Saudi Arabia has ‘green vision’ at COP27, critics remain unmoved
What’s not highlighted in the glowing gallery are the earth-warming fossil fuels the country continues to pump from the ground for global export. Fossil fuel emissions are why negotiators from nearly 200 countries have gathered at the annual two-week conference, haggling over how pollution can be reduced and how quickly.
During and around the conference, Saudi Arabia presents itself as a leader in green energy and environmentally friendly practices, with flashy pavilions, brilliant presentations and upbeat assessments of technologies such as carbon capture, which can remove carbon dioxide from the air but is expensive and years away from widespread deployment.
“We have extremely ambitious goals and targets,” Saudi climate envoy Adel al-Jubeir said at the two-day Saudi Green Initiative Forum on the sidelines of COP27. “We want to be an example for the world in terms of what can be done.”
The effort is part of a big push by Saudi Arabia, which has some of the largest oil reserves in the world and is a ringleader of the OPEC oil cartel, to argue that the nation should be part of of the transition to renewable energies while maintaining its role as the world’s leading exporter of crude oil. This view is hotly contested by climate scientists and environmental experts, who argue that Saudi Arabia and other countries with large oil reserves simply want to distract the world to carry on business as usual. .
Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman al Saud has announced a series of new green projects or updates to existing ones, ranging from enhanced tree-planting pledges to new solar power projects in progress.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched his Saudi Green Initiative at last year’s COP26 conference in Glasgow, Scotland, with a target of “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions by 2060, qu ‘it changed in 2050 at the start of this year’s meeting.
Yet energy exports are the mainstay of the Saudi economy, generating $150 billion in annual revenue, despite efforts to diversify revenue as the global transition to fossil fuel dependence gathers pace.
At the Saudi forum, officials and guest speakers from renewable energy companies discussed topics including clean hydrogen, greening the desert and a futuristic desert city project called Neom.
The CEO of state oil giant Saudi Aramco, Amin Nasser, has said the world needs more investment in oil and gas, not less, a message at odds with the sentiment of many country delegations and experts and climate activists attending COP27.
“I’m worried because of the lack of investment in oil and gas in particular,” Nasser said, addressing a frequent theme. Saudi Arabia has resisted calls for an urgent phase-out of fossil fuels, warning that premature change has led to price spikes and shortages.
“Yes, there are good investments in alternatives,” such as wind and solar power, he said, adding that the amount of money spent on oil production capacity has fallen to 400 billion. dollars a year, compared to 700 billion dollars in 2014.
“It’s not enough to meet global demand in the medium to long term,” he said.
An Aramco spokesperson said Nasser was unavailable for an interview.
Among the Saudi announcements were plans to set up a regional center to “advance emission reductions” and another to hold a regional climate week ahead of next year’s COP meeting.
There is also a plan for 13 renewable energy projects with a total generation capacity of 11.4 gigawatts, although experts said this was a step back from figures announced in previous years.
Once operational, the new energy projects will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by around 20 million tonnes per year.
Saudi Aramco plans to build the world’s largest carbon capture and storage center, which will store up to 9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide when it becomes operational in 2027.
It’s all part of the kingdom’s pledge to cut emissions by 278 million tonnes a year by 2030. That’s still a small amount compared to around 10 billion metric tonnes of carbon released into the air every year.
The kingdom also raised its target for planting trees to 600 million by 2030, including mangroves, from its original target of 450 million.
Climate experts were not convinced.
“Saudi Arabia would be better placed to focus on reducing emissions rather than carbon capture and storage and questionable tree planting reductions, the offsets from which would simply allow them to continue to increase emissions from burning fossil fuels,” said Mia Moisio, an energy policy expert focusing on the Middle East and North Africa at the New Climate Institute think tank.
“To keep emissions on a 1.5˚C trajectory, all governments must focus on reducing fossil fuel emissions, not offsetting them.”
The Climate Action Tracker, managed by the institute and its partners, describes Saudi Arabia as “very insufficient”.
The tracker analyzes nations’ climate goals and policies against the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement which ideally sets out limiting the Earth’s temperature increase to 1.5 Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit).
Saudi authorities promote what they call a “circular carbon economy” to reduce emissions from oil and gas operations, but the tracker says it “only addresses a fraction of relevant emissions in Saudi Arabia and around the world. , as most oil and gas emissions come from fuel combustion rather than extraction and processing.
Saudi Arabia’s oil and gas assets generate 900 million tonnes of emissions annually, according to an inventory of known major sources of greenhouse gas emitters compiled by the Climate TRACE coalition and launched at COP27.
There is also a plan for a greenhouse gas credit and offset system next year, with few details. Carbon credits, which allow countries and companies to pay to reduce their carbon footprint, for example by planting trees, have become increasingly controversial, with critics saying they are a license for companies polluting to continue to pollute.
At least a year of talks in Glasgow, Saudi Arabia, has faced accusations that its negotiators were trying to block climate measures that would threaten oil demand – a charge the energy minister called a lying.
As negotiations on the final deal enter their second and final week, watchdog groups have warned of the influence of so-called oil states and industry lobbyists. They counted 636 people linked to fossil fuel companies on the provisional list of attendees for the meeting, a quarter more than last year.
“The Saudis may well come to COP27 with a green hat and tout the virtues of tree planting, but this is a state that continues to profit hugely from the destructive practices that are driving the climate crisis,” said Alice Harrison, an activist with Global Witness, one of the groups that did the count. “Any exhibition, conference or show to the contrary is pure greenwashing.”
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