Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in a speech on Saturday that Saudi Arabia has pledged to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2060, while maintaining its role as a major oil and gas producer.
The announcement comes just days before the opening of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow and the meeting of G20 leaders in Rome, as Saudi Arabia has been under pressure to increase its emissions targets.
Prince Mohammed said the kingdom will spend 700 billion riyals (187 billion US dollars) on a set of new climate goals, including reducing carbon emissions by 278 million tons annually by 2030.
Saudi Arabia will also reduce its emissions of methane, a powerful heating gas released when hydrocarbons are produced, and join a US-led agreement to reduce methane emissions by 30 percent this decade.
But Prince Mohammed indicated that the state still sees a central role in oil and gas production, saying that the new goals will be achieved “while maintaining and enhancing the Kingdom’s leading role in the security and stability of global energy markets, with the availability and maturity of the necessary technologies to manage and reduce emissions.”
The new net-zero emissions target is unlikely to change Saudi Arabia’s position as the world’s largest exporter of crude oil, because these exports are usually excluded from the emissions that are measured.
Russia, which has cooperated on oil policy with Saudi Arabia through the expanded OPEC+ group since 2016, also indicated earlier this month that it would aim to become carbon neutral by 2060, without providing details.
Prince Mohammed, also known as MBS, said the kingdom would use a “carbon circular economy” to reach its 2060 net goal – a reference to carbon capture, use and storage technologies. This would allow continued burning of fossil fuels.
Patricia Espinosa, head of the United Nations Office on Climate Change, hailed the move on Saturday as “bold and courageous.”
However, Riyadh has also faced criticism for apparently trying to relax legislation targeting fossil fuels, and for failing to meet climate targets.
In leaked documents reported this week, it was revealed that the kingdom is asking UN scientists to delete their conclusion that the energy sector should focus on “a rapid transition to zero-carbon sources and the phase-out of fossil fuels”.
The kingdom’s state oil company, Saudi Aramco, said it aims to increase production capacity to 13 million barrels of crude oil the next day this decade, from about 12 million barrels a day today.
Saudi Arabia’s position in global energy markets illustrates the complexity of reaching climate goals. While US President Joe Biden has tried to make tackling climate change a cornerstone of his administration, he has also called on the Saudi-led OPEC to increase oil production in recent months to help cool prices, which have risen to a three-year high.
Natural gas prices in Europe and Asia are more than five times their level a year ago due to increased demand in Asia and shrinking supplies, including restricted exports from Russia to Western Europe. This provided ammunition for critics of the push to cut investments in fossil fuels, although political leaders in Europe and the United States have argued that it also highlights the dangers of reliance on imported oil and gas.
Riyadh has consistently asserted that Saudi Aramco has some of the lowest production costs in the world and has also claimed that its oil is among the least carbon-intensive “from the well to the gate of the refinery.”
Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, half-brother of Mohammed bin Salman, also criticized the lack of investment in the oil and gas industry globally.
He compared the International Energy Agency’s “roadmap” for how to cut emissions to net zero, which argued there was no need to invest in new oil and gas fields if governments enact policies to reduce demand, to a sequel to the movie “No No.” Earth’.
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