Water and food security set to feature on COP18 agenda in Qatar

By Ed King

Unmitigated climate change will have ‘potentially devastating effects’ on global water security, according to a paper presented to the United Nations by Qatar’s government last week.

The situation document reveals Qatar’s concerns over its own water and food security, and warns that adverse impacts of global warming are unavoidable ‘”unless major mitigation measures are quickly implemented”.

The small yet influential Gulf state will host the annual UN climate conference in November this year. Seasoned observers of the  talks have questioned Qatar’s commitment to the summit, citing the country’s reliance on fossil fuels for its own prosperity.

Qatar has the highest per-capita CO2 emissions on the planet, and at a recent climate conference in Berlin incoming conference chairman, the nation’s deputy Prime Minister, Abdullah bin Hamad Al Attiyah claimed that judging a country by this metric was unfair, calling it the “biggest trick in the book”.

This document does at least suggest the host government is aware of the risks it faces if carbon emissions are not controlled. Climatic models predict the Middle East could get hotter and drier as a result of climate change exacerbating water shortages and desertification.

“An increasingly integrated world is awakening to the notion that food and water security is a real and imminent threat to the earth’s balance, and it is imperative to understand that climate change will inevitably intensify their effects, with the potential to significantly affect dry countries and beyond” the report reads.

“The impact of climate change will likely know no boundaries – affecting the very core of our common livelihood”.

Food prices have declined since a 2011 peak, but could climb again in 2013 (Graph: FAO)

In 2008 Qatar launched the Qatar National Food Security Programme (QNFSP).  Its mandate includes investment in research and technology to develop a strategy addressing food and water issues.

As the Programme acknowledges, Qatar’s dependency on food imports exposes it to a number of risks, including: “political, sanitary, disease-related, and economic shocks that could occur in supplying countries; leading to a curtailment of food shipments to Qatar with devastating consequences for all residents”.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2008 Climate Change and Water report indicated the region is already experiencing a high degree of water stress, which is predicted to get worse in time. The region’s chronic shortage of fresh water has already led to Saudi Arabia banning all large scale food production, relying on imports to feed its growing population.

Desalination plants are relied on to provide drinking water, although these consume vast amounts of energy. Saudi Arabia runs 30 plants that consume 1.5 million barrels of oil per day.

In May this year it unveiled an $100 billion plan to construct up to 41,000 megawatts of solar projects over the next two decades – these would replace oil as the main fuel for the water plants.

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