As he strides through a hallway at the United Nations climate talks with the tightest of smiles on his face and the fabric of his traditional thobe swirling around him, Saudi Arabia’s energy minister expresses surprise at repeated allegations that the world’s largest oil producer is working behind the scenes to sabotage negotiations.
“What you’ve been hearing is a false charge, a scam, and a falsehood,” Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman al Saud remarked during a meeting in Glasgow, Scotland, this week. He was replying to questions from journalists who claimed that Saudi Arabia’s negotiators were attempting to oppose climate measures that would undermine oil demand.
Prince Abdulaziz stated, “We have been working nicely” with the chairman of the United Nations climate negotiations and others.
Negotiators from more than 200 countries are racing against the clock to reach an agreement on future steps to reduce global fossil fuel emissions and tackle climate change.
Saudi Arabia’s involvement in climate talks may appear contradictory – a country that has grown wealthy and strong as a result of oil is engaging in meetings where one of the main issues is lowering oil and other fossil fuel usage. While promising to join domestic efforts to reduce emissions, Saudi authorities have made it plain that they would continue to produce and sell their oil as long as demand exists.
Saudi Arabia’s team in Glasgow has put forward proposals ranging from a call to end daily negotiations at 6 p.m., despite the fact that they often extend into the early morning hours, to what climate negotiators say are complex efforts to pit country factions against one another in order to prevent agreement on tough steps to wean the world off coal, gas, and oil.
By the way, that is the “Saudi proposal.” “Let’s simply not work at night and accept that this isn’t going to be ambitious,” Jennifer Tollmann, an analyst at E3G, a European climate think tank, said.
Then “other nations may blame Saudi Arabia if they choose to agree with Saudi Arabia,” Tollmann added.
Saudi Arabia has often been accused of playing spoiler in climate negotiations, and this year it is the major country singled out so far by negotiators and observers both quietly and publicly. Russia and Australia are also grouped in with Saudi Arabia in the negotiations as nations whose futures are reliant on coal, natural gas, or oil, and who are working for a Glasgow climate deal that does not jeopardize that.
Despite efforts to diversify the economy, oil provides for more than half of Saudi Arabia’s earnings, ensuring the kingdom’s and royal family’s survival. About half of Saudi employees are still employed in the state sector, with their salaries mostly funded by oil.
And then there’s China, which is currently the world’s largest climate polluter due to its reliance on coal. It claims it cannot move to cleaner energy as quickly as the West demands, despite the fact that the US and China have agreed to step up their efforts to reduce emissions.
The world has less than a decade to cut its fossil fuel and agricultural emissions roughly in half if it wants to avert more catastrophic global warming scenarios, according to scientists and the United Nations.
Island nations, who, predictably, would be submerged under rising seas at a greater degree of warming, are the group at Glasgow pressing for the most draconian agreement possible.
Meanwhile, climate activists accuse the US and the European Union of so far failing to support the requests of the island nations, despite the fact that the US and the EU frequently wait until the final days of climate negotiations to adopt firm positions on contentious issues.
The United States, traditionally the world’s worst climate polluter and a significant oil and gas producer, receives a lot of flak. With its “Fossil of the Day” award to President Joe Biden for traveling to Glasgow last week with big climate rhetoric — but failing to sign a vow to wean his country off coal or reduce US oil output — the Climate Action Network disgraced the Biden administration.
If the climate summit is to succeed, other states must “isolate the Saudi delegation,” according to Jennifer Morgan, executive director of the environmental group Greenpeace.
Before the negotiations, Saudi Arabia was happy with states partaking in the climate-pledge frenzy. In the run-up to Glasgow, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman pledged that the country will achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.
Saudi authorities, on the other hand, have pledged for years to pump every last molecule of oil out of their country before world demand runs out – an ambition that would be thwarted by a rapid global shift away from fossil fuels.
Saudi Arabia’s position in global climate debates is “naked and cynical,” according to Alden Meyer, a senior associate of the E3G climate research group.