Qatar Faces Floods as Sea Levels Rise, Institute Says

Qatar, hosting the UN global warming talks, faces widespread flooding in the next 300 years if world temperatures and sea levels continue to rise, the director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research said.

“You just have to fly across it -- the entire Qatar is a flat peninsula,” Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the German research group, told reporters in Doha. “Of course, you could defend it if you put sea walls and sea defenses everywhere. It would cost billions and billions, but it would destroy the identity of this country.”

Sea levels are projected to rise 3 meters (9.8 feet) by 2300 as the current path of carbon emissions and rising temperatures melt ice in Greenland and Antarctica, Schellnhuber said. The institute projects as much as 1 meter increase this century.

Qatar, the biggest liquefied natural gas producer, is the second-flattest non-island country on Earth behind Gambia. The emirate’s highest point is about 100 meters above sea level in th center of the nation. Hundreds of billions of dollars worth of gas liquefaction plants, petrochemical facilities and refineries are a few kilometers away from the Persian Gulf. Doha sits on the eastern coast.

The emirate’s per capita carbon dioxide emissions are the highest in the world, four times more than the U.S., according to U.S. Department of Energy data. Qatar also is the world’s richest nation per capita. It’s trying to improve its own environmental record by reducing flaring, or the burning of gas into the atmosphere, and by investing in climate change research with a partnership with the Potsdam Institute.

The state-run Qatar Foundation and Potsdam Institute agreed to set up a research center to study the impact of climate change in the Persian Gulf region. The center is expected to begin operating in 2014 after the center’s board is selected and a budget is drawn up, Schellnhuber told reporters. It may include a staff of 200 researchers, he said.

“Let’s develop carefully a master plan and the resources you need for the concept will be there,” Schellnhuber said. “It will do regional climate analysis, how wind patterns and precipitation patterns will change in this very region.”

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