Saudi Arabia, known for its abundant oil reserves, is calling on countries to address what it perceives as a rising danger to the planet’s climate – the utilization of wind and solar energy.
The pitch from the world’s biggest oil player includes a Saudi government document, obtained by POLITICO’s E&E News, expressing concern about the “lifecycle” greenhouse gas emissions of wind, solar and other renewable energy sources, whose popularity has grown as countries look for alternatives to planet-heating fossil fuels.
The kingdom is increasing its efforts to support the idea that costly and untested techniques for reducing greenhouse gases in the air and oceans are crucial for effectively addressing climate change. However, scientists, environmental advocates, and representatives from at-risk island nations argue that the primary solution for climate change is to cease the production and consumption of oil, natural gas, and coal.
been slow to embrace renewable energy.
Many other countries, such as the United States, have been hesitant to adopt renewable energy despite being major producers of fossil fuels.
Supported the use of technology to decrease carbon emissions.
The Saudis believe that in order to combat climate pollution caused by wind turbines, solar panels, and other renewable energy equipment, it is necessary to shift towards more environmentally friendly energy sources. This statement was made in a speech prior to the start of the COP28 climate summit, but it has not been reported before.
According to a copy of the speech, a Saudi official was prepared to argue that renewables are a crucial component of the solution during a closed-door speech to fellow diplomats on October 31st. prepared text
However, the Saudi statement also emphasizes the need for prompt action to mitigate the lifecycle emissions of these sources in the short term, which will involve removing emissions.
Unfortunately, the U.S. embassy of Saudi Arabia did not provide any answers to inquiries regarding the mentioned document. This aligns with the statements previously made by Saudi officials promoting technology that captures carbon emissions from smokestacks. However, advocates pushing for stronger action on climate change express concerns that the country may be pushing for carbon management in order to undermine the growth of renewable energy sources and hinder efforts to transition away from fossil fuels, which emit greenhouse gases.
Bill Hare, a climate science advisor for Grenada, commented that Saudi climate negotiators have been engaged in this process for many years. He mentioned that they consistently find ways to justify delaying action, which is another tactic in their playbook for delaying progress.
Furthermore, Hare, the CEO of the European think tank Climate Analytics, has stated that the Saudis’ claim regarding the impact of planet-warming emissions from the production and implementation of renewable energy is greatly exaggerated. Studies have shown that electricity generated by solar panels, for example, has a significantly smaller carbon footprint compared to that of coal-fired power.
According to Hare, the production systems for these technologies are becoming more environmentally friendly, so the issue is not as significant as some may make it seem.
Hare expressed concern that the language used by Saudi Arabia and its allies could impact financial markets by indicating global backing for new carbon technologies. This could potentially shift focus and resources away from established methods of decreasing fossil fuel consumption, such as investing in renewable energy initiatives and implementing efficiency programs.
Hare stated that it would be a significant triumph for those who wish to postpone taking action and delay the reduction of oil, gas, and coal.
A new techno-focus
At the current meeting in Dubai, Saudi Arabia is pushing for the advancement of technologies that remove and capture carbon, while also facing pressure from island nations and the European Union to join in on a global effort to eliminate the use of fossil fuels. According to Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, the kingdom will not support any COP28 resolution that aims to decrease worldwide consumption of fossil fuels, which are both the main contributor to climate change and a crucial part of their economy.
The United Arab Emirates, host of the talks, has helped Saudi Arabia shift its focus towards reducing emissions instead of targeting the fuels that cause them. The negotiations are being led by the UAE’s top oil executive.
Despite their statements, both countries with abundant oil resources have only made small efforts in implementing emissions technologies, according to data gathered by the Global CCS Institute, an organization that advocates for carbon capture and storage installations. This has led some to question if these nations are truly interested in utilizing carbon capture and removal as a solution to climate change, or if it is simply a tactic to divert attention away from their oil production.
The goal of carbon capture projects is to reduce the negative impact on the environment caused by facilities that rely on fossil fuels, like coal power plants and steel mills. On the other hand, carbon removal technologies aim to undo this damage by extracting carbon dioxide that has already been emitted into the atmosphere. These two approaches are often grouped together as part of carbon management strategies.
Although carbon capture and carbon removal may seem similar in terms of engineering, their commercial and environmental benefits are distinct.
The declining cost of renewable energy has hindered the effectiveness of carbon capture for struggling coal plants, as they are being replaced by wind or solar projects. In addition, inexpensive renewable energy can be utilized to produce environmentally-friendly hydrogen for steel production. However, climate scientists have emphasized the need for large-scale carbon removal to prevent the severe consequences of global warming, as stated in a recent report to the U.N. on the critical state of the climate.
Saudi Arabia has shown interest in both carbon capture and carbon removal technologies. They are promoting these systems as a means to limit the increase in average global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius, which is the goal set by the 2015 Paris climate agreement. However, they have not emphasized the importance of transitioning away from fossil fuels.
“We need to take immediate action in addressing emissions from all sources in order to reach the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees. It is important to not prioritize one energy source over the other,” the representative from Saudi Arabia was ready to state at the pre-COP28 meeting. This private meeting, held in Abu Dhabi, UAE, was designed for diplomats to present their country’s negotiating stance for the climate summit that commenced last Thursday.
The Saudi official is not identified in the document. However, the metadata linked to the file suggests that it was created by AlJawhara AlSudairy, who is the leader of international negotiations and policy at the Saudi Ministry of Energy.
When requested for a statement, AlSudairy referred inquiries to the ministry, which did not provide a response regarding the speaker of the speech. It is uncertain if the written speech accurately reflects what was said in person.
In the year 2021, the nation of Saudi Arabia unveiled a plan called the Middle East Green Initiative, which seeks to increase efforts in carbon capture, promote investment in the green economy, and foster advancements in renewable energy. However, the country’s starting point is significantly lacking in these areas.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, renewable sources account for less than 1 percent of electricity generated in Saudi Arabia. This is not due to a shortage of resources, as the country boasts ample sunshine and wind, making it highly attractive to investors for solar and wind energy development.
The Global CCS Institute reports that there are currently no notable carbon removal facilities in operation or being developed in Saudi Arabia.
According to the most recent report from the Global CCS Institute, there is currently one carbon capture project in operation in the kingdom. This project is located at a natural gas processing facility owned by Saudi Aramco, the state oil company.annual report
Carbon dioxide is gathered and then injected underground in order to enhance oil production, which reduces the potential environmental advantages of the project. A larger carbon capture center is currently in the process of being developed and is expected to be operational by 2027, according to the institute.
The country of Saudi Arabia has a substantial amount of funds that it could potentially put towards renewable energy sources, or initiatives focused on reducing carbon emissions or capturing carbon from the environment.
Saudi Aramco, valued at over $2.1 trillion, ranks as the third largest publicly traded company globally, trailing only tech giants Apple and Microsoft. In the previous year, the state-owned oil company reported a record-breaking annual profit of $161 billion, the highest ever for a publicly listed firm.
The International Energy Agency, a government-run organization, recently advised oil-producing countries to stop pretending that their efforts to manage carbon emissions will allow them to continue relying on fossil fuels.
IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol stated that oil and gas companies worldwide must make significant choices regarding their role in the global energy industry. These companies must prioritize aiding the world in meeting its energy demands and climate objectives by releasing the misconception that carbon capture is a feasible solution.
In the past few months, officials from Saudi Arabia’s energy sector have been actively working on initiatives in Africa and Asia with the goal of boosting the demand for oil and gas. This information was revealed in a secret investigation conducted by the Center for Climate Reporting and UK’s Channel 4 News, which was published last week.
The Saudi Arabian government did not provide a response to inquiries regarding the investigation. However, in 2016, they introduced a plan called Vision 2030 which aims to decrease their dependency on oil. The goal of this initiative is to increase the non-oil sector’s contribution to the country’s economy from less than 20% to 50% by the end of the decade.
The UAE and Bahrain are advocating for the reduction of carbon.
During COP28, Saudi delegates are advocating for increased focus on carbon management, with support from their diplomatic partner, the UAE. The UAE has also emphasized the benefits of a specific type of carbon removal that is favored by the oil industry, even as they plan to expand their crude production.
In July, the United Arab Emirates presented updated environmental targets to the international climate organization, stating their aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 19% by 2030 compared to levels in 2019 and achieve net zero emissions by the middle of the century.
As a component of this strategy, the Emirates will investigate novel methods of Direct Air Capture (DAC) that remove CO2 directly from the atmosphere. This is essential for achieving net zero emissions over time, as stated in the UAE’s submission to the UN. To proactively develop knowledge and skills, as well as to fulfill their goal of becoming a center for low-carbon technology, the nation will begin testing and utilizing DAC technology before 2030.
Facilities for direct air capture utilize fans, materials that absorb carbon, electricity, and heat to remove CO2 from the surrounding air. The resulting pure carbon can be combined with water and injected into underground reservoirs, a method commonly used by oil and gas companies.
The Global CCS Institute reports that the UAE currently has a single operational carbon capture facility and no plants that utilize direct air capture technology.
During the buzz surrounding COP28, the Emiratis have revealed multiple initiatives for carbon management. One example is the partnership between UAE’s Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. and U.S. company Occidental Petroleum, which was announced in October.
Collaboratively finance a study in engineering.
In the next month, ADNOC and Santos, an Australian oil company, signed an agreement to investigate the possibility of creating a carbon dioxide shipping and transportation system for a potential direct air capture facility in the UAE.
However, experts from Climate Analytics and the NewClimate Institute, a European research organization, have expressed concerns about the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) targets for addressing climate change. They have pointed out that the country’s plans involve investing $150 billion within the next five years to increase its capacity for producing oil and gas.
The analysts stated that it is not clear how the UAE intends to achieve their goal of reaching net zero emissions by 2050. This information was gathered from their review of the UAE’s submission to the UN, also known as a nationally determined contribution. The latest NDC from the UAE mentions their plans to implement carbon capture and storage and direct air capture, but does not provide details on the extent of emissions reduction and removal that would result from these strategies.
The U.S. embassy of the UAE did not reply to a comment request. However, on Tuesday, an official from the UAE stated that their support for carbon management initiatives was motivated by practicality.
“I want to clarify that our goal is not to advocate for carbon capture as a means to extend our current energy system,” stated Majid Al Suwaidi, director-general of COP28, during a press conference in Dubai. “Rather, we are promoting carbon management as a necessary step to address the emissions system in place while we work towards creating the system we desire.”
Other oil-rich countries have also committed to increasing carbon removal in their efforts to address climate change, with the Emirates being one of the latest to do so.
Saudi Arabia stated to the United Nations in 2021 that the successful implementation and widespread use of technology is essential in achieving the goals set by the Paris Agreement. They emphasized the importance of collaborating and implementing technologies such as carbon capture, utilization and storage, direct-air capture, and clean hydrogen.
In the following year, Bahrain presented a climate objective stating its endorsement of critical technologies such as carbon capture and utilization, direct air capture, and others that are essential for challenging industries.
According to data from the Global CCS Institute, there are currently no carbon capture or direct air capture facilities in operation or under development in Bahrain.
The U.S. embassy in Bahrain did not reply to a comment request.
According to Joanna Depledge, a research fellow at the University of Cambridge, it is no longer feasible for global leaders to consider the idea that we can continue burning oil while also addressing climate change through carbon capture. She shared this sentiment via email, stating that this belief is now a fantasy due to the advanced state of the climate crisis.
For many years, Saudi Arabia and other nations have hindered progress towards reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. According to Depledge, a former member of the U.N. climate agency, urgent steps must be taken to significantly reduce the use of these fuels. Instead of focusing on removing carbon dioxide, which can be harmful, efforts should be geared towards keeping global temperatures at a safe level.
This report was contributed to by Karl Mathiesen in Brussels and Sara Schonhardt in Dubai.