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Saudi Arabia’s Green Initiative versus the Glasgow Climate Change Conference

Randa Takieddine

Published: Updated:

A few days prior to the Glasgow Climate Change Conference and the G-20 Summit in Rome, Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s largest oil exporter that has the biggest global oil reserve, announced that it will spend $187 billion on initiatives related to combating climate change within a framework that, once proven sustainable, will be of great significance.

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The Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced that Saudi Arabia has started cutting down its carbon emission, aiming to reach zero by 2060, meanwhile reiterating that oil and gas will remain two major energy sources – along with the Kingdom’s reliance on advanced technologies to reduce gas emissions. The Kingdom also called on the UN to omit the articles stipulating the abandonment of fossil energy for the sake of emission-free renewable energy sources from the report issued by the scientific committee of the UN.

Along with the Saudi Crown Prince’s announcement of the initiative to embrace carbon circular economy, which is based on techniques to extract and store CO2 while developing the methods that enhance the potential of energy and renewable energy, Oil Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman has been also exerting efforts to push Saudi Arabia in the direction of launching projects for the production and export of green hydrogen through using renewable energy, and blue hydrogen by using oil and gas. Hence, when the largest oil-producing country in the world carries on with its oil production, this does not contradict its willingness to protect the environment. It is worth mentioning that the giant Saudi Aramco oil company has been developing environmental protection projects for long years.

It was thanks to the rise on oil prices that reached a top level of $85 per barrel for the last two years that surplus was available to the oil-producing countries which enabled them to spend huge amounts on their green projects to protect the environment and combat climate change. Meanwhile, the current surge in oil prices is due to decreasing investments in that sector in the recent years, since oil companies shrunk their investments during the Covid-19 pandemic spread that caused a global economic setback, leaving us today with this current scarcity that raises the prices of oil and gas.

The US Biden administration is now in trouble after Biden made combatting climate change a slogan of his presidential campaign. On the one hand it demands the OPEC member countries to increase their oil production, while on the other it recommends the countries participating in the Glasgow Climate Change Conference to abstain from the use of fossil energy for reducing gas emissions. Meanwhile, the tendency adopted by Saudi Arabia and the other GCC countries to develop the techniques of the extraction and storage of CO2 and innovate other methods to reduce gas emissions is the right direction, in spite of its high cost which can be incurred only by the oil- and gas-producing Arabian Gulf countries.

It is worth highlighting the huge gap between the rich and poor countries taking part in the Glasgow Climate Change Conference. In total, there are 196 participating states, some of which are poor and unable to develop their own renewable energy sources without external help. Earlier in 2009, the industrial countries announced their commitment to secure $100 billion yearly to assist the developing poor countries that are facing climate deterioration. However, there was a delay in the fulfillment of their commitment, although according to a report released by the British chairmanship of the Glasgow Conference indicates that, despite this delay, some $100 billion might very well be provided between 2021 and 2025, pointing out that this delay in the financial assistance to southern countries is a core issue, since the latter are the countries most affected by the negative impact of global warming.

According to the OECD, these poor southern countries have received some $79.9 billion in 2019. The question is, though, which among the rich countries will still make its contribution after the US, New Zealand, the EU countries, and Canada already delivered their shares? According to the British chairmanship of the Glasgow Conference, new funding will be announced. However, does it make sense to call on world countries to abandon fossil energy while the demand for this energy is surging in European countries that use gas during their transitional phase to renewable energy? Such countries include, for example, Germany along with other European and Asian countries that will take a long while to achieve that transition.

The Saudi stance on these issues is logical, as it serves the interests of the Kingdom and the other GCC countries to further develop green initiatives and projects of clean energy to protect the environment. However, to be able to afford such expensive projects and develop sophisticated and costly new techniques, the oil and gas revenues of these countries must continue flowing. Hence, it is not realistic to ask an oil-producing country to relinquish fossil energy which will not only remain a major source for energy for decades to come, but is also capable of producing clean renewable energy, such as hydrogen.

In the same vein, the participation of Saudi Arabia and other Arabian Gulf countries in the Glasgow Climate Change Conference will play an important role in defending the principle that oil and gas production should not contradict the environmental protection and the tackling of climate change – as long as it is accompanied by the development of CO2 extraction and storage techniques, which has already been launched by Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom’s participation comes after the Crown Prince’s declaration of the Green Initiative, which will entail the planting of millions of trees across the entire country.

This article was originally published in and translated from the Lebanese newspaper Annahar al-Arabi.

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