DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Holding a high-profile U.N. climate change conference in Qatar, smack in the middle of the region that produces so much of the fossil fuel blamed for global warming, was a gamble. In the end, it displayed the hosts' drive for a leading place on the world stage and evoked a surprising new regional awareness of the environmental crisis.
The two-week conference that ended Saturday challenged the tight control Qatar and other Gulf nations keep over their societies, and protesters took the brunt of that. It tested the ability of Qatar's ambitious effort to pilot an unwieldy gathering with divergent ideas to a successful conclusion as an example of its capabilities for future efforts, and the hosts got mixed grades.
In an unexpected bonus, the very presence of the U.N. climate talks in energy-rich Qatar introduced the big-spending Gulf public to the issue of climate change close up for the first time. Dozens of young Arab activists from across the region — most of whom never attended climate talks before — headed home inspired to pressure their governments to do more for the environment.
In a classic culture clash, the conference highlighted some of Qatar's growing pains as it seeks to expand its global profile.
Gulf countries want to reach out for events that offer prestige, but international conferences also feature messy debates and protests that conflict with the region's strict controls, which effectively outlaw public criticism of local rulers or their policies.
"I'm glad it was in Qatar for many reasons," said Wael Hmaidan, a Lebanese activist and director of the Climate Action Network who challenged the host country for much of the week to show greater leadership.
"The main reason was how it impacted the region, how initiatives started in region, how it change of mindset on all levels," he said.
Qatar, which until recently showed little interest in climate negotiations, saw the conference as a chance to boost its image. Tiny Qatar already has an outsized presence on the world stage, including winning the bidding to host the football's 2022 World Cup and taking a leading role in aiding Syrian rebels.
Its lack of environmental expertise emerged early in the climate talks. It struggled to build consensus among the nearly 200 nations over a deal to extend the legally binding Kyoto Protocol, which aims to reduce emissions until 2020 and develop a work plan ahead a decision to adopt a new global climate pact by 2015.
Draft agreements were not ready until the last second, and Qatar did little in the first 10 days to bring together key ministers to craft a grand deal, as past hosts have. The conference had to be extended a day because agreements were not in place.
"They were pretty rubbish," said Iain Keith, senior campaigner with activist group Avaaz. "They lacked the capacity to sort out the choreography and ensure the right trade-offs were happening at the right time. That is the reason we went into overtime." Then conference was due to end Friday.
Civil society groups had an even less charitable opinion of Qatar, which keeps a tight lid on political dissent and rarely allows protests of any kind. Continued...