Saudi Arabia revises emissions goal as world prepares for COP26 climate summit

At a green summit in Saudi Arabia, one of the world's largest oil producers announced it aims to reach 'net zero' greenhouse gas emissions by 2060, and Prince Charles warned there is a 'dangerously narrow' window to tackle global warming.

Major oil producer still aims for role in enhancing stability of global energy markets

Saudi Arabia's energy minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, speaks during the Saudi Green Initiative Forum to discuss efforts by the world's top oil exporter to tackle climate change in Riyadh on Saturday. (Ahmed Yosri/Reuters)

One of the world's largest oil producers, Saudi Arabia announced Saturday it aims to reach "net zero" greenhouse gas emissions by 2060 as the world prepares for the COP26 summit on climate change in Glasgow next week.

Although the kingdom will aim to reduce its emissions, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said the kingdom would do so through a so-called "Carbon Circular Economy" approach.

That approach focuses on still unreliable carbon capture and storage technologies over efforts to actually reduce global reliance on fossil fuels.

Saudi Arabia's first-ever Saudi Green Initiative Forum was timed to make a splash a little more than a week before the start of the United Nations climate talks in Scotland.

In a recorded message to the Saudi forum, Prince Charles said there is a "dangerously narrow" window to tackle global warming.

The heir to the British throne said that the COP26 summit, which starts Oct. 31, will show that "after far too long," climate change and biodiversity loss are at last "of paramount importance to the world."

Britain's Prince Charles, seen here at a reception for the Global Investment Summit in London last week, said in a recorded message Saturday there is a 'dangerously narrow' window to tackle global warming. (Alastair Grant/The Associated Press)

Prince Charles — a long-time environmentalist — said the COVID-19 pandemic "has highlighted that human health, planetary health and economic health are fundamentally interconnected."

"We now have a dangerously narrow window of opportunity in which to accelerate a green recovery, while laying the foundations for a sustainable future," he said.

Saudi's climate contribution

Crown Prince Mohammed said Saturday the kingdom of Saudi Arabia will aim to reduce emissions within its own borders.

But there is no indication Saudi Arabia will slow down investments in oil and gas or relinquish sway over energy markets by moving away from the production of fossil fuels. 

The country is forecast to make $150 billion US in revenue this year from oil alone.

The announcement also only pertains to Saudi Arabia's efforts within its national borders, and does not impact its continued aggressive investment in oil and exporting its fossil fuels to Asia and other regions.

"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.

Leaked documents

Leaked documents, first reported by the BBC last week, show how Saudi Arabia and other countries, including Australia, Brazil and Japan, are apparently trying to water down an upcoming UN science panel report on global warming before the COP26 conference. 

The prince vowed Saudi Arabia will plant 450 million trees and rehabilitate huge swaths of land by 2030, reducing more than 270 million tons of carbon emissions a year and attempting to turn the landlocked city of Riyadh into a more sustainable capital.

The kingdom joins the ranks of Russia and China on their stated net-zero target date of 2060. The United States and the European Union have aimed for 2050.

In making the announcement, analysts say the kingdom ensures its continued seat at the table in global climate change talks.

LISTEN | The effort to phase out oil and gas: 
Denmark’s climate ambassador, Tomas Anker Christensen, discusses the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance — a new group looking to speed up the phasing-out of those industries. 9:18

Saudi Arabia has pushed back against those who say fossil fuels must be urgently phased out, warning that a premature switch could lead to price volatility and shortages.

Recently  leaked documents show how the kingdom and other nations are lobbying behind the scenes ahead of the COP26 summit to change language around emissions.


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