Saudi Arabia Pledges 2060 Target of Net-Zero Emissions

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — One of the world’s largest oil producers, Saudi Arabia, announced Saturday it aims to reach “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions by 2060, joining more than 100 countries in a global effort to try and curb man-made climate change.

Saudi Arabia has not indicated that it will cut its emissions outside of the Kingdom. However, the kingdom is still expected to invest in oil and natural gas. Energy exports form the backbone of Saudi Arabia’s economy, despite efforts to diversify revenue as the world increasingly looks to transition away from reliance on fossil fuels. Oil alone is expected to bring in $150 billion this year.
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The announcement, made by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in scripted remarks at the start of the kingdom’s first-ever Saudi Green Initiative Forum, was timed to make a splash before the start of the global COP26 climate conference being held in Glasgow, Scotland. He pledged that Saudi Arabia would plant 450,000,000 trees, and restore large swathes of land to reduce carbon emissions by more than 270,000,000 tons per year. The announcement was made before the start of the global COP26 climate conference in Glasgow.

This kingdom will join China and Russia in achieving their declared net-zero date of 2060. Both the United States of America and the European Union had hoped for 2050.

Analysts believe the decision was made to ensure that Saudi Arabia continues its place at the table for global climate talks. Saudi Arabia has responded to those who insist that fossil fuels should be phased out immediately, warning against price volatility and shortfalls. Recent leaks show that the Kingdom and other countries are working behind the scenes to influence the COP26 summit’s decision on emissions language.

As part of its domestic transition, the kingdom might also be able to take oil and gas from the country and use it for more lucrative exports to China and India. These countries are expected to increase their demand in the future.

“The kingdom’s economic growth is driven by export of its energy sources. It’s no state secret,” Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said at the forum in Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia says it will reach net-zero through a so-called “Carbon Circular Economy” approach, which advocates “reduce, reuse, recycle and remove.” It is an unpopular strategy among climate change activists because it touts still unreliable carbon capture and storage technologies rather than honing in on the phasing out of fossil fuels.

This announcement did not give any information about the Kingdom’s plans to reduce its emissions, or when they will reach their peak. Experts agree that drastic cuts must be made worldwide to limit global warming to 1.5° Celsius (2.7° Fahrenheit), as per the 2015 Paris agreement.

The kingdom — home to roughly 17% of proven petroleum reserves — supplies some 10% of global oil demand. As OPEC’s heavyweight, Saudi Arabia holds tremendous influence over energy markets and can pressure other producers to fall in line, as seen last year when the kingdom triggered a price war that successfully got Russia to curb its production amid a slowdown in demand from the pandemic.

Saudi Arabia said the transition to net zero carbon emissions “will be delivered in a manner that preserves the kingdom’s leading role in enhancing the security and stability of global energy markets.”

Oil producers in the Gulf argue against the swift phasing down of fossil fuels, arguing that it would be detrimental to low-income countries or populations who do not have access to basic energy. Saudi Arabia supports language that refers specifically to greenhouse gases.

“We believe that carbon capture, utilization and storage, direct air capture, hydrogen and low carbon fuel are the things that will develop the necessary ingredients to really make sure this effort will be inclusive,” Prince Abdulaziz said of the global energy transition.

Earlier this month, the United Arab Emirates — another major Gulf Arab energy producer — announced it too would join the “net zero” club of nations by 2050. The UAE, home to the region’s first nuclear power plant, did not announce specifics on how it will reach this target.

The BBC first published leaked documents that show Saudi Arabia, Australia and Japan trying to soften a U.N. science committee report about global warming. Greenpeace, who obtained the documents leaked, claimed that Saudi Arabia encourages nations to use fossil fuels and push carbon capture technology. The group says these “as-yet unproven technologies” would allow nations to emit more greenhouse gases on the optimistic assumption that they could draw them out of the atmosphere later.

Fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas make up the majority of world energy consumption. Solar power and wind only make up 10% of all electricity.

On Saturday, Prince Abdulaziz said every nation’s approach to cut emissions will look different.

“No one should be too facetious about what tool in the kit that everybody would have,” he said. “But if your tools in your kit and mine delivers emissions reductions, that’s the ask and that’s the objective,” he said.

Britain’s Prince Charles was among those participating in the Riyadh forum. In virtual remarks, he pointed to how the Middle East’s temperatures are also rising, threatening the region’s habitability.

President Joe Biden’s climate envoy, John Kerry, is expected in Riyadh on Sunday and Monday, where he will meet with officials and take part in the three-day forum.


Frank Jordans, an Associated Press journalist from Berlin, contributed to the report.


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