This week in Doha, the capital of Qatar, over 12,000 attendees from around the world will gather for the triennial World Petroleum Congress (WPC). In layperson’s speak, the 20th WPC is the Oscars, the World Cup and Coachella Music Festival for the global oil and gas industry. Plenaries include “Responsible and Sustainable Investment for the Future,” “Peak Oil,” and “Multi-Sectoral Cooperation and a Sustainable Energy Industry.” Speakers include officials from Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and executives from CNOOC, Total, Petrobras and Chevron. Ironically, this is the first time the WPC will be hosted in the Middle East.
The event also pledges to be carbon neutral.
How does a global fossil fuel event in a tiny country with few resources (other than oil and gas) become carbon neutral? Simple: have the international law firm Baker & McKenzie purchase, and therefore retire, 6270 tons of the estimated CO2 emissions in the voluntary carbon markets. According to the firm, that transaction, carried out on the advice of the carbon consultancy firm Perenia, will cancel out all the pre-event scope-one and -two emissions associated with the five-day conference. Baker & McKenzie also promises to purchase additional offsets if necessary after the Congress if post-event calculations exceed earlier estimates. No word on whether any emissions generated during the event will be offset, but considering air travel’s massive carbon footprint, the travel offsets are a big start.
The WPC is also taking additional measures to impart social responsibility. The venue will unfold at Doha’s new Qatar National Convention Centre (QNCC), a new venue that opened yesterday that will also seek LEED Gold accreditation. For the dozens of companies that will pitch their services at the WPC’s exhibition stall, organizers will give awards to companies whose booths make the best use of the three R’s (reduce, reuse and recycle). Finally, various companies from ExxonMobil to Shell will participate in a “Global Village” that will explore themes related to the oil and gas industry’s work on economic and social progress.
For critics of the oil and gas industry, the news that such an event was held in a country with the highest CO2 emissions per capita would appear dubious. For Qatar, however, the carbon-neutral oil extravaganza this week is one of many steps Qatar is taking to emerge as a global leader in sustainable development.
The tiny country of 1.7 million has come to its own in this past year. Qatar had diplomatic and military roles in the ouster of Moammar Gaddafi from Libya. Last year the emirate won its bid to host the 2022 World Cup, which Qatar promises will showcase futuristic sporting venues and boast cutting edge solar technologies. The country lost its bid to host the 2017 AAF (International Association of Athletic Federations) Championship to London, but its estimated US$220 billion investments that include solar and rail will attract other large scale events, too. Qatar is not just focusing on marquee sporting events, the COP 18 Summit will be in Doha next year.
Qatar’s leadership realizes the oil and gas gravy train will not last forever, so like its neighbor, Abu Dhabi, the country is devoting more resources to environmental management. Watch for the emirate to become a laboratory for green building, and eventually import solar professionals at a rate at which oil and gas engineers used to arrive at Doha’s airport.
At a higher level, more global events like the WPC, and yes, the 2022 World Cup, will engage the Arab world, which has changed drastically this year. And despite the advances clean energy technologies have made in the past decade, they still require heaps of investment. With debt crises in Europe and North America, the Middle East is the one region that has the cash to invest; not to mention plenty of sun for solar.
Leon Kaye has devoted much of his recent writing exploring Qatar’s transformation. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business. Editor of GreenGoPost.com, he shares his insights on sustainability and corporate social responsibility on Twitter.
Photo courtesy of the 20th World Petroleum Congress.