I was honored to participate years ago in the Warsaw 2013 Climate Change Conference along with an active Saudi delegation. However, our participation then was not linked with a general governmental strategy on the state level regarding the handling of ecological issues, especially since several economic and ecological factors affect the Saudi capability internally and externally in finding alternative sources of renewable energy, let alone the typical concept that the Kingdom is solely interested in the oil industry.
The internal motivations for reducing carbon emissions are numerous, including the increase in fuel consumption to the extent that Citibank issued a report in 2011 warning that the Kingdom might turn to a consumer of fuel amounts that surpass its oil export for a full decade. The economic loss incurred on the Kingdom by its local consumption was estimated at $60 billion in 2013, with an average price of $103 per barrel. This estimation equals the fuel consumption of a country like Germany, whose economy is five times stronger than that of Saudi Arabia. Following the 2016 reforms regarding energy prices, there has been an improvement in implementing consumption rationing. Up till the present, the Kingdom is still selling some 350,000 barrels per day for electricity production with a price of just $6 per barrel.
These details altogether justify the package of reforms adopted by the Kingdom, including raising the amount of renewable energy by 50 percent. Meanwhile, the ecological aspect is never less important than the economy, and due to the economic and population growth over the last two decades, Saudi Arabia has witnessed a surge in the amount of carbon emission that doubled from 2000 until 2015, the year which had the highest emission. Later, there was a relative emission reduction thanks to the economic reforms, according to the GCP data. In the same vein, and to provide countermeasures against that amount of carbon emission, the Kingdom has doubled the forestation areas 12 times, as it has promised.
Above all, the path taken by the Kingdom is rational and positive, as it proposes competitive solutions such as blue hydrogen, which has storage and power efficiency potential that tremendously surpasses that of other renewable energy sources, let alone that its production cost might reduce with increasing investments. Hence, I think that the adoption of the 2060 no-carbon emission strategy is highly realistic.
China is the world’s largest investor in renewable energy – as it holds 30 percent of global investments dedicated to clean energy over the last decade. However, fossil fuel still comprises some 72 percent of its consumption, with charcoal amounting to 62 percent. The reason is that the surge of clean energy share entails an increasing demand on energy in general that accelerates with the ongoing economic and technical growth.
To sum up, besides its evolving role in energy production and constant participation as a key player in the development of the global economy – particularly through its productivity regulation in OPEC to avoid an energy prices crisis, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is also a partner in the global response to climate change dilemmas, and not a defender of the industry of fossil fuel – as the common misconception claims.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, Saudi newspaper al-Riyadh.