Qatar now so hot it has started air-conditioning the outdoors

Giant coolers in public areas accelerating climate crisis further by using electricity from fossil fuels 

Jane Dalton
Friday 18 October 2019 18:26 BST
Qatar now so hot it has started air-conditioning the outdoors

Temperatures in Qatar – one of the hottest places on Earth – have risen so much that authorities have installed air conditioning in the open air including in streets and outdoor markets.

The country, where summer temperatures now reach up to 46C, has already started air-conditioning its football stadiums in preparation for the World Cup in 2022 – itself delayed because of the extreme heat.

Giant coolers have also been installed along pavements and even in outdoor shopping malls so a cool breeze allows life to go on as before.

But the outdoor air conditioning is part of an accelerating vicious cycle, as the electricity that powers them is from fossil fuels – which emit even more of the carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that is causing the climate emergency.

Qatar, which is the largest per-capita emitter country of greenhouse gases, according to the World Bank — nearly three times as much as America and almost six times as much as China – uses about 60 percent of its electricity for cooling.

Air conditioning accounts for less than 10 per cent of China’s or India’s electricity use.

The country’s total cooling capacity – and emissions – are expected to nearly double by 2030 from 2016 levels, according to the International District Cooling and Heating Conference.

“If you turn off air conditioners, it will be unbearable. You cannot function effectively,” Yousef al-Horr, founder of the Gulf Organisation for Research and Development, told The Washington Post.

In rapidly growing urban areas throughout the Middle East, some predict cities could become uninhabitable, said Mohammed Ayoub, senior research director at the Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute.

“We’re talking about 4 to 6 degrees Celsius increase in an area that already experiences high temperatures,” Mr Ayoub said.

The danger is acute because of the humidity. When humidity is very high, evaporation from the skin slows or stops.

“If it’s hot and humid and the relative humidity is close to 100 per cent, you can die from the heat you produce yourself,” said Jos Lelieveld, of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany.

Qatar temperatures have already risen more than 2C above pre-industrial times, the international goal for limiting disaster.

This is both because of the uneven nature of climate change and a surge in construction that also affects the climate in Doha, the capital, scientists say.

The 2015 Paris climate summit agreed it would be better to keep temperatures “well below” that, ideally to no more than 1.5 degrees.

Overnight lows rarely dip below 32C in the summer. And in a heatwave in July 2010, temperatures hit an all-time high of 50.4C.

In the Souq Waqif market, housing shops, restaurants and small hotels, 3ft air-conditioning units blow cool air onto customers.

A German television report alleged hundreds of deaths among foreign workers in Qatar in recent years, prompting new limits on outdoor work.

The government has said the World Cup will be carbon-neutral, and recently unveiled plans to plant a million trees, an idea at least one expert has condemned as “unrealistic”.

Fears that visiting football fans might wilt or even die prompted the decision to delay the World Cup in Qatar by five months.

At the new Al Janoub open-air stadium, grates built underneath the 40,000 seats expel cool air. Since cool air sinks, waves of it roll down to the pitch. More vents also feed cold air onto it directly.

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Last month, when Doha hosted the 2019 World Athletics Championships, it moved the women’s marathon to midnight and water stations handed out sponges dipped in ice-cold water.

First-aid responders outnumbered contestants. Some competitors had to be taken off in wheelchairs.

“With the coming global environmental collapse, to live completely indoors is like, the only way we’ll be able to survive," Qatari American artist Sophia al-Maria said in an interview in Dazed Digital. "The Gulf’s a prophecy of what’s to come."

Zeke Hausfather, a climate data scientist, added: “Qatar is one of the fastest warming areas of the world, at least outside of the Arctic. Changes there can help give us a sense of what the rest of the world can expect if we do not take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

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