Qatar’s Environmental Woes Call for Canadian Exporters

Deservedly so, Qatar has been consistently hitting the headlines in the recent past. From housing the loudest Arab-based news channel, to mediating stubborn conflicts across the region, the rentier state has quickly gone a long way on regional politics and economics. Not without its furious critics, of course, the mostly inhabitable arid sheikhdom has been vehemently fending off accusations for dubiously winning the bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup; this latter which the Human Rights Watch predict to “depend on … [migrant workers] abuse and exploitation unless adequate measures are taken to address the human rights problems widespread in the construction industry in Qatar.”

Khalifa Stadium at night (Photo by Sam Agnew).
Khalifa Stadium at night (Photo by Sam Agnew).

On a different front attached to hosting the celebrated event, Qatar seems to be under-delivering on its promised carbon-neutral stadiums. Consultant AECOM’s design principal Graham Goymour has cast his doubts on whether the stadiums’ cooling technology will function as planned and without compromising energy use and spectator comfort. Furthermore, director John Barrow of Populous; the architecture firm designing the Sports City Stadium in Doha, has been quoted describing the air-conditioning system as too expensive and “notoriously unsustainable” for the environment when used on a large scale.

Qatar’s environmental woes, however, surely spill beyond the world cup saga. A recent ambient air pollution database compiled by the World Health Organization underscored disastrous grades for Doha; Qatar’s capital and most populated city: a 2.5-microns particulate matter of 93 ug/m3 (annual mean), and 10-microns particulate matter of 168 ug/m3 (annual mean), ranking 12th and 35th respectively amongst the 1,524 cities reported in the database. For comparison, Red Deer; one of Alberta’s oil & gas epicentres, scored 14 ug/m3 for PM-10.

The Qatari Government admits in its 2011 – 2016 National Development Strategy to the “High prevalence of asthma and other respiratory diseases” caused or exacerbated by such pollutants. To clear its skies, the Government had vowed to enforce compliance with new emissions objectives; integrate monitoring stations with an online and real-time database; establish a reporting mechanism to track national CO2 emissions; and eliminate instances of excess ozone levels through improved air quality management.

Diving into the Persian Gulf off the Qatari coast, the scene doesn’t look pretty either. While Mohamed Saeed Al-Mohannadi; Director of the Qatari Fisheries Department, claims in a recent documentary published by BBC Arabic to maintain production levels between 13,000 and 15,000 tonnes of fish per year, Dalal Al-Abdulrazzak; a Ph.D. student with the University of British Columbia Fisheries Centre, suggests that the official production stats in the Persian Gulf are grossly under-reported.

Charles Sheppard; Professor at the Department of Biological Sciences in the University of Warwick, agrees with Al-Abdulrazzak in her worries about the well-being of the Gulf. In the review titled The Gulf: A young sea in decline and published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin journal, Sheppard with his team of scientists demonstrate in painstaking detail the degradation of marine life in the Gulf due to the rapid industrial and infra-structure developments along the sea side. In response, however, the Qatari Ministry of Environment has launched national programs aimed at improving fisheries production technology and reviewing and enhancing legislation concerned with the exploitation of fisheries resources.

Qatari fishermen prepare for fishing (Photo by Dan).
Qatari fishermen prepare for a day of fishing (Photo by Dan).

Of course, the country’s Anthropocene asserts itself beyond air, water or land. The authorities in Qatar seem to be well-aware of the impacts of an angry nature on the country’s well-being as a whole. According to the aforementioned 2011 – 2016 National Development Strategy, Qatar has made “Managing environmental development” as a core strategy pillar, alongside Sustaining economic prosperity; Promoting human development; Integrating sound social development; Developing and modernizing public institutions; and Advancing from strategy to implementation. The document further breaks down environmental development and assigns targets for Cleaner water and sustainable use; Cleaner air; Improved waste management; Nature and natural heritage sustainably managed; A healthier urban living environment; An increasingly environmentally aware population; Strategic partnerships; and Improved governance and outcomes.

So, what’s in it for Canada?

Exports. Potentially, of both services and merchandise.

Several publicly-available indicators forecast an up-trend in Canadian exports destined for Qatar’s environmental sector, some of which are listed below:

  • Canada officially opened its Embassy to Qatar in June 2014, signaling increased cooperation between the two nations on regional issues and growing business opportunities.
  • Qatar will be seeking Canadian expertise in environmental technologies and services, water desalination, and engineering and architectural services, among others, as reported by the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service.
  • In its most recent Discover New Markets publication, Export Development Canada states that the oil and gas sector in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, including Qatar, presents numerous opportunities for small and mid-sized Canadian companies that can provide products, services and expertise for oil and gas exploration and development (onshore and offshore), refineries, and LNG facilities, as well as to the petrochemical sector in general. Local oil and gas operators are interested in solutions to further improve the efficacy and efficiency of their infrastructure and reduce their environmental footprint.
  • Alberta, specifically, has shown keen interest in the Qatari market. In 2011, the Honourable Iris Evans, Alberta’s Minister of International and Intergovernmental Relations, led a mission to the Middle East and met with key business and government leaders in Qatar, most notably the recently appointed Minister of Energy and Industry. Minister Evans also met with the CEO of Qatar Air, and discussed making Calgary the airline’s second Canadian destination, after Montreal, Quebec.
  • Also, in its 2013 International Strategy, Alberta states its intentions to send further missions to the Middle East to attract targeted investments, and to cement current partnerships with trade facilitation organizations, such as the Canada Arab Business Council.

At face value, there seem to be good prospects for Canadian expertise in the Qatari environmental sector. However, and as the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service advises, companies hoping to participate in the Qatari’s project boom need to position themselves now.

 

By Basel Ismaiel

Basel Ismaiel holds an MBA from the Sprott School of Business in Carleton University in Ottawa, and have worked in environmental engineering and policy making in businesses and not-for-profit organizations, including RWDI, The Natural Step Canada, Prasino Group, and Dubai Carbon. Connect with Basel at bismaiel@connect.carleton.ca

 

Featured Photo by Omar Chatriwala

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