It is a widely known fact that the GCC countries possess the world’s largest oil reserves. Fortunately, these natural resources have enabled remarkably rapid growth throughout the region, and not just in the economic sense, in all aspects of life. This bounty has blessed the region, however at the same time it is also the main source of the world’s carbon emissions. Oil-rich Middle East countries lead the way in terms of emissions per capita, and though these countries are relatively small geographically, and are not major contributors to climate change with regard to total global emissions, (when compared to far larger countries like China), their residents actually generate two to ten times the amount of CO2 emissions of the average global citizen.
The big picture
According to the World Bank data (2010), Qatar is one of the largest per capita producers of greenhouse gases, with 40.3 tonnes of carbon dioxide being emitted every year. This startling figure is around 10 times higher than the global average (4.6 tonnes per person). Within the region, Qatar is closely followed by Kuwait, Oman and the UAE, also responsible for some of the highest rates of per capita carbon dioxide emissions, (31.3, 20.4, and 19.9 tonnes respectively). In contrast, Iran is responsible for emitting only 7.7 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person.
Carbon emissions in the Middle East have doubled in the past 30 years, as a result of ever increasing dependence upon power sources like electricity from coal burning power plants, and factors that maintain a certain quality of life in a predominantly desert environment, such as seawater desalination plants and air conditioning systems.
A look into Qatar
As a desert country with almost no rainfall, Qatar has a very high rate of per capita water usage – around 400 litres per head, per day. When one considers that in larger Western countries like the UK, the individual rate of usage is between 50 to 100 litres per head, the relatively huge rate in Qatar could simply result from the fact that Qataris are provided with free water. And as Qataris also benefit from free electricity, water itself could be seen as a form of liquid electricity, because every single drop of water coming out of the taps is produced from desalinating seawater – an extremely energy intensive activity which is known to be directly responsible for high carbon emissions. As water and electricity consumption continues to rise, and Qatar builds more desalination and power plants, this situation looks set to continue. And the global consequences could be dire – according to the Living Planet Report, prepared by the World Wildlife Fund and the Global Footprint Network, if every human being lived like an average resident of Qatar, the Earth would need nearly five times more resources than it currently has. These resources would not just become scarce – they would run out completely.