Take a short walk outside at the height of noon in Qatar, when temperatures can creep upwards of 48°C (120°F), and you’ll quickly turn into a sweat-soaked, sunburnt mess. With the effects of climate change continuing to take hold, the Middle Eastern nation is only set to experience higher temperatures too.
In the wake of this problem, Qatar has come up with an unlikely remedy: air condition the outside.
The Washington Post reports that Qatar has already embarked on installing air conditioning units in numerous outdoor spaces, including open-air markets, sports stadiums, and walkways. One of the most ambitious projects has seen air conditioning being blasted into the Al Janoub Stadium, a newly built open-air venue that will soon be visited by over 40,000 international soccer fans for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
“If you turn off air conditioners, it will be unbearable. You cannot function effectively,” Yousef al-Horr, founder of the sustainability-focused Gulf Organization for Research and Development, told The Washington Post.
Qatar is already feeling the effects of climate change. They have seen average temperatures rise by more than 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels, while the global average temperature increase is over 0.8°C (1.4°F).
However, air conditioning is not the answer – in fact, it's an utterly terrible idea.
For starters, air conditioning works best in a confined space. Chances are, you’ve encountered air conditioning at some point and you’ll know it's more effective if you close the windows and shut the doors. If you put an air conditioning unit in your garden, it’s just a drop in the ocean.
What's more, air conditioning is a total nightmare for the environment.
It’s a little known fact that our mission to cool down buildings is one of the main forces warming our planet. This is because air conditioning guzzles up a relatively high amount of energy. It’s estimated that 20 percent of the total electricity used in buildings around the world goes towards air conditioners and electric fans. Since most countries still heavily rely on fossil fuels for domestic energy production, this means air conditioning is responsible for a lot of greenhouse gas emissions.
Many cooling technologies, such as refrigeration and air conditioning, also use hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) coolants, which act as climate pollutants many times more potent than carbon dioxide. While international agreements are starting a global effort to curb the use of HFCs, they remain a major threat to the planet’s health.
In a grimly ironic catch-22, demand for air conditioning will only increase as the world warms up. The International Energy Agency believes that global energy demand from air conditioners could triple by 2050.
Qatar’s government argues that their World Cup will actually pump out fewer carbon emissions than previous years, primarily because their venues are relatively close together. However, Qatar is already one of the highest carbon emitters per capita in the world. As the country starts to truly feel the heat of the climate crisis, reducing its ecological footprint is going to become even more of a challenge.