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Thursday, December 2, 2021

Gulf countries push for net zero but warn “we can’t just turn off the tap”


The next time the Minister of Energy of Saudi Arabia buys a car, one thing is clear-it “certainly” won’t be electric.

The Gulf countries are the world’s largest crude oil exporters. “As the Minister of Energy of Saudi Arabia, I must be true to my beliefs,” Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said at the Green Energy Conference in Riyadh . He added a warning. “However, the country will make electric cars… You have to keep your choice.”

Prince Abdulaziz’s answer clearly shows the ambivalence of oil-rich Gulf exporters, which are the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases because they promise to reduce emissions. Before COP26 in Glasgow, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates pledged to reach net zero by 2060 and 2050, respectively.

Desert countries themselves are vulnerable to the effects of global warming. They are investing billions of dollars in solar, wind and hydrogen energy in an effort to become a world leader in clean energy. But they also insist that they need to extract more oil to maintain the economy and have the financial resources to invest in new energy.

“They told us,’We need to deal with climate change, but we hope that oil and gas will still be part of it.’ They want to shape the conversation. A world that shifts to renewable energy and electrifies everything is a challenge for oil companies Disaster,” said Jim Klein of the Baker Institute at Rice University.

At the G20 summit in Rome, King Salman of Saudi Arabia promised to develop clean energy in a virtual speech. However, in a speech delivered by the National News Agency, he stated that Saudi Arabia will continue to play a leading role in “realizing the security and stability of the energy market.”

UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment Mariam Almheiri stated at the Atlantic Council webinar last week that the UAE is acting as a “responsible global citizen” in joining the ranks of host countries that promise to reduce carbon emissions to almost zero and offset the rest. character of. .

But “this is a transition, we can’t just turn off the tap,” she added. “As we increase clean and renewable energy, we will also reduce oil and natural gas production-but there is still global demand, so we will still supply.”

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz gives a virtual speech during the G20 Leaders Summit in Rome, Italy

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

For Gulf countries eager to reduce emissions, the scale of the task is huge. With a population of only 34 million, Saudi Arabia is the fourth largest oil consumer in the world. It relies on oil-related liquids and natural gas to provide fuel for its power stations and desalination plants, and to produce heavily subsidized electricity. On a per capita basis, Qatar, Kuwait, UAE and Bahrain are the world’s top four carbon emitters.

Although the sales of electric vehicles in the UAE are growing at a rate of about one-third each year, driven by free charging and parking, in general, the region still insists on its stereotype of super-large SUVs, huge air-conditioned shopping malls and fuel subsidies. impression. Despite recent cuts in subsidies, fuel prices in Saudi Arabia are about 60 cents per liter or $2.20 per gallon.

“Controlling all these emissions to zero will be a very heavy work,” Klein said. “This will be a top-down reform of the economy and local attitudes towards energy.”

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (Mohammed bin Salman) made renewable energy the core of his kingdom’s economic reform plan and pledged to spend US$187 billion to achieve a net-zero goal, and outlined the planting of 10 billion trees and The plan of 50 billion trees throughout the Middle East.

But between October 2020 and April 2021, Saudi Arabia planted only 10 million trees. Li-Chen Sim, a non-resident scholar at the Middle East Institute, described the project as “a very difficult task.”

“The problem is in the details-neither of them (Saudi Arabia and the UAE) have published detailed ways to achieve net zero, nor have short-term annual targets. So it is difficult to see if they have a solid plan,” Sim said.

The UAE has stated that it will announce a detailed plan to achieve net zero next year. The plan should include a combination of doubling the development of renewable energy, developing hydrogen as a clean energy source, reducing consumption and promoting carbon capture. Owns the world’s three largest solar parks, and its latest forecast-which may be upgraded soon-will generate 20% of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030, reaching 44% by 2050, which is at least 7% higher than the current level .

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Saudi Arabia, which is relatively behind in the renewable energy race, has pledged to derive half of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030-up from the 2018 estimate of about 0.04%. The country is also focusing on the development of hydrogen as a new energy source, with the goal of reaching 4 million tons per year by 2030.

The region does have some advantages in the fight to reduce emissions. Carbon-intensive industries such as its oil refineries and desalination plants are clustered near large oil fields that may become carbon reservoirs.

“Capturing and collecting these emissions and transporting them to nearby oil fields is very simple and much cheaper than most countries,” said Klein of Rice University. “These people already know how to do this because it involves the same technology used in the oil industry.”

Despite the slow progress, Prince Abdulaziz is still optimistic about the future prospects. He said that the geographical location of the Arabian Peninsula provides the country with the lowest cost solar and wind energy. “We will produce the cheapest electricity on earth. Period.”

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