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Global Ideas Reporter | COP18

1:0 for Bottom Up versus Top Down

Text and fotos by Kerstin Schnatz from Doha, Qatar

Being a monarchy with  no elected national parliament up to date, Qatar does not have a history of civil society movements. Despite this lack of democratic history, the emirate currently welcomes civil society delegates from around the world to the 18th United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP18) – among them many young people. At Youth Day, youngsters from the Arab world demanded a stronger stance on tackling climate change – in very different ways.

Top down: Qatar’s youth ambassadors
„When I was 18 years old, there was only one flight out of London a week. Now there are seven.“ The Quatari Chairman of the Organizing Committee for COP18, his Excellency Fahad Bin Mohammed Al-Attiya, highlights new study opportunities for young Qataris – like the young Nasser Bin Marzook, sitting next to him on the panel. Nasser and his three fellow „youth ambassadors“, appointed by the government, look down into an almost deserted audience with a mixture of shyness and pride.

17 year old Nasser is still at school. During his exchange year in the USA, he learned about the problems of acid oceans as a result of CO2 emissions. As Qatar heavily depends on sea water for their freshwater supply coming from desalination plants, Nasser wants to spread the word about this problem in his own country. His fellow youth ambassador’s approach, 18-year old Mariam Al-Nesf, is a different one: „Here in Qatar we have no rainforest – but we have mangrove forests that we need to protect.“ Sahar Al Ansari, 18, a Freshman at Qatar University, visited a village entirely powered by solar energy in Brazil and wishes to bring renewable energies to his home country. In Qatar, electricity is still 100% derived from fossil fuels, despite the sun shining almost every day.

Each of the young ambassadors speaks for about one minute, their statements sound wooden, studied for a long time. Questions from the audience are answered by his Excellency first – afterwards the youngsters are invited to add an aftertought. When asked how exactly the Qatari government is hoping to cut down CO2 emissions he becomes evasive and hints to new research funds for climate change issues.

Bottom up: The Arab Youth Climate Movement
At the same time, downstairs, a joyful, colourfoul crowd of young people have come together for what looks like a soccer game. The Arab Youth Climate Movement (AYCM) is holding their own version of a press conference – a much noisier and more chaotic one. AYCM is the first climate movement the Arab world has seen in history. Hundreds of young activists from Qatar and other Arab countries have joined together in the forerun to COP 18.

Picture: Anne Allmeling (DW)

These young, energetic people also want to influence the climate negotiations – starting with the host nation Qatar: “Now that they have gotten the world’s attention by hosting this COP, they need to demonstrate that they are about more than beautiful venues and a wealthy gas exporting economy.” Ali Fakhry from IndyACT who helped launching AYCM says. It is a pity that the youth ambassadors appointed by the Qatari government can not hear this pledge. They are still inside the conference room taking a group picture with his Excellency.

Picture: Anne Allmeling (DW)


Climate March: On Saturday, December 1st, the AYCM organises an historic march for climate action in Doha. The Qatari government, who never in the country’s history allowed any similar kind of action before, expreses solidarity with the activists. GLOBAL IDEAS will be at the march to report for you.

Qatar’s new closeness to civil society: During COP18, the emirate is very eager to stress that it has learnt a lesson from COP18. Media events stating “Qatar’s Commitment to Civil Society Engagement on Climate Change Issues” – being the official title of one press conference – are held almost on a daily basis. The Sunday climate march will prove, how eager the Qatari government really is to support a critical civil society in their own country and the Arab region in general.

Follow our GLOBAL IDEAS Facebook page for recent updates from this year’s UN climate conference and the climate march this Saturday.


November 30, 2012



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