A total of 190 countries are gathered in Qatar for a meeting chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister, Abdullah Al-Attiya, as part of a U.N. conference on climate change. They are trying to reach an agreement on reducing polluting gas emissions, which reached record levels in 2011. The warning bell has been repeatedly sounded on an annual basis about the consequences of global warming, which could increase world temperatures by four degrees by 2060 according to the World Bank.
Nevertheless, countries at conferences in the past have regularly failed to arrive at an agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The World Bank expects a series of catastrophes to hit poor countries, in the form of waves of heat and drought, fiercer storms, a shortfall of foodstuffs and a lack of water, relying on a report by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. This report, in talking about Mediterranean countries and North Africa and part of the United States, expects a monthly rise in summer temperatures by six degrees, reaching around 35 Centigrade in the Mediterranean countries in June by 2080, or nine degrees higher than today. In Middle East countries, summer temperatures will reach 45 degrees, while in Africa, dry weather will render 35 percent of land uncultivable.
A study by the magazine Nature says that drought resulting from polluting gas emissions threatens 70 percent of trees, or the planet's lungs. There will be two weeks of negotiations among climate experts from 190 countries in Doha, followed by ministers who will arrive on 4 December for the final round of the conference, which ends on 7 December. During this event, countries must extend the single, binding tool for industrial nations to reduce warming emissions, namely the Kyoto Protocol, whose first phase concludes at the end of the year. There is a comprehensive agreement expected in 2015, and discussions here are based on a fair distribution of efforts by countries from the north and the south to contain atmospheric warming. Southern countries believe this is the responsibility of the north, while it has the right to development.
Leading oil countries, including Saudi Arabia, have a firm stance: any comprehensive agreement should not be at the expense of poor and emerging nations. The climate change conference in Doha is the first gathering to be held in an Arab country, and one that has oil and gas, and it is being chaired by an expert in the energy sector, the vice-prime minister Abdullah Al-Attiya.
However, this conference will reflect, despite the important attendees, the previous profound disputes that pit OPEC states and developing countries against industrial countries, which want to see greater sacrifices by developing states. Previous conferences, especially during the George W Bush presidency, failed to reach a comprehensive agreement. Every year, we hear about global warming and its effects on weather, agriculture and health, but the countries meet, discuss and fail to limit carbon emissions, even though some oil countries have made important strides in protecting the environment in building their oil facilities. However, everyone is still required to make gigantic efforts.
Awareness of this environmental and climate problem should be a point of fundamental concern in poor and developing countries. A country such as Lebanon suffers from a disastrous environment; its sea and air are polluted, but the country is not alone. Egypt, Algeria and other Arab states, and Iran, are seeing unprecedented levels of pollution, which urgently require more urgent measures from conferences to treat this dangerous situation, which is polluting nature and people’s lives regardless of any agreements or conferences.
(Randa Takieddine is a writer for Dar al-Hayat where this article was published on Nov. 28, 2012)