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Tuesday, March 29, 2022 - 12:45

The importance of cities adopting a holistic view of sustainability – and working alongside nature as opposed to against it – has been emphasized during a high-level panel discussion led by Qatar Foundation at the annual Doha Forum.

The session, titled Building a New Sustainability Paradigm, was moderated by Dr. Gonzalo Castro de la Mata, Executive Director of Earthna Center for a Sustainable Future – Qatar Foundation’s (QF) non-profit policy research and advocacy center that aims to inform and influence national and global sustainability policy. Speakers included His Excellency Sheikh Dr. Faleh bin Nasser bin Ahmed bin Ali Al Thani, Minister of Environment and Climate Change.

Speaking about concrete actions Qatar has taken to reduce its emissions and become more sustainable, His Excellency Sheikh Dr. Al Thani said: “We successfully reduced gas flaring from the Al Shaheen gas field – one of the biggest gas fields in the world – by 80 percent. 

“Additionally, we are in the process of building a carbon capture and storage plant that will sequester 5 million tons of carbon emissions (CO2) per annum from our liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities by 2025, with plans to extend the storage capacity to 9 million by 2030.”

In terms of nature conservation in Qatar, His Excellency said: “In Qatar, mangroves – trees and shrubs that live in the coastal intertidal zone and can sequester four times more carbon than rainforests can – are protected by law, and active efforts are in place to restore them.” 

Mr. de la Mata pointed out that there are several fundamental questions to be answered when it comes to building sustainable cities. “First, how can we support the development of a local and holistic view of sustainable cities that ties in the social, economic, cultural, and environmental dimensions of sustainability?” he said. 

“Second, how do we enhance resilience given the threats of climate change? Third, how and why should we encourage more nature-based solutions in how we approach city design and building?” 

Speaking about the concept of building with nature and promoting nature conservation to enhance resilience of cities, Jane Madgwick, CEO, Wetlands International, said: “The first point to make is that sustaining and restoring nature goes hand in hand with all elements of climate resiliency. 

“The cost of rapid urbanization, which is fragmenting the natural systems, is increasingly high, particularly in terms of water risks, floods, and water scarcity, and even subsidence of whole cities because of overextraction of groundwater – effectively making nature a threat to cities that are looking for resilience in the long term.” 

She added that building with nature involves thinking beyond traditional static, single-purpose infrastructure, and working with natural processes: “Nature based solutions are about linking social, economic and environmental development.” 

Speaking about the critical role finance has to play in tackling the climate crisis, The Right Honorable Vincent Thomas Keaveny, Lord Mayor of London, said: “Finance is absolutely at the heart of the solution to this enormous global challenge.” 

He noted that one of the key components in any city are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and that governments need to support them in reaching the targets set by the respective city. “Measures that need to be taken to reach these targets are not cost-free and can be very demanding for SMEs, so it is imperative that governments support them,” he said. 

Speaking on the status of climate negotiations across the world, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, Leader of Climate and Energy Global Practice - at WWF, said: “Some cities, fortunately, have developed a net zero vision, but there are others that have not. All cities must develop the net zero vision, that is the first step.”

Addressing the issue of how to promote sustainable practices in least developed countries (LDCs), Vidal said:“We have to reward progress, and not just success. We can’t expect LDCs to take drastic measures like electrification of transport; some of them don't even have a public transportation system and that is sad but that is the reality. 

“We must recognize the reality that not all countries can take the same measures and we must ensure that no country gets left behind and that we all move forward at the same time to meet climate objectives.”

Stressing the need for a holistic approach to sustainable, regenerative development, Madgwick said: “Let's connect nature and climates and break through the silos, both urban and rural. Let’s take a bigger picture view and bring together the different sectors and stakeholders from the landscape up and connect that with the finance that's increasingly available at the global level.” 

QF’s participation at Doha Forum also saw its Hamad Bin Khalifa University host a session titled Governing the Global Climate Crises: The New Frontier; and the World Innovation Summit for Health, QF’s global health initiative, lead a session called Vaccine Distribution: Collaborative Solutions for an Equitable System.