Qatar: land of gas-guzzling cars and blasting air-con, where money is unlimited and oil is cheap and plentiful. One day the oil may run out, but that day will probably never come. This does not sound much like a country concerned about its sustainability credentials. On top of that, Qatar has the world’s largest carbon footprint per capita.
Although some of the above descriptions perhaps ring true in everyday life on the streets of Doha, the Qatari government has very different intentions for its National Vision 2030. Qatar, which hosted the most recent incarnation of COP18, the United Nations sustainability conference, is in fact deeply involved in a variety of cutting-edge environmental projects, particularly in the construction industry and built environment, including ambitious plans for solar-powered stadiums for the 2022 World Cup.
Qatar’s very own green building authority, the Qatar Green Building Council (QGBC), has been up and running since 2009. The QGBC’s stated aim is to to promote and raise awareness of environmentally and socially responsible building practices in Qatar. QGBC has been closely involved in Qatar’s most groundbreaking green building initiatives.
‘Baytna’ (‘our house’ in Arabic) is the region’s first Passivhaus case study, carried out as a partnership between the QGBC and some of Qatar’s biggest real estate developers. Passivhaus is a German sustainable construction technique concept that has already attracted much interest in Europe. Houses built using the technique can cut their energy costs by as much as 50%. For a country such as Qatar, with the world’s highest carbon footprint per capita, ‘Baytna’ is certainly a worthwhile experiment.
Another of Qatar’s notable forays into green building is the enormous Musheireb housing development project in downtown Doha, which is nearing its final phase of construction. The mega-project, which cost an estimated $5.5 billion, is due for completion in 2016, and is aiming to be the world’s largest sustainable community, setting itself ambitious carbon reduction goals.
Doha’s visitors and residents cannot fail to notice one uniquely shaped tall building on the Corniche skyline at West Bay. Designed by architect Jean Nouvel, and referred to jokingly by expats as the ‘condom building’, the Burj Qatar, or Doha Tower, was awarded a prize last year for ‘World’s Best Tall Building’. It attracted this recognition due to its combination of environmentally-friendly building techniques with a design reflecting Qatar’s cultural traditions of architecture.
While it is easy to point critical fingers at Qatar for being a top oil producer and having such a large carbon footprint, we should recognise the country’s determined efforts not only to better itself, but to use its substantial financial resources to spearhead large-scale green building projects that can inform and educate the economically-challenged Western world. Qatar’s perceived negative social attitudes towards environmental issues are already changing, as young local people become more engaged and feel greater responsibility for their country’s future development. Grassroots Qatari-led environmental organisations such as Doha Oasis demonstrate this shift. I remain hopeful that future generations will maintain this positive attitude and that it eventually becomes a new social norm in Qatar.