Gulf states push for net zero but warn ‘we can’t just switch off the tap’

The following time Saudi Arabia’s vitality minister goes purchasing for a automotive, one factor is evident — it “actually” gained’t be electrical.

The Gulf state is the world’s largest exporter of crude oil and “as a minister of vitality in Saudi Arabia, I’ve to be trustworthy to my beliefs”, stated Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman at a inexperienced vitality convention in Riyadh. He added one caveat. “Nonetheless, the nation might be manufacturing electrical automobiles . . . it’s a must to preserve your choices open.”

Prince Abdulaziz’s reply makes clear the ambivalence of oil-rich Gulf exporters, a number of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases, as they pledge to chop their emissions. Forward of COP26 in Glasgow, each Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates dedicated to reaching internet zero by 2060 and 2050, respectively.

The desert states, themselves extremely uncovered to the affect of worldwide warming, are investing billions into photo voltaic, wind and hydrogen energy in an effort to turn out to be world leaders in clear vitality. However in addition they insist that they should pump extra oil to maintain their economies afloat and have the monetary sources to spend money on new energies.

“They’re telling us, ‘We have to struggle local weather change, however we wish oil and gasoline to stay a part of the combo’. They wish to form the dialog. A world that shifts to renewables and electrifies every part is a catastrophe for petrostates,” stated Jim Krane, of Rice College’s Baker Institute.

In a digital speech addressing the G20 summit in Rome, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman pledged to develop clear vitality. However, in remarks carried by the state information company, he stated the dominion would proceed its main function in “attaining safety and stability in vitality markets”.

In becoming a member of the host of countries pledging to chop carbon emissions to nearly nothing and offset the rest, the UAE is performing as a “accountable world citizen”, Mariam Almheiri, the UAE’s minister of local weather change and atmosphere, instructed an Atlantic Council webinar final week.

However “this can be a transition, we will’t simply change off the faucet”, she added. “As we ramp up clear and renewable vitality, we may even be ramping down oil and gasoline manufacturing — however in the intervening time there’s nonetheless a worldwide want, so we’ll nonetheless be supplying.”

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz gives a virtual speech during the G20 leaders summit in Rome, Italy
Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz provides a digital speech throughout the G20 leaders summit in Rome, Italy © Bandar Algaloud/Saudi Royal Court docket/Reuters

For Gulf states keen to chop emissions, the size of the duty is gigantic. With a inhabitants of simply 34m, Saudi Arabia is the world’s fourth-largest oil shopper. It depends on oil-related liquids and gasoline to gasoline its energy stations and desalination crops, and produce closely subsidised electrical energy. Qatar, Kuwait, the UAE and Bahrain comprise the globe’s prime 4 carbon emitters on a per capita foundation.

Whereas gross sales of electrical automobiles within the UAE are rising at a couple of third a yr, boosted by free charging and parking, typically the area principally stays true to its stereotype of outsized SUVs, cavernous, air-conditioned malls and subsidised gasoline. Regardless of current cuts in subsidies, gasoline in Saudi Arabia is about 60 cents a litre or $2.20 a gallon.

“Throttling all these emissions all the way down to zero goes to be a really heavy carry,” stated Krane. “It’s going to take a top-to-bottom overhaul of the economic system and in native attitudes in the direction of vitality.”

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has put renewables on the coronary heart of his plan to reform the dominion’s economic system, has pledged to spend $187bn to fulfill the web zero goal, outlining plans to plant 10bn bushes within the kingdom, in addition to 50bn throughout the broader Center East.

However with solely 10m bushes planted in Saudi Arabia between October 2020 and April 2021, Li-Chen Sim, a non-resident scholar on the Center East Institute, described this venture as “a really tall order”.

“The satan is within the element — neither of them (Saudi Arabia and the UAE) launched an in depth pathway of obtain internet zero, with no short-term targets by yr. So it is extremely laborious to see if they’ve developed credible plans,” stated Sim.

The UAE has stated it can launch detailed planning on its path to internet zero subsequent yr. The plan ought to contain a mix of doubling down on renewable vitality, growing hydrogen as a clear vitality supply, lowering consumption and boosting carbon seize. With three of the world’s largest photo voltaic parks, its newest forecast — which is prone to be upgraded quickly — was to supply 20 per cent of its electrical energy from renewable vitality by 2030 and 44 per cent by 2050, up from at the least 7 per cent now.

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Saudi Arabia, a relative laggard within the renewables race, has dedicated to a goal of deriving half of its electrical energy from renewable sources by 2030 — up from what was estimated in 2018 to be about 0.04 per cent. The dominion can also be specializing in the event of hydrogen as a brand new vitality supply, with a goal of 4m tonnes a yr by 2030.

The area does have some benefits in its battle to scale back emissions. Its carbon intensive industries, comparable to refineries and desalination crops, are clustered close to giant oilfields that would turn out to be depositories for carbon storage.

“Capturing and gathering these emissions and piping them to a close-by oilfield is fairly easy, and manner cheaper than it could be in most international locations,” stated Rice College’s Krane. “These guys already know the way to do that as a result of it entails the identical expertise that the oil enterprise makes use of.”

Regardless of the gradual progress, Prince Abdulaziz stays bullish on future prospects. The Arabian peninsula’s geography has offered the dominion with the lowest-cost photo voltaic and wind energy, he stated. “We’re going to be producing the most affordable electrical energy on planet earth. Interval.”

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