Qatar’s Second Human Development Report issued on Wednesday has called for reviewing the country’s existing policy of supplying water and electricity to nationals and residents either free of charge or at heavily subsidised prices.
The report said that such subsidies will ultimately endanger the environment as well as the health of the people, by encouraging over consumption of the precious energy resources.
“Supplying water and electricity to Qatari residents for free and at heavily subsidised rates to non-Qatari residents is resulting in serious challenges for developing sustainable use of an already scarce resource. While subsidies may be useful for attracting industry and expatriate labour, it is at the expense of the environment, the health of citizens and ultimately at the expense of Qatar’s future generations,” said the report.
“Qatar therefore needs to review its existing policies to ensure that present levels and patterns of consumption are sustainable and resource productivity is within the country’s carrying capacity,” it added.
The report noted that subsidisng manufacturing by providing energy resources at below market costs results in overuse of the resource, decreased efficiency, fewer technological advances and greater environmental degradation.
Achieving sustainable development necessitates a change in mindset and in consumption and production patterns. Government policies on taxes, subsidies and regulation can adapt the incentive structure in ways that protect the global environment and resource base.
“Many European countries, for instance, correct market failure from fuel use by imposing heavy taxes, which has resulted in greater product efficiency and provided funds for healthcare and environmental clean-up. Hence taxes not only support the elimination of various forms of pollution but also curb consumption of the taxed products. Subsidies may have the opposite effect encouraging excessive and indiscriminate use of fuel or energy or water and other products, and promoting degradation without regard for the immediate or long-term consequences of consumption now or in the future,” said the report.
Referring to the environmental threats facing Qatar, the report said, extensive dredging and land reclamation, especially in Doha, has radically modified that section of the coastline.
Intensive building activity is creating a new central business district in which more buildings are currently under construction than are operational, and unprecedented demand has already resulted in non-conventional water supplies (desalinated and treated wastewater) almost totally replacing conventional water supplies (from rainfall and groundwater) except for agriculture, which is rapidly depleting the remaining fossil water drawn from natural aquifers.
“Achieving water security is a major challenge for water resource management in Qatar Continued overexploitation of the fossil water reserves threatens the remaining reserves from saltwater intrusion, while overuse of ground water for agriculture is resulting in soil salinisation and desertification. There is heavy reliance on desalinated water whose production has grown markedly in recent years. Desalinated water is energy-intensive and costly, and efforts need to be taken to minimise its carbon emission and its threat to sensitive marine environments,” said the report.
The challenges to the marine environment in Qatar include the global forces of climate change and the regional and local impacts of large-scale industrial development, sea transport and extraction of marine resources. It is also being threatened by the local effects of human activities such as coastal reclamation projects, the introduction of invasive species and overfishing. The degradation of Qatar’s marine environment will have implications on food security, human health and sustainable livelihoods for the present and future generations.
Qatar is also suffering losses due to desertification including the loss of plant productivity, biodiversity and soil fertility. Improved access to freshwater has allowed the livestock population to increase dramatically. However, the move away from nomadic to a more sedentary lifestyle has also resulted in increased ocalised grazing pressure. Livestock grazing by camels, sheep and goats above the ecological carrying capacity has resulted in the reduction of many plant species, changing the shrub land to the current relatively barren landscape and contributing to the disappearance of native species such as oryx and gazelles.
“Environmental sustainability requires dramatic changes in the ways societies manage biodiversity and the processes of production and consumption,” said the report.
“While Qatar has moved quickly to ratify international conventions and establish regulatory and managerial bodies, progress on implementing sustainable development plans has been slow. Qatar faces numerous challenges in its transition to sustainable development and putting theory into practice, especially on account of its institutional and human capacity constraints.”