Arab Gulf States pressured by climate change still tout oil

In one, the world stops burning oil and gas to reduce heat-trapping emissions, shaking the very foundations of their economies. In the other, global temperatures continue to rise, at the risk of making a large part of the already extremely hot terrain of the Gulf unbearable.

The political stability of the six Gulf states – Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman – hinges on profits from fossil fuels. This includes the exports that energy-hungry China and India will want even more over the next two decades.

“Climate action is almost an existential problem for an absolute monarchy based on oil exports,” said Jim Krane, author of “Energy Kingdoms: Oil and Political Survival in the Persian Gulf”.

“They need climate action to be successful without destroying the oil market. It is a difficult needle to thread.

By promising ‘net zero’ emissions targets like Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain did this month, greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced within their borders – while maintaining overseas fossil fuel exports.

Saudi Arabia, which supplies about a tenth of global oil demand, made its announcement this week when hosting its first major climate change forum. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has set 2060 as Saudi Arabia’s target.

It was an important announcement for a country with oil reserves estimated at 265 billion barrels worth $ 22.5 trillion at current prices. Saudi Arabia has expressed its determination to pump oil to the last drop, but it may find little use for its greatest natural resource in a world that operates on cleaner forms of renewable and solar energy.

The Gulf monarchies have used oil revenues to maintain their domestic support, buy regional clout and expand their influence. Money built national armies and provided citizens with comfortable public sector jobs, free health care and higher education, subsidized fuel, land to build houses, marriage dowries and generous pensions. .

Without this system of favoritism, the Gulf monarchies might have to allow more political participation or become more repressive, said Krane, a researcher in energy studies at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University in Texas.

Gulf Arab states pledging to issue “net zero” are positioning themselves to be part of the multibillion-dollar clean energy industry, even if they continue to profit from oil and gas.

At the Saudi Green Initiative Forum in Riyadh, President Joe Biden’s climate envoy John Kerry told a room full of princes and prime ministers from across the region that climate action can create ” the greatest market opportunity the world has ever seen “.

“This is the biggest transformation that has ever taken place on this planet, since the Industrial Revolution, if we do it,” Kerry said.

The ‘net zero’ promises also allow the Gulf ruling elite to exert influence at conferences like COP26, where climate action policies are made, said Ellen Wald, senior member of the Atlantic Council. and author of “Saudi Inc.”

“It’s important for them to have a seat at the table and to be taken seriously at these conferences… because that way they have a say,” she said.

Saudi Arabia is one of many countries pushing behind the scenes at the COP26 summit to change the language around emissions, apparently trying to water down an upcoming UN science report on global warming, according to leaked documents.

The Gulf Arab states are privately and publicly advocating carbon capture technologies rather than a rapid phase-out of fossil fuels, warning that a precipitous transition would leave the poorest populations without access to energy.

Greenpeace, which obtained the leaked documents, criticized the approach, saying these “yet unproven” carbon capture technologies allow countries to emit more greenhouse gases on the optimistic assumption that they can. be extracted from the atmosphere later.

Meanwhile, national energy companies like Saudi Aramco, Abu Dhabi’s ADNOC, and Qatar Petroleum – now renamed Qatar Energy – continue their efforts to reduce emissions and boost investment in petrochemicals used in fertilizers, plastics, fuel and oil. rubber and other polymers which are in great demand around the world.

Aramco, by far the world’s largest oil company, has announced it will reach “net zero” on its operations by 2050, a decade earlier than the Saudi government’s commitment. ADNOC is committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2030.

Qatar Petroleum has already shipped a carbon neutral cargo of LNG gas to Singapore and will incorporate carbon capture technology into its expansion plans, according to a report from the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.

Speaking at the forum in Riyadh, ADNOC CEO Sultan Al-Jaber called on people to be “a bit ripe and sober” in energy transition discussions, insisting it will take time and must include oil and gas.

“We cannot come out of nowhere and all of a sudden talk about energy transition and completely ignore or underestimate the impact of oil and gas to help meet global energy needs,” Al-Jaber said, noting that 80% of total energy needs currently come from fossil fuels, of which 60% from oil and gas.

OPEC predicts that while the push for alternative and renewable energy will usher in an era of declining demand for oil in some parts of the world, it will remain the world’s largest source of energy until 2045. It predicts that 2.6 billion cars on the road by 2045, only 20% will be electric.

Although the six Gulf states remain heavily dependent on fossil fuels for state spending, each has taken steps to try to diversify its economies, with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates leading aggressive efforts to attract investment. in new industries.

Yet more than half of Saudi Arabia’s revenue comes from oil, with $ 150 billion expected this year alone as prices climb to $ 85 a barrel.

“Oil exports are the cornerstone of Saudi Arabia’s economy and political system,” Krane said. “It would be a disaster for Saudi Arabia if the rest of the world weaned themselves off oil quickly.”

Scientists say the world must invest in renewable energy to limit global warming to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius), although a new UN report finds that even new commitments from governments are failing. not strict enough to keep rising temperatures below this by the end of the century.

Almost all of the warming that has occurred on Earth can be blamed on emissions of heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide and methane, and if the limit is exceeded, scientists say the damage will be irreversible.

In remarks to reporters this month, Qatari Energy Minister Saad al-Kaabi asked if countries with “net-zero” commitments have a plan on how to get there.

“For me to go out and say, ‘Net zero 2050’. Very sexy, “he said.” I mean, it looks good in the newspaper, but it’s not the right thing. “

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Felix J. Dixon

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