As Its Temperature Soars, Qatar Has Begun to Air-Condition the Outdoors

Behind Qatar’s addiction to air-conditioning lies a troubling reality: Current methods for cooling the country are unsustainable in the extreme.

Nathaniel Bahadursingh Nathaniel Bahadursingh

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“Expect Amazing” reads the slogan for the upcoming 2022 World Cup to be hosted in the Gulf state of Qatar. This phrase, however, speaks to more than just an international soccer tournament. “Amazing”, frightening and eye-opening all in one, Qatar’s use of mechanical air-conditioning is coming under the spotlight. From air-conditioned outdoor markets, sidewalks and malls to the new Al Janoub Stadium, the world’s first purpose-built air-conditioned soccer ground, the country’s dependency on artificial cooling has evolved to astonishing new levels.

The reason is obvious: climate change. Already one of the hottest places on the planet, Qatar has seen average temperatures rise more than 2 degrees Celsius above its pre industrial levels. It’s one of the fastest warming areas in the world, a fact that can be attributed to a combination of rising greenhouse gas emissions, urbanization and the rapidly warming waters of the Persian Gulf.

Al Janoub Stadium, the world’s first purpose-built air conditioned soccer ground; image via The Washington Post

Jet nozzles within Al Janoub Stadium that will pump out cool air; image via AFP/Karim Jaafar

The impact of increasing temperatures on human health has become particularly evident during the construction of World Cup venues throughout the country. According to The Washington Post, a German television report alleged hundreds of deaths among foreign workers in Qatar due to severe heat stress during outdoor labor. As a result, extreme safety measures and precautions have been set in place throughout the country. This explains why, for the first time in the competition’s history, the World Cup will be held in November, during Qatar’s milder winter. The crisis has also elevated air conditioning from a luxury to an essential means of living in the country.

Qatar’s situation serves as an example of what the rest of the world can expect if current climate trends continue, and is just one example of how rising temperatures are influencing design and planning on a huge scale. Of course, behind Qatar’s addiction to air conditioning there lies a troubling reality: Though outdoor air conditioning mitigates the intense heat in the short term, this energy-intensive ‘solution’ fuels a dangerous feedback loop that will only magnify the issue.

Cooling units stored along a street at an outdoor market; image via The Washington Post

A large air-conditioning building in heart of the Msheireb neighborhood; image via The Washington Post

Greenhouse gas emissions lead to global warming, which generates the need for air conditioning, which generates the need to burn fuels that emit more greenhouse gasses. According to The Washington Post, total cooling capacity in Qatar is expected to nearly double from 2016 to 2030. The publication goes on further to state that Qatar is currently the largest per-capita emitter of greenhouse gases, in which 60% of the country’s electricity is used for cooling.

The energy demand in this region is only increasing, and it’s clear that current solutions are not sustainable. However, reliance on cooling technology seems to be the easiest short-term fix for those living in Qatar. The country’s development and livability are at odds. Finding a balance between sustainable practices and safe living will only become more critical once the 2022 World Cup has come and gone.

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