Saudi Arabia is aiming to reduce its emissions within its borders. However, there are no signs that the kingdom will slow down oil and gas investments or give up its power over energy markets. Saudi Arabia's mainstay, energy exports, are the foundation of its economy. This is despite attempts to diversify revenues as the world looks to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. Oil alone is expected to bring in $150 billion this year.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made the announcement in scripted remarks during the first Saudi Green Initiative Forum. This was just before the start the global COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow, Scotland. He pledged that Saudi Arabia would plant 450,000,000 trees and rehabilitate large swathes of land by 2030. This will reduce more than 270 million tonnes of carbon emissions per year, and make Riyadh a more sustainable capital.
On their net-zero goal date of 2060, the kingdom joins China and Russia. The United States and European Union had hoped for 2050.
Analysts say that the announcement by Saudi Arabia ensures it continues to be a participant in global climate change negotiations. Saudi Arabia has responded to those who insist that fossil fuels should be phased out immediately, warning that a delay could cause price volatility and shortages. Recent leaks show that the kingdom and other countries are lobbying behind-the scenes to change the language surrounding emissions ahead of the COP26 summit.
The kingdom could also transition domestically and take oil and gas it has subsidized locally to export to China or India. This would be a more profitable export than the current demand.
Export of energy resources is the key to economic growth in the kingdom. "It's not a state secret," Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, Saudi Energy Minister, stated at Riyadh forum.
Saudi Arabia claims it will achieve net-zero by using a "Carbon Circular Economy" strategy. This promotes "reduce reuse, recycle, recycle and eliminate" rather than focusing on the phasing-out of fossil fuels.
The kingdom did not provide any details about how it would reduce its emissions, or when it would peak. Experts agree that drastic cuts must be made worldwide to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), as per the 2015 Paris agreement.
Saudi Arabia, which has approximately 17% of the world's proven petroleum reserves, supplies 10% of global oil demand. Saudi Arabia, OPEC's largest member, has a huge influence on energy markets. It can also pressure other producers to follow suit, as was the case last year, when Russia was forced to reduce its production due to a slowdown caused by the pandemic.
Saudi Arabia stated that the transition to net zero carbon emission will be done in a way that preserves Saudi Arabia's leadership role in enhancing security and stability in global energy markets.
The argument of the Gulf oil producers is against the rapid phase out fossil fuels. They claim that this would harm low-income countries and people who lack basic energy access. Saudi Arabia advocates language that refers greenhouse gases. This is a basket that includes many more than fossil fuels.
Prince Abdulaziz stated that the global energy transition will require carbon capture, utilization, storage, direct air capture and hydrogen.
The United Arab Emirates, another major Gulf Arab energy producer, announced earlier this month that it would also join the "net zero club" of nations by 2050. The UAE, which is home to the region’s first nuclear power station, has not yet provided details on how it will achieve this goal.
The BBC first reported the leaks. They show that Saudi Arabia and other countries including Australia, Brazil, and Japan are trying to soften a U.N. science panel report about global warming. Greenpeace obtained the leaked documents and stated that Saudi Arabia is encouraging nations to burn fossil fuels through carbon capture technology. These "unproven technologies," according to Greenpeace, would allow countries to emit more greenhouse gasses if they are able to draw them out from the atmosphere.
Fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas, and crude oil make up the majority of global energy consumption. Only 10% of electricity comes from wind and solar power.
Prince Abdulaziz stated Saturday that every country's approach to reducing emissions will be different.
He said, "No one should be too facetious regarding which tool would work for everyone." He said, "But if your toolkit and mine reduces emissions, that's what we're asking and that's our objective."
Prince Charles of Britain was one of those who participated in Riyadh's forum. He made virtual remarks and pointed out how temperatures in the Middle East are rising, which is threatening the region’s ability to live comfortably.
John Kerry, President Joe Biden's climate ambassador, will be in Riyadh Sunday and Monday where he will meet officials and participate in the three-day forum.