Qatar Hosting Climate Talks Spotlights Carbon-Data Void

Qatar Hosting Climate Talks Spotlights Carbon-Data Void
The Doha skyline. Photographer: Tom Pilston/Panos

Middle Eastern companies lag behind those in the rest of the world in reporting carbon-dioxide emissions. They mirror governments in a region that for the first time is hosting global talks to limit climate change.

Five of 2,199 publicly traded companies in the Middle East reported their CO2 output last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Those that did report, which included National Bank of Oman SAOG and Strauss Group Ltd. of Israel, were 0.2 percent of the total. That compares with 4.2 percent in the 27-nation European Union, 3.9 percent in both Latin America and Africa, 3.2 percent in Asia and 1.3 percent in North America.

The region’s emissions are under a spotlight because Qatar’s capital Doha is hosting the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change treaty talks this week and next. Qatar is the highest per-capita emitter, and Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are all in the top 10, according to International Energy Agency data, which also shows fossil-fuel subsidies rose 20 percent in the region last year.

“Climate change is definitely not at the place it needs to be in the policy agenda of the governments or getting the attention of the public in the Middle East,” International Energy Agency Chief Economist Fatih Birol said in an interview. Middle Eastern companies should “definitely” be doing more.

Developing nations weren’t given mandatory greenhouse gas targets under the existing UN treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, which binds only industrialized nations.

At the same time, about 50 developing nations have submitted to the UN so-called Namas, or “nationally appropriate mitigation actions.” Those set out steps they’re taking to reduce emissions. The nations range from China and India to Togo and the Maldives, and include only Jordan and Israel from the Middle East.

No-Pledge Countries

“We still have a lot of emissions globally coming from countries that have pledged absolutely nothing so far,” EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said in an interview. “One of these countries is Qatar.”

Abdullah Bin Hamad Al Attiyah, the Qatari official who is presiding over the talks, told reporters on Nov. 26 that his country “has a track record in greenhouse-gas reduction,” injecting captured CO2 into depleted oil fields. “We are a big believer that technology will solve a lot of problems.”

Companies in Qatar are required to report their emissions to the environment ministry, Al Attiyah said by phone without discussing why the data wasn’t made available to the public. The Saudi delegation at the Doha talks didn’t immediately comment when asked about their corporate emissions reporting record.

Fossil-Fuel Subsidies

Qatar, the biggest liquefied natural gas producer in the world, can also help wean countries off dirtier fossil fuels, such as coal, Al Attiyah said.

The biggest action Middle Eastern governments can take to fight climate change is to eliminate fossil-fuel subsidies, according to the IEA’s Birol. He calculates global fossil fuel subsidies jumped almost 30 percent to $523 billion in 2011. In the Middle East and North Africa, they rose to $245 billion from $205 billion, according to Bloomberg calculations from IEA data.

“Fossil fuel subsidies are the number one enemy of finding a solution for climate change,” Birol said. “They encourage fossil fuel use and therefore increase CO2 emissions, they reverse energy efficiency efforts and they strangle efforts to find a room to grow for renewable energy. I hope the meeting in Doha will give a signal to the economic environmental inefficiency of fossil fuel subsidies.”

Disclosure Enforced

Corporate efforts to measure emissions are strongest where governments set guidelines, especially in developed Asian nations, primarily Japan, and in the European Union, said Barbara Pomfret, a New York-based environmental, social and corporate governance analyst at Bloomberg Company Research who compiled the company data.

“Those companies that are most transparent on their emissions reporting operate in markets where the government has enforced data disclosure,” Pomfret said in an e-mail. “Of the 42 publicly traded companies domiciled in Qatar, none report any greenhouse gas emissions data or talk about efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their latest public filings.”

Aside from Strauss, Israel’s second-largest food producer, and National Bank of Oman, the Middle Eastern companies that did report emissions were Arab Bank Plc of Jordan, National Bank of Abu Dhabi PJSC and Aramex PJSC of the United Arab Emirates.

“Gulf companies could absolutely be doing more; you can’t deliver what you don’t measure,” Samantha Smith, who heads the environmental group WWF’s global climate and energy program, said in an interview. “If you want to have low-cost companies that can compete in countries with a very strong stress on energy intensity, like China, if you want to go into Latin America or Europe, it’s important to show how you compare in sustainability.”

Global Tally

Of the EU’s 11,331 listed companies, 475 report emissions, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. In Asia-Pacific, the tally was 762 out of 24,144; in Latin America it was 68 out of 1,722 and in North America it was 229 out of 17,371. Fifty-six of Africa’s 1,425 listed companies disclosed emissions in their most recent annual reports.

The WWF’s Smith and Wael Hmaidan, director of the campaign group Climate Action Network International, both called on Qatar to publish a national emissions target.

Qatar “needs to build trust by making an emissions reduction pledge, or risk losing political momentum in the talks,” Hmaidan said in an e-mailed statement.

Qatar Emissions

Qatar’s CO2 emissions per capita from burning fossil fuels totaled 36.9 tons in 2010, according to the most recent IEA data. That’s more than double the 17.3 tons emitted by the average American, the ninth-highest per-capita polluter. In China, the biggest overall emitter, CO2 output per person was 5.4 tons. In European nations that are members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development, the average was 7 tons.

“The global trend is clearly in the direction of greater transparency, openness and accounting for carbon risk,” U.K. Climate Change Minister Greg Barker said in an interview. “I very much hope that hosting the UNFCCC climate conference in the Middle East will act as a spur to action.”

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