COP 18: How Qatar’s largest conference ever will affect you

Qatar will host the largest conference in its history this month. Not only will the country teem with thousands of visitors, but international scrutiny on Qatar, the first OPEC member to host the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), will be higher than ever.

Organizers are working to put Qatar’s best face forward, but acknowledge that everyday life will be disrupted by traffic congestion, overcrowding and at least some protests from environmental groups.

Here’s what you need to know about this month’s summit.

WHAT IS COP18?

This is the 18th year the world’s nations will gather to discuss climate change and that the Conference of the Parties will meet to discuss how to deal with environmental issues like pollution caused by countries’ industrial emissions.

WHEN IS IT?

The conference officially goes from Nov. 26 to Dec. 7, but pre-sessional meetings begin Nov. 20. At least 8,000 people will fly into Qatar to partake in these “technical” talks, which will take place at the Sheraton. By the time official talks actually begin, some 20,000 people will have gathered in Qatar for them.

WHO’S COMING?

Between Nov. 20 and Dec. 7, some 17,000 official delegates from 194 nations will be in town to attend the official summit at the Qatar National Convention Center. The world’s leading scientists, at least 1,500 journalists and thousands of NGO representatives are also expected.

WHERE WILL THEY STAY?

Organizers said they have blocked off 21,000 rooms at 87 hotels and residences to accommodate the conference participants and additional visitors who will be in town to participate in the side events traditionally held in conjunction with COP18 each year.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR ME?

The average Qatar resident will not be permitted in the QNCC, which for the week will be considered UN territory, and whose attendees are thus vetted through the organization.

But that doesn’t mean you won’t be affected by it.

Conference organizers stress that they are doing everything to prevent disruptions, but with so many people in town, it’s safe to expect additional traffic on the roads and overcrowding at popular hangouts, including the Souq, Katara and five-star hotel restaurants.

As an environmental-friendly summit, carpooling and public transportation are encouraged. Some 400 busses will shuttle participants to and from the QNCC, and no private cars will be allowed into the center.

However, numerous heads of state will be in Doha from Dec. 4-7, when high-level talks will be held at the conference. Expect extra security, including traffic motorcades, during this time. If you’re employed near the convention center, consider talking to your boss about working from home for part of the week.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR QATAR?

The United Nations only negotiates a handful of treaties outside of its New York headquarters, and climate change is one of them. Better known for having the world’s largest per capita carbon footprint than for its numerous green initiatives, Qatar is planning to use the conference and extra media attention to explain its ambitious environmental plans.

Because the host country holds the COP18 presidency for one year, organizers have said the time is ripe for Qatar’s 30 environmental groups to push for change within the country, including raising awareness about conservation, recycling, etc.

HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?

Organizers are hosting a public Qatar Sustainability Expo at the Exhibition Center from Nov. 27-Dec. 7. There, residents can check out some 200 exhibitions containing the latest technological advances related to climate change, view films about scientific initiatives with a focus on sea and desert life and pick up literature on awareness campaigns, including children’s education.

OTHER TIDBITS:

  • COP18 president Abdullah Bin Hamad Al-Attiyah has vowed complete transparency during the conference, but that doesn’t mean Qatar isn’t nervous about the international media attention it’s going to get this month. Still, the Ministry of Interior has said it will approve protests and demonstrations from Green Peace and other organizations. These will likely be held when participants take a breather from talks the weekend of Nov. 30-31.
  • This year’s COP will zero in on getting countries to re-commit to the Kyoto Protocol, which sets binding obligations on developing nations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Several countries, including Japan, Russia and Canada, have already said they don’t plan to ratify the treaty a second time, but pressure will be on at the summit to ensure that they do.

Thoughts?

Credit: Photos of COP18 logo, meeting and mangroves courtesy of COP18; QNCC photo by Robert Raines

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