality on the ground tells a different story. Penny Yi Wang and Amna Al-Saadi report.
By Penny Yi Wang and Amna Al-Saadi
Many eyebrows were raised when Qatar, home of the world’s biggest carbon footprint per capita, announced that it would host a major United Nations summit on the environment this November.
Critics say the apparent contradiction is representative of the country’s ambitious plans to go green versus the reality on the ground.
“Hosting a conference is pretty much just about having a nice hotel,” said Brad Sageman, chair of Earth and Planetary Sciences Department at Northwestern University. The oil-rich country has a lot to learn to achieve sustainability, he added.
But others argue that Qatar is the perfect choice to host this conference.
Qatar has the resources to lead the development of green technologies, which will further the aim of decreasing greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, said Jonathan Smith, Sustainability and Public Engagement Lead for the UN Climate Change Conference, Conference of Parties (COP-18), in a recent lecture at Northwestern University in Qatar.
Still, Qatar continues to grapple with major environmental issues, said Katrin Scholz-Barth, president of local non-governmental organization Sustainable Qatar.
A lot of initiatives are “happening on a top level rather than involving the mainstream of the public,” she said. “The first question we get is about recycling: Is there recycling? And if so, where can I bring it?” said Scholz-Barth, who has lived in Doha for four years.
There are only a handful of recycling bins located across Doha, leaving most people without an option but to throw their paper and plastic away. The country generates more than 7,000 tons of solid waste each day, but only 8 percent is recycled. The rest is dumped in landfills.
Qatar does have three plastic recycling facilities, including Doha Plastic, a private plastic recycling company located in the New Industrial Area, but those businesses set a minimum pick-up weight of 600 to 700 kilograms.
“We cannot send our trucks for small quantities. Ten kilos or 100 is not profit for us,” said Mahmud Alqam, the company’s executive manager.
Though Qatar’s efforts to expand recycling have yet to bear fruit, the country has invested more time into encouraging the construction industry to go green.
Education City’s new student housing, for example, is one of the leading green building projects in Qatar and has “platinum” rating, according to the standards of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).
“The building is highly efficient in terms of electricity usage, water usage, materials, the indoor air quality, and any sort of new innovations related to efficiency,” said Christopher Silva, head of Sustainability & Environmental Management at Qatar Foundation.
Meanwhile, Qatar is spearheading research projects that further energy efficiency in the construction industry.
But many residents of Qatar are not aware of the steps they themselves can take to reduce their carbon footprint.
Take Earth Hour, for example. Last month, Qatar took part in the annual global campaign that called for individuals and organizations to switch off all their non-essential lights and electronic devices for one hour.
Several organizations, including HSBC, Q-Tel, Sheraton, the Four Seasons, the Intercontinental and the Pearl switched off their lights to show support to the initiative. Though it seemed like a huge commitment, Doha had saw a small drop of 10 percent in electricity consumption during Earth Hour, according to statistics from Kahramaa, Qatar’s utility company.
Although it is not a huge change in energy consumption, the main purpose of this campaign was to educate the public about the environment and energy consumption, said Fahad Al-Kaabi, manager of Conservation and Energy Efficiency Department at Kahramaa.
But as far as awareness is concerned, many residents are not interested in taking part in this campaign.
“I was aware of it, barely. It was on Twitter, I think,” said David Gray, Doha resident and lecturer at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar. “It’s symbolic. It’s nice. But if you really want to make an impact on this issue, it has to be much more coordinated, much more official. Governmental organizations especially in Qatar will have to get more directly involved.”
Cities are becoming choked with a jungle – a jungle of concrete, steel and glass. Architecture here is influenced needlessly by concepts from predominantly the Western world. We must remember that most of the iconic designs have been developed by expatriates. One of the most difficult problems for expatriates in the Middle East is their relative lack of experience of the public realm.
I often wonder why is any element of existing heritage of the Middle East, be it cultural or spiritual, is always identified with the past, while the image of ‘progress’ is always borrowed from elsewhere. This process of disassociating from one’s own heritage is a very harmful one.
In the past few years, the expatriate idea of building ‘green’ has been brought in, but the word is misunderstood by most of the engineering fraternity. However, when a definition becomes so overarching, it loses all significance. Architects are now neglecting basic building design principles.
It is unfortunate that rating systems like LEED and BREEAM Gulf have converted architecture into an accounting exercise. This has digressed completely from what could have been a healthy exercise in producing truly good architecture. It is unfortunate that we are missing an opportunity to produce good architecture by allowing these accounting or statistical procedures to dominate our logical thinking and creativity.
Advocating bicycle racks or trying to invest in a rainwater harvesting system in the Middle East is another perfect example. While it may fetch you extra points in a LEED rating, the whole initiative, if analysed, is a wasteful one. The use of glass is still celebrated. There is no account of the money spent on the pointless additional cooling required and superfluous cleaning of all the building’s dust-laden façades.
I urge clients and developers to be open-minded in terms of LEED. There is no point in accommodating ‘green’ ideas and techniques and ultimately landing up with a building that is not comfortable to live or work in.
Commonsense is the key element. Traditional architecture in the region included many innovative, functional and ecological design principles, but none of them have been perpetuated by the new generation of architects.
The world needs ‘green’ buildings a lot more than ‘green’ buildings need LEED certification. If certifications such as LEED and BREEAM Gulf continue to cost too much money, time and effort, we will not necessarily stop building green projects, we will just stop certifying them.
As architects, we have to convince Middle Eastern elites and ourselves that the optimistic concept of importing ideas of ’progress’ will only kill the character of a place and its public realm. The future of architecture in the Middle East desperately lies in logical design, controlled urban growth and in the acceptance of one’s own cultural roots. I remain hopeful.
“Penny and Amna
Thank you for this very interesting article.
We are averda, the largest environmental solutions provider in the MENA region, specializing in integrated waste and resource management.
averda Qatar offers several recycling facilities around Doha and its suburbs and we utilize the latest technologies to encourage recycling; Among which is our ReVa machine which is a reverse vending machine that encourages people to recycle though its redemption scheme.
Moreover averda is committed to encouraging positive environmental attitude among the youth; We sponsored earlier this year the Tedx event and summit and diverted 85% of its waste from going to the landfill.
Penny & Amna, should you need any further information, we will be more than glad to answer all your questions, please feel free to contact us on email@example.com.
i’d also argue that doha is a suitable place for cop18, because the middle east is already leading in sustainable technology. that is confirmed by a company that is actively involved in cop18 side events: “the middle east is able to increase buildings‘ energy efficiency, increase efficiency of fossil power plants and make desalination plants more environmentally-friendly.” http://www.siemens.ae/energy-efficiency/