Interview with #SLAAGC President Mohamad Mubarak

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نص المقابلة مع محمد مبارك  باللغة العربية


Mohamed Mubarak is Senior Research Librarian at the Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies Library (QFIS). He is also president of the Special Libraries Association – (Arabian Gulf Chapter) SLA-AGC. I sit down with him at the lovely QFIS library and talk to him about his history with the SLA-AGC, the upcoming SLA-AGC conference, and his thoughts on open access publishing.

Alwaleed Alkhaja (AA): First of all, thank you Mohamed for meeting me today. My first question is how did you get involved with the SLA-AGC?

Mohamed Mubarak (MM): Back in 2006, I was sponsoring myself to attend one of the SLA conferences in Muscat, Oman. At the time, I was working in the Arabian Gulf University library in Bahrain and my director happened to be a past president of the SLA-AGC. I was enjoying my time at the conference and attending different sessions when my director asked me if I wanted to join the SLA-AGC board. I simply asked her ‘what is the SLA about?”

I admit that I have previously heard of the SLA but I did not really think about joining it. She told me that I will learn a lot and that I will gain some of the leadership skills that I will later need for my career. She managed to convince me and I was later nominated to join the SLA.

Honestly, it was a good experience to introduce myself to different people with different backgrounds: from academia to the private sector. I started learning from this new environment and was able to transform some of the things that I learned to a decision-making level. I also started to take part in organizing a regional event (the SLA-AGC conference) that serves most of the information professionals in the region. The SLA-AGC membership itself allowed me to eventually progress to become the chapter’s public relations officer. From that the time I started understanding that, we as information professionals are not just serving the institute we work for but we are serving the profession of librarianship itself.

Organizing an annual event gives us the opportunity to invite other potential professionals to join the SLA. The SLA is a big organization that started in the US back in 1909; whereas the SLA-AGC is one of the oldest SLA chapters. I have been fortunate to be part of this organization and serve the profession of librarianship.

(AA): What are some of the main goals of the SLA-AGC?

(MM): Our goals and objectives are not different of the main SLA organization. These goals include providing information professionals with the opportunity to network with each other. Moreover by attending our conference and various workshops, these information professionals will have the opportunity to learn and develop their work competencies and skills, learn how to acquire new technologies for the work place, as well as develop their collection in a way that can serve their community.

It is worth mentioning that the SLA-AGC deals with a different culture than the one in North America, and therefore somewhat different challenges. We try our best to invite more people to our annual meeting, to give them an opportunity to be a member of the SLA-AGC (which I believe will help them discover how to become a leader in their profession and how to serve their communities in the best way. We still have a mission to complete: we need to develop our programs for each year, and invite more speakers to attend, and encourage more people to participate. By establishing a partnership with different institutions within the Arabian Gulf over the last twenty years, the SLA-AGC has been able to build good relationships with different government and academic entities.

(AA): The SLA hosts an annual conference, and I had the chance to be there last year. How was it in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates?

(MM): I received good feedback from different delegates. I was in the middle of organizing the conference and I can say that it was indeed a successful event in Abu Dhabi. It was also the first time that we organized the event with the very prestigious Masdar Institute in Abu Dhabi.  Also, it was very good in the sense that way that we managed to have a successful plenary session program. We worked very hard to bring the latest trend topics with the expectation of the professions in the region. I would like to think that we did a very good job! For sure, the next SLA-AGC conference in Doha will be a good opportunity to continue our successful journey.

AA: The conference in Abu-Dhabi was only my second SLA-AGC event (the first was a workshop I attended in Oman in February 2013). What I found interesting is that I met many librarians from outside the Arabian Gulf. Does the SLA extend its support to countries beyond the GCC countries?

MM: For sure! That is one of our main objectives. We should not really be limited by the name of the chapters (Arabian Gulf Chapter) but need to expand our support to professional librarians in the region and in the Arab world. We had a good opportunity this year to have people from Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon as well. We are aiming to be an international event not just a regional event. We try our best to develop the chapter. We will continue aiming for the highest level of quality and international reach.

AA: What would you like to see in this year’s event?

MM: (Smiles) I would like to see a lot of new things! This year’s event will be here in Doha in partnership with Qatar University. For sure we have a lot of things in mind. We have a rich program for next year and we recently set out the call for papers (Deadline was 1st October 2013). We will need a lot of help from key players in Qatar. We are planning to have an event with QScience (which is part of Qatar Foundation) and we have a plan as well to have an event with the Qatar National Library of Qatar Foundation. We are looking forward to the next event!

AA: Now something more related to what does; I would like to ask what is your opinion on open access ?

MM: Open access is a very important publishing initiative and I have been introduced to open access in my previous position as medical librarians, in which I used PubMed Central to retrieve articles for academics. I was surprised by the large number of accessible scientific articles. When it comes to open access, we have to think about developing countries, which don’t have the resources and financial support to get access to the scientific literature. Open access helps a lot of scientist and researchers around the world to get access to the latest literature. This is very important to continue to their research and education. I completely support it!

AA: As you probably know, some of the universities in our region do not have the financial support to get all needed journal subscriptions. How do you see the role of open access in developing research in the region?

Open access will help increase the research level a lot in the region and the world. I was involved in an advisory board for another publisher and some of the things that was discussed was how open access can develop research on a national and regional level. I think the Arabian Gulf has a low research output compared to other regions. Some researchers find it difficult to publish in high-impact journals and tend to publish in lower-impact journals. They eventually find out that their research does not reach the audience they wished for. Many open access journals still have the high quality peer review process and will allow their findings to be more accessible to academics worldwide. As librarian professionals, we should convince the different academic institutions in the region about the important of investment in open access. Some institutions have research funds dedicated for publishing and I would like to see some of these institutions to adapt more open access policies. There is a lot of great research that is published in the region but I consider it as gray literature because it does not have the opportunity to be seen by a lot of the people around in the world. Open access will be an important way for their work to be seen by researchers around the world.

AA: Thank you Mohamad for meeting with me and I look forward to seeing you again at the next SLA-AGC conference in Doha
The 20th Annual conference “Enhancing in Digital Knowledge Society’s Information Needs” in Doha, Qatar from 25th – 27th March 2014

For more information please visit:

نص المقابلة مع محمد مبارك  باللغة العربية

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The Science of Urgency–Reflections on COP 18

Outcomes of COP meetings are usually discussed in terms of policy and international buy-in to agreements. By this definition, COP 18 results were less than what were expected yet still a step forward. The Kyoto Protocol will continue on for a second commitment period, eight years on, yet it only legally binds a 15 percent reduction of emissions.  And while stocking the green climate fund by 2020 with the US$ 100bn promised is still high on the to-do list, it seems a tall order from developed nations still watching the dust settle on the financial crisis of last decade.

Yet, as Wael Hmaiden, Director of Climate Action Network International–the largest climate change organization of more than 700 NGOs–explained early in the proceedings: action taken at the policy level is one thing and the attention COP draws to the issues at hand is another.

In Doha, especially, this notion proved important as the meeting took place for the first time in an OPEC nation. Specifically, having a COP in a country that is deeply entrenched in a carbon-based economy did much to foster an information highway to the region, encouraging knowledge transfer on topics like energy subsidization, incentivizing renewables and designing smart cities as well as best practices for carbon capture. What’s more, it drew attention to the fact that residents in this region—with its low-lying populated areas, tapped water reserves and intensely-hot climate—are all-too familiar with the effects of climate change. It’s clear that people across the Gulf are eager to get involved and are starting get a hold of information that can help them assess the situation and do something about it.

Candid discussions around fossil fuel subsidization reform, renewable energy initiatives (namely Saudi Arabia’s unprecedented investment in solar energy production) and the release of the first ever ecological footprint assessment for the MENA region showed a solid effort on the part of the region to move swiftly on climate change. Yet side events (see previous posts) provided deep insight into how complicated this move is given local circumstances.

No matter where in the world you target, you first need to research and understand what exactly you’re looking at in terms of market viability, need for external funding, feasibility of setup and maintenance of any technologies, need for capacity building, issues of equity, and a myriad of other factors, not the least of which would be political makeup. Only then can you design an intelligent and workable plan of action. The types of events and discussions taking place under the UNFCCC are beginning to reflect the dire need for such R&D and knowledge transfer. But will this issue—of adapting climate change strategies—move far and fast enough from behind the shadow of the mitigation strategies and debates that have dominated discussions so far?

Adaptation vs. Mitigation

A debate around adaptation and mitigation has emerged as a key to understanding some of proposed strategies as well as the gridlock at policy level. Adaptation implies ground-level approaches to preparing for effects of climate change. Examples include shifting economies toward renewable resources, basing farming practices on more sustainable methods—including working more closely with meteorologists to plan crops and tapping into time-tested traditional land-use practices—and generally overhauling at every level to reduce climate impacts and prepare everyone for unpredictable conditions. Mitigation, on the other hand, implies directly targeting carbon emissions with policy to incentivize a reduction in fossil fuel use and carbon emissions (creating a side-effect shift toward renewables), as well as the promotion of techniques like carbon capture and storage.

Mitigation and adaptation measures overlap, especially when you consider that mitigation-based taxation and subsidization policies shed more attractive lighting on the renewable market. Yet the call for adaptation, to change the trajectory of developing countries toward a more sustainable one—vs. a follow-the-polluting leaders approach—is emerging as vital, because as more and more people move out of rural poverty and into the urban middle class, energy demands are only projected to rise, markedly.

Policy is now forming around terms of climate change funding for countries that can’t afford the R&D, implementation and maintenance of renewable strategies that work in their environments. These developing countries have so far depended on and suffered the brunt of effects from polluting technologies. For this reason, a UNFCCC  work program on loss and damage has formed, and the Green Climate Fund is under negotiation as a support mechanism for capacity building as well as technology development and transfer.

This COP resulted in continued support of the Technology Executive Committee, which is the newest initiative in UNFCCC aimed at chartering a way forward in terms of implementing effective and climate-friendly technology based on location. Key aims of this committee include developing strong communications with ground-level administrators in developing countries and devising ways to make investment in renewables attractive to private investors based on a long-term prediction of economic success in any given location. Part of this effort hinges on location-specific R&D. For instance, in Qatar, solar energy poses a technology challenge due to the scarcity of water and the amount of it needed to cool the units under unusually hot conditions. Alternative solar-based solutions and cooling technologies must be considered as research targets.

Adaptation technology platforms (as discussed in this post) have popped up to address the incredibly complex conditions on the ground. These data-rich, web-based portals allow access to information not only on the technology in use today but also on the important location-specific information that helps decision makers and investors see the feasibility of implementing any given strategy based on localized conditions—current market drivers, natural resource availability, economy, population, weather, capacity building requirements, etc.

Knowledge transfer has emerged as an essential and pressing concern around adaptation approaches and mitigation approaches alike. At COP 18, experts called repeatedly for more investment in research and publication of findings from developing countries. And now more than ever it has become obvious, the need for open access and open source databases to share findings and minimize duplicate efforts. Similarly, the green patent approach would make technology specs available in a third of the time.

On the mitigation front, the degree of investment into carbon sequestration methods depends directly on knowledge acquisition and transfer related to the most effective strategies to both store maximum carbon and clear out hard-to-reach oil and gas patches. This is not to mention the legal considerations around carbon leakage over time, the potential for which demands focused research and investment therein.

Research in Qatar is addressing many of the issues on the table at COP, some of which were covered here. And a partnership announcement with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research marked a strong step forward and commitment on the part of the host country.

The Science of Urgency

The issues on the table are the greatest humankind has ever faced and, while self evident in countless cases, are most provocative when backed by scientific research. Yet some government officials at COP and much of the general public are ill equipped, information-wise, to to comprehend the full extent of climate change, Hmaiden said.

“Climate change has been here for 20 years,” he explained. “So why didn’t everyone know about it 20 years ago. I am an environmental activist, and it took me seven years as in this role to fully understand what climate change is. Imagine the general public who are even farther away from this information. It’s very complex scientific information that doesn’t trickle easily to the public.”

This combined with the fact that climate change is not an attractive issue complicates the sense of urgency that needs to build around climate change, fast. In Sweden, Hmaiden said, the government has considered naming their ministry of climate change “The Ministry of Existence,” to raise awareness about the seriousness of climate change.

“It’s like cancer in your body; you have to treat it,” he said. “But if you fall down and you have a cut on your head and your head is bleeding, you’re definitely going to treat this more urgently than going to get chemotherapy to cure cancer. Cancer is more important than a cut, more serious than a cut on your forehead. But a cut on the forehead you prioritize in terms of action.

“And what’s happening in the world is that we’re facing one cut after another. We are in a constant state of stitching but we are forgetting that the cancer needs to be treated and that it’s growing. The more we delay, the more it will spread. At some point, whatever chemotherapy you do, it’s not going to be enough. So at some point we’re going to have to say I have to treat this cancer.”

Achim Steiner’s talk at the high-level panel on food security is worth a listen as he headlines with the fact that the UNFCCC’s role in part is to bring science to the policy arena. The UNEP Executive Director and Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, Steiner’s urgent appeal for effective application of science and technology, to steer humans away from destructive and highly-entrenched modes of operation, is palpable.

New Look at Agriculture, REDD and Incorporating Islam into Climate Change Mitigation

Panelists and audience members at a side event

The big draws at COP18 these initial days are side events. These offer a stage to observer organizations where they can go deeper on issues related to climate change. The events are 90 minutes long and feature a panel of experts—usually from various countries and organizations—speaking and answering questions posed by the audience at the session’s end.  The events “provide opportunities for information dissemination, capacity building, policy discussions and legitimizing global governance,” according to the UNFCCC.

Attending a few of these events makes one realize their importance, because the concerns of people around the world and perspectives upon which they are based are staggering in number. Today, I attended a few events to get a sense of agricultural concerns related to climate change, the latest findings around Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD), policy approaches and carbon capture policy, and how Islam factors into climate change mitigation strategies. From Norway to Chad to Mongolia, panelists discussed these issues and how they fit into the COP agenda.

Alexander Muller, Assistant Director General of the Natural Resources and Management Department of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, chaired an event today entitled: “Sustainable Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change—How Can Climate-Smart Approaches Help Build Resilience in Food Security and Agriculture?”

According to the latest statistics, there are 870 million people going hungry at the moment, Muller said. The number, for the entire world, has dropped while the number of those going hungry in Sub-Saharan Africa has risen, he added. The panel was formed around the idea that climate change mitigation strategies go hand-in-hand with sustainable agriculture, to the point that Muller said that “climate change adaptation must be incorporated … there is no distinction between agricultural development and mitigation.”

“Climate smart agriculture” as it is termed in policy documents, has three pillars: sustainable increase in productivity, strength and resilience of crops and an increase in the mitigation of emissions. Yet, while in the past, agricultural models have depended on increased use of fertilizer, engineered seeds and increased irrigation to produce high yields, these methods are not climate smart, Muller said.

Alexander Muller, Assistant Director General of the Natural Resources and Management Department of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and panelists at side event

Incorporating mitigation into agricultural planning strategies means thinking in terms of broader ecosystems. “We know that climate change will have an impact on ecosystems and ecosystems are what agriculture relies upon,” he said.

A panelist from Malawi, Austin Tibu, Senior Conservation Officer, Department of Land Resources Conservation, Ministry of Agriculture and  Irrigation Development, Government of Malawi, discussed the issue being faced there, particularly drought and flooding as well as yields that do not meet the needs of a growing population—the problem facing most Sub-Saharan African countries.

Damdin Dagvadorj, Special Envoy on Climate Change, Ministry of Environment and Green Development, Government of Mongolia, explained the problem of overgrazing therein and the fact that climate change is affecting the lives of people there due to harsh weather conditions. The winter of 2008/2009, in particular, he said, lead to the loss of a large percentage of livestock.

Agnes Otzelberger, Africa Climate Adaptation/Global Gender Adviser, CARE International-Poverty, Environment and Climate Change Network (PECCN), spoke of approaches her organization has developed to work with smaller farmers. She explained the importance of technology transfer as opposed to simply applying methodology and leaving the farmers to cope. “[Agricultural] innovation should be done together, through social learning, farmer-to-farmer learning approaches that are flexible and forward-thinking.”

Agricultural approaches must be flexible, she said, since decisions must be made in the face of uncertainty in terms of how the climate is changing from year to year. She spoke of a scenario in Africa where farmers said had they had access to more information about climate, they would have made better decisions in response to this information.

James Kinyangi, CCAFS Regional Program Leader East Africa, ILRI, East Africa, asked if the poor and most vulnerable will benefit from climate-smart approaches. “Are they benefiting? Will they benefit? We don’t know,” he said. It’s time to ask: Where is the missing link that prevents us from answering these questions?

“One of the things we can do is target and create a critical mass of practitioners of climate-smart practices to address the need for food security,” he said citing the current negative correlation between food security and the inability of farmers to innovate. “Farmers can’t make changes and thus nobody can see what would happen if they did, and nobody will get out of poverty.”

A lot of people in Africa today, he said, are participating in small-scale farms, micro-industry and small businesses, actively working to get out of poverty. “We are doing things to be able to transfer from that stage,” he said, “we can engage decision makers to invest in places where the results will be most effective.”

Humans are increasingly dealing with conflict and crisis as well as competition for resources, he said. “We are moving more into a place where we are seeing different nutrition patents, moving into a world where the private sector is expanding in terms of the profit motive. These are external drivers, and you have to think of the poor and vulnerable.”

He stressed the importance of multidisciplinary and information-rich approach to innovation, saying it’s important to work in partnerships—“not just farmers, but experts, policy makers, funders and experts to make sure that the poor and the vulnerable benefit.”

“We want to present sustainable agriculture as part of the solution … climate smart agriculture can move people out of poverty, feed people and help mitigate climate concerns.”

Muller brought the concept of Fair Trade into the discussion (as it was a part in COP 17), calling on Carlos Vargas, a producer representative from Costa Rica, to describe the methodologies of this approach. Vargas explained that Fair Trade as a concept implies working with vulnerable people and giving them the opportunity to reach high production levels on smaller plots of land using sustainable methodology, including soil management and protection techniques, planting forest cover in order to prevent erosion and keep humidity in the soil, and the use of natural pest control, organic fertilizer and, whenever possible, organic production methods.

Muller reminded the audience that while the number of hungry has reduced worldwide, that number is on the rise in Africa as well as Asia—lands that have dense populations and yet face impacts of climate change and a reduced ability to produce food for themselves. While the number is rising in Africa, Asia, he said, comprises the highest number of hungry on the planet.

Side event: What Doha and the Durban Platform need to do about REDD and LULUCF?

Discussion here revolved around adapting policy to what is being discovered through research of natural systems.

Nils Hermann Ranum, Head of Policy and Campaigns at Regneskogfondet, said that REDD strategies must incorporate incentives that reward beyond carbon and reward for the long term.  He said that REDD has gained traction at these conferences because it is a “win-win-win” strategy protecting forests and natural ecosystems, securing rights and livelihoods of forest-dependent peoples and reducing carbon emissions. But this is not enough to drive change at the rate and to the degree that’s needed, he argued.

He said there needs to be focus actions that have been tested to work and incentives around these, such as emissions reductions based on simplified measurements.

“There’s a lot of consensus about how we can do this,” he said. “Good governance to address drivers of deforestation and degradation, protect natural forests, strengthen land tenure.”

He argued further that system establishment takes so many resources and that land tenure reforms are still not given a high priority. Furthermore, he said that discoveries since Bali necessitate another look at where policy efforts should be directed now. “We need a wider set of parameters around governance issues, social and environment issues.”

Professor, Dr. Hans Joosten, Greifswald University, spoke of a compelling source of carbon emissions that deserves consideration because of its perpetual nature.  Peat soils, which are damp soils in healthy forests that supply nutrients to the flora therein, become atmospheric carbon sources when the forest is removed and the land is drained of its moisture. Peat soils from tropical soils, especially, contain and emit many times more carbon. “When drained, these soils become vigorous and long-lasting sources of carbon dioxide,” he said. “Peatland changes the scale of carbon emissions because the leaching of peat soils creates an annual CO2 rise. Decreasing the area of deforestation is the only way to reduce this rate.”

“We need a moratorium for peat soils,” he continued. “Reducing tree biomass, drainage and fire all increase emissions and this is an important consideration. Peatlands are forest carbon pools that emit because of what happened to their forest. These are long-term effects of deforestation and must be counted in deforestation initiative and mitigation strategies.

“Peatland conversion is rapid and irreversible,” he continued, “it is persistent and increases emissions. Conserve, reforest, rewet.”

Islamic Values and Traditional Knowledge in Drylands

Dr. Crawhill, center, and panelists

Dr. Nigel Crawhall, Director of the Secretariat for the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee (IPACC), discussed the concept of incorporating Islam as well as traditional knowledge into policy around land use.

“We are looking at a different approach to climate—right now we are locked into a pattern whereby ‘if one gains, the other loses,’” he said.

A shift in emphasis on religion and traditional values results in a duty-driven approach and a responsible approach. The strategy at IPACC, Crawhill said, involves a traditional-knowledge system that is value driven and ecosystem specific. “How do you take an oral knowledge system in indigenous languages and bring it into an international framework?”

The Holy Quran was born and spread in dryland regions, he said, so this is a great opportunity to have a dialogue between African peoples and the people of West Asia about traditional approaches to climate change mitigation. With the theme of Quranic teachings we are responding to the risk in approaching these issues competitively instead of collaboratively.

An expert from Bahrain joined on the panel to give context to the Islamic perspective. “People say we are in a clash with nature,” he said. “We should not be in a clash with nature. In the Quran, we learn that many things we as humans learn is through the observation of nature. Any Muslim that plants a tree, for instance, is blessed because they have given alms. They will get the benefit because others will use that tree.

“Nature is the greatest gift to mankind and the Quran is the user’s guide for this gift. We are to explore nature and this lively Earth. The Quran is a culture, and God manifests in every creature and everything in nature. When you give water to a dog, you are saying a prayer, you are being subservient to God.”

The panel consisted of those involved–as filmmakers and participants–in a social research project in Chad. They continually mentioned Ramadan as a unifying factor among participants, whereby people from various ethnic groups joined together in prayer five times a day and this produced an air of solidarity around the project and the mission. They said this enhanced collaboration among the people.

Crawhill introduced a video about the Chad project, which involved the M’bororo indigenous people, of Baïbokoum, Logone Oriental, in southern Chad, who are pastoralists. They participated in a 3D mapping project in August of 2012 (during the Holy Month of Ramadan) whereby around 40 stakeholders—not to be confused with land owners since they graze their livestock on shared land—used GPS data and cartographic tools to map out and negotiated terms around every part of a zone of land that they depend on.

They employed a system that’s over 500 years old, he said, to negotiate terms around the land and then to present these terms to policy makers who oversee the land from Chad’s modern, central government. The argument on the table is that this old system is more intelligent because everything is carefully discussed and every single decision involves the perspectives of all involved. In the end, the map that was produced gave the participants a sense of power and clarity around the arguments they presented to the government officials.

The project results demonstrated what happens when there is a merging of local and scientific knowledge systems because aerial photos of the land were superimposed on the map. Through the use of science and technology, the deep traditional system was ushered into the modern scheme.

The project, as described, also displayed an ability to preserve the old tradition that is under threat of disappearing because it doesn’t tap into modern presentation or communication systems. The technology and science used in this experiment can be employed in any social system around the world where indigenous knowledge is under threat. Qatar being a perfect example since the rate of development here is so fast.

Naturally, Islamic values would have room for discussion and incorporation into any schemes that result from such activities.

Takeaway: The striking need for a link between research findings and policy

What I’m seeing in these sessions is an effort on the part of experts to voice findings from on the ground and convey these findings in a way that policy-makers can leverage as important in the grander scheme of socio-economic realities. Now, more than ever, the transparency around these findings is critically important. Experts from an array of disciplines join together on individual side event panels and share knowledge with each other and other experts. The rooms are jam-packed. Knowledge around these issues, underpinned by (social and physical) scientific discovery, is of the essence.

Hikma Hours Highlight Qatar’s Response to Climate Change

(L to R) Chris Silva, Sheikha Athba Al Thani, Nasser Al Khori, Arend Kuster, Rudiger Tscherning, and Nadia Aboul Hosn

Members of various organizations around Qatar* have formed an NGO alliance around climate change initiatives known as Qatar Sustainability Network (QSN). Today saw QSN executives leading a discussion about Qatar’s specific responses to climate change in terms of adaptation, mitigation and capacity building. The discussion was the first of what will be daily side events at COP 18, called Hikma Hours (Hikma translating most closely to the English word wisdom). 

Today’s discussion, moderated by Arend Kuster, Managing Director at and board member of QSN, presented a general overview of proactive capacity-building efforts underway across a range of sectors in Qatar. In introducing the panel of QSN representatives, Kuster added that sustainability is at the heart of the agenda and the Qatar National Vision 2030 and that “Qatar Foundation and QSN are working together to build capacity and raise standards on how we use food and water resources while being mindful and aware of impacts on the environment.”

Panelist, Sheikha Athba Al Thani, Chief Services Support Officer and Sustainable Development Manager at Qatar Diar Vinci Construction (QDVC) spoke about outreach initiatives throughout Qatar schools and how these are carefully monitored to ensure that the information is impacting youth and their approach to the environment. She also spoke of collaborations with QTel (Qatar’s main telecommunications company) to enhance recycling initiatives and broaden the scope of these over time.

Nasser Al Khori, Programs Associate for Qatar Foundation International, spoke about  programs aimed at raising awareness and creating global citizens. He spoke specifically about an initiative called Mapping the Mangroves, which is dedicated to heightening awareness and fostering conversations and protective action around the important ecosystems found in Mangrove forests around the world. At the heart of this project is scientific investigation, as it depends on a collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar, which supplied technology to remotely monitor factors like temperature and use these figures for research. Al Khori describes the project here:

Nadia Aboul Hosn, the Science and Outreach Expert at Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute (QEERI) spoke about initiatives QEERI has undertaken to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of Qatar’s response to climate-change-related issues. She said that while many exciting and highly-sophisticated projects are underway, especially given the great capacity-building effort around research in Qatar, there is a gap between organizations, causing efforts to be made in silos when collaboration would be favorable. She said that QEERI is actively looking into ways to bridge this gap and bring together various proactive organizations so that initiatives based on shared expertise and experience can be formed.

Christopher Silva, Sustainability Education Coordinator at Hamad Bin Khalifa University (part of Qatar Foundation), spoke about how Qatar is employing knowledge from various sectors–including social sciences–to ensure that green building technology is not only a part of people’s lives but a factor in raising awareness and changing behavior. For one example, green buildings can be equipped with monitors that inform residents when the temperature outside is favorable to that indoors so that they switch off the air conditioner and open windows. For another, residents use a key card to activate electricity, but bearing a likeness to a hotel room key, he said this card also stores information about how much electricity was used so that the resident understands their impact immediately and in relation to the time spent with lights or devices on. The immediacy of this information, he said, is what makes it effective.

Director of the Energy and Environmental Law Forum at Qatar University, Rudiger Tscherning spoke about how Qatar is working to establish laws and regulations around environmental initiatives. He said that in terms of capacity building for the nation, Qatar University’s environmental law program is focused on both research and education: “We work with lawyers at all levels and government employees and the issue is ‘where are the environmental laws; where are we at?'”

This idea builds into the vision of the country. The vision document itself “shows what the country of Qatar wants to be, where it’s going and how it’s going to get there,” he said.

The message from the environmental field in Qatar is that of a sustainable and diversified economy as part of social development, he continued. “We embrace the industry and engage them,” he said. “We are strong on lobbying and finding ways of alternative energy her in Qatar–water consumption, hydrocarbon use for desalination and energy generation, themes we are highly aware of.”

Tscherning emphasized the concept of transmission, i.e., sharing expertise as a form of capacity building. “This is something that is at the heart of what we are doing … we can get expertise from overseas, yet there is a lot of expertise hidden in Qatar, that’s why QSN is brilliant–get the expertise that is already here and spread it through collaboration.”

Kuster tied the discussion together with a look forward: “We need to validate what we are doing here against the future generations. We know what went wrong in the past—it’s the future we need to look at to know what we are to do here.”

*Members of QSN: Averda, Doha Oasis, Eco-Q, Friends of the Environment Center, Msheireb Properties, Hamad Bin Khalifa University, Qatar Energy and Environment Research Institute, Qatar Green Building Council, Qatar National Research Fund, Qatar Natural History Group, Qatar Science and Technology Park, Qatar Foundation, Qatar Solar Technologies, QScience, Qur’anic Gardens, Sprout, Sustainable Qatar, TCE QSTP-LLC. Government agencies participate as observers.