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In Focus

Earth hour and beyond: Ensuring an environmentally sustainable future for Qatar by Dr. Parakalan Krishnamachari

Started in 2007 by the World Wild Fund (WWF) as a symbolic lights-out event in Sydney to raise awareness of climate change, Earth Hour is now one of the world's largest grassroots movements about the environment. Held every year on the last Saturday of March, Earth Hour engages supporters in more than 190 countries and territories, all united in ensuring a brighter future for people and the planet.

Since its inception, Earth Hour has generated a lot of debate from conservationists and laymen alike about the effectiveness of its “lights out” campaign. While the jury is still out on this matter, one cannot deny the symbolic meaning behind the gesture. At a time when pollution, over-consumption, habitat destruction, and climate change are pushing the environment to the brink, both awareness and action are of paramount importance.

In Qatar too, the exceptional rapid economic growth combined with the use of natural resources, infrastructure development, and high population growth, has resulted in irrefutable environmental stresses. To avert this looming crisis, QNV2030 and the National Development Strategy address the need to grow national prosperity with an environmentally sustainable development path.

In the same spirit, the Qatar Research, Development and Innovation Strategy 2030 (QRDI 2030) outlines a transformation roadmap towards a dynamic and integrated national RDI ecosystem, with a significantly expanded capability to generate new knowledge and solutions. RDI is a key lever for solving social, environmental, and other national challenges to enhance people’s quality of life, well-being, and security.

Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF) has been and continues to be a key facilitator for stimulating RDI efforts in the Energy & Environment sector by implementing the aims of QRDI 2030. Through various funding instruments, on a competitive basis, QNRF has been enabling research excellence in Qatar across all disciplines and at all levels and has successfully contributed to building a world-class research ecosystem.

Along with efforts on a national level, Qatar is also participating in the global push to timely address challenges faced by our environment. A signatory to the Paris Climate Agreement, Qatar has committed to increasing the role of renewables in its energy production and consumption. Expanding the share of renewables in Qatar’s domestic energy mix can enhance environmental sustainability while enabling the export of additional volumes of natural gas. To this end, new patterns in consumption and production, and the development and application of environmentally sound technology are at the center of efforts to advance sustainable development.

Moreover, QNRF is also a member of the Belmont Forum, which is a group of the world's major and emerging funders of global environmental change research. In this capacity, QNRF joins the concerted effort to accelerate the delivery of the environmental research needed to remove critical barriers to sustainability by aligning and mobilizing international resources.

QNRF has so far funded over 150 innovative projects that tackle a multitude of energy and environmental challenges. These include topics such as renewable energy, Co2 management, Mitigation, adaptation, and sustainability among others.

These projects have also played a significant role in critical research infrastructure development including Smart Grid centers, and gas and fuels research centers. Similarly, we are also playing an active role in formulating new national environmental standards and specifications and sustainable solutions for various energy and environmental challenges.

One such funded project that addresses a crucial climate change challenge for Qatar is a cluster project led by the Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute (QEERI) at Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU). This project aims to develop an efficient and practical carbon management system to reduce Qatar’s carbon footprint and promotes multidisciplinary research by bringing together key partners and stakeholders including the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, Kahramaa, AGRICO, and Qatar Shell.

Using innovative materials, the proposed technology aims to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations by capturing excess CO2 directly from the atmosphere, improve indoor air by channeling these captured gasses to agricultural greenhouses, and convert them into value-added products. These solutions will have a positive impact on climate change, health, food security, and the diversification of the economy, and will improve the quality of life in Qatar.

Similarly, the recently completed NPRP-EP project led by Texas A&M University at Qatar, addressed Qatar’s grand CO2 challenge via an integrated and multi-disciplinary approach. The main subject of the project, dry reforming of methane (DRM), provides attractive chemistry for Qatar’s infrastructure to re-insert CO2 to produce value-added chemicals and ultra-clean fuels. The novel CARGEN™ technology developed in the project identified a unique pathway to co-produce multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs) along with syngas while addressing all the DRM challenges. The project also served to train the next generation of engineers and scientists, while developing state-of-the-art R&D infrastructure to support Qatar’s journey in becoming a low carbon emission economy.

In conclusion, it is abundantly clear that here in Qatar, Earth hour is beyond just a gesture. The Earth Hour and the message it carries give us an opportunity to renew our commitments as individuals, businesses, corporations, and governments to make responsible choices for a sustainable future. As the region’s leading research-funding agency, QNRF has played an important role in developing a research ecosystem to enable our researchers, scientists, and engineers to develop innovative solutions to local and global environmental and energy challenges and we remain committed to our mission to address the increasingly complex challenges faced regionally and around the world.

* Dr. Parakalan Krishnamachari is the Program Manager for Energy & Environment at QNRF. He holds a PhD in Energy and Environmental Systems from North Carolina A&T State University. A major part of his role at QNRF includes interacting regularly with stakeholders (academic, public and private sectors) with strategic motives of local capacity building, technological innovation, and adoption.  His current interests include research strategy & policy and impact assessment.

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