The choice of Qatar (itself a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol) as host nation is especially appropriate, as the Mena region is likely to be particularly affected by any fluctuations in global climate patterns. In addition to the enormous political and demographic pressure from region-wide water scarcity, the dearth of arable land has seen the region's richer nations engage in mass-land purchase for food security programmes overseas. Further, a number of the Middle East's most economically active cities are based on coastal zones particularly likely to be affected in many worst-case scenarios.
According to the World Bank, which runs the UNFCCC Adaptation Fund helping countries adapt to climate change, the region has good reason to prioritise the issue.
"An increasing level of awareness is building among all stakeholders in the MENA region on the significance of climate change, reflecting both the global increase in awareness of the phenomenon, as well as mounting concerns in the region about increasingly frequent droughts and a looming water supply shortage. According to the latest [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] IPCC assessment, the climate is predicted to become even hotter and drier in most of the MENA region. Higher temperatures and reduced precipitation will increase the occurrence of droughts, an effect that is already materializing in the Maghreb. It is further estimated that an additional 80-100 million people will be exposed by 2025 to water stress, which is likely to result in increased pressure on groundwater resources, which are currently being extracted in most areas beyond the aquifers' recharge potential.
"Global models predict sea levels rising from about 0.1 to 0.3 metres by the year 2050, and from about 0.1 to 0.9 metres by 2100. For Mena, the social, economic, and ecological impacts are expected to be relatively higher compared to the rest of the world. Low-lying coastal areas in Tunisia, Qatar, Libya, UAE, Kuwait, and particularly Egypt are at particular risk. Climate change also poses many challenges to the region's cities which represent hubs for economic, social, cultural and political activities. Rising sea level could affect 43 port cities—24 in the Middle East and 19 in North Africa."
Qatar turns oil revenue into global standing
In recent years Qatar has increasingly been working to increase its positioning on both the global stage, through the investments of its sovereign wealth funds (funded by a hydrocarbon-export fuelled GDP of $174bn), the hosting of major global sporting tournaments such as the Asian Games in 2006 and the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and politically on the regional stage following the Arab Spring uprisings.
The revenues from its oil and natural gas exports have meant that the small Gulf State (population of just 1.95 million, of which over 80% are expatriate) has been able to have a magnified influence in the areas in which it has looked to become a principal actor. Qatar's international image has been further bolstered by the Doha-based Al Jazeera multi-lingual TV news network, which provided comprehensive and breaking coverage of the Arab Spring.