Delegates from 200 nations have gathered in Qatar for two-week talks to try to agree a symbolic extension of the U.N. Kyoto Protocol, a treaty that obliges about 35 developed nations to cut their greenhouse gas emissions.
But any hope that the location of the talks might spur countries in the region to unveil new ambitious climate change measures had so far come to nothing, delegates said.
Qatar, the host, has come in for particular criticism
“Greenpeace believes these efforts fall well short of a comprehensive, ambitious national pledge that could help move the climate negotiations forward,” Hoda Baraka, communications officer for the Greenpeace Arab World Project, said of Qatar's promises.
“We expect Arab states to play a leading and proactive role in the time that remains in reaching a successful conclusion to the negotiations,” she said.
The talks are scheduled to end on Friday, but OPEC member Qatar has so far failed to set clear targets for reducing its own greenhouse gas emissions, arguing that its liquefied natural gas exports mean it is already doing its bit by helping other nations turn away from more polluting coal.
Qatar has made some efforts; the tiny Gulf state has promised to raise the proportion of electricity generated via solar power to 16 percent by 2018, and on Wednesday said it would establish a climate change research center with Germany’s Potsdam Institute that would house 200 researchers in Doha.
But campaigners said they expected more from a country with the world’s highest gross domestic product and the highest emissions level per-capita at a time when the global spotlight was on the region.
Helen Clark, head of the U.N. Development Program, said there had been “nothing spectacular at this point” from OPEC nations like Qatar apart from a few commitments to tap solar power.
“It could be stepped up vastly, of course, (to) show an example,” she told Reuters.
Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s biggest oil producer, said it was acting to slow climate change, but like other OPEC nations it has not yet set any clear goals for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases.
“Saudi Arabia is striving hard to diversify its economy away from its over-reliance on hydrocarbons,” Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi told the Doha talks, mentioning solar power and capturing carbon and energy efficiency as possibilities.
The Middle East and North Africa region will be particularly affected by climate change in the coming decades, with less rainfall, more recording-breaking temperatures, and rising sea levels, the World Bank said in a report in Doha on Wednesday.
Temperatures in the region have increased 50 percent faster than the global average, said Rachel Kyte, World Bank vice president for sustainable development.
Climate change could also lead to a reduction in household income of seven percent in Tunisia, and 24 percent in Yemen over the next 30 years. Tunisian farmers stand to lose as much as $700 million in lost earnings by 2015, said Kyte.
“Political leadership now really matters. It will be critical in establishing climate change as a national and regional priority,” she said.
Warmer temperatures could also hurt the region’s $50 billion tourism industry, the report said. Of the 19 record temperatures in 2010, almost a quarter were from the Arab world, including Kuwait where temperatures reached 52.6 Celsius (126.7 Fahrenheit) in 2010 and 53.5 Celsius (128.3 Fahrenheit) in 2011.