In a week which saw Nature Communications publish research predicting a 66% chance of keeping global warming beneath 1.5C if the world immediately halts fossil fuel production, the Saudi minister of energy bridled at the suggestion during a speech at Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week.
Khalid bin Abdulaziz Al-Falih, Saudi Arabia’s minister of energy, industry and mineral resources, said talk of halting oil production immediately would cause “chaos” and would unfairly penalize nations that rely on income from fossil fuels.
Speaking at the Future of Sustainability Summit – part of Sustainability Week – Al-Falih said: “I would like to set out a global energy transition strategy that is realistic, fair and above all pragmatic. Balancing CO² emissions and sinks will take decades, [otherwise] we risk chaos.”
In remarks that had echoes of the kingdom’s attempt in Katowice last month to join Kuwait, Russia and Donald Trump’s U.S. administration in resisting the rest of the world’s call for urgent action on fossil fuels, the minister added: “[The change] must be fair to all … it is unfair to curtail the right to economic development of developing nations. Policymakers must be agnostic when determining the future energy mix of technologies.
“Our strategy should be pragmatic however increasing energy demand … can be met over the long transition. And I emphasize long.”
‘Economics and technology – not ideology’
Al-Falih did make encouraging noises about renewable energy, as one would expect at a sustainability event, and said “cleaning the existing energy sources will be key” but, in a snub to environmentalists he added: “[We] urgently need consensus around an energy transition strategy … driven by economics and technology not blind ideology. Make it a reality, particularly when it comes to transformative economic development. If we fail in our mission then all nations, especially the developing and least developed world, will pay a heavy price they cannot afford.”
Saudi Arabia has a track record in announcing grand renewable energy projects, but has yet to enact substantive policy measures to encourage green energy.
By contrast, neighboring UAE has a better record on renewables, and is a beacon for clean energy among Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, through developments such as the massive Sweihan solar project – with a capacity of close to 1.2 GW – and the Shams rooftop initiative in Dubai.
However its energy minister – and current head of OPEC – Suhail Mohammed Faraj Al Mazroui, while less bombastic in his remarks than his Saudi peer, was similarly unprepared to write off fossil fuel exploitation any time soon.
“In the past we said will focus more on oil than renewables, hydrocarbon than renewables, but not any more,” he said at the launch of a GCC report published by the International Renewable Energy Agency earlier in the week.
“Hydrocarbons are not enemies of renewables, we are complementing each other. Oil and gas companies are becoming energy companies. We are in a different world than just looking at one side of the equation – we are complementing each other.”
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“Saudi Arabia has a track record in announcing grand renewable energy projects, but has yet to enact substantive policy measures to encourage green energy.” That is a little unfair – I underline “a little”. SA has finally got round to awarding at least one actual renewables contract, to EDF for a 400MW wind farm.
Funny Saudi statements.
Who ever believed in Saudi& other big Solar dreams?
Ok, seems they are realising now which thread cheap wind and solar is for their Oil& Gas dependend system. Time is running out for a controlled shift to large solar exports instead of Oil. If they are not able to manage that
Polluting the world with CO2 and other poisons from fossile fuels is unfair and causes chaos for much more people then Saudi has.
I wish people would stop referring to an immediate switch to renewables. No matter how much we encourage the change it will take time and nothing can be done to make it immediate. The suggestion just fires up a lot of absurd arguments. We want it to be quick but there is a limit to the resources we can find to make it faster than the economics allow. Of course I don’t mean we all talk about making the change by 2050. We seem to have passed a favourable tripping point where the economics of renewables is drawing in all the available resources and finance so the fundamentals are setting the timetable because future profit and renewables are now aligned.
The reality is that for an increasing number of use cases and locations, RE is simply the least-cost solution. No ideology needed.
I guess for some people having a robust economy is more important than a robust world.
Outside of nuclear war, not fully and properly addressing climate change is the greatest threat to humanity. The full impact will not be felt for generations, but the tipping point is now.
I just wanted to point out that the opening statement of this piece is quite misleading and mischaracterizes the Nature Communications article it refers to (presumably, this one: doi.org/10.1038/s41467-018-07999-w). The article is about phasing out fossil fuel infrastructure at the end of its “design lifetime,” which the study variably takes to mean 30, 40 or 50 years from the date of completion of a piece of fossil infrastructure. Hence, the most-recently built pieces of infrastructure would be around for another 30-50 years in the article’s scenarios, hardly a “world [that] immediately halts fossil fuel production” as this here piece suggests.
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for expedited fossil fuel phase out (including early retirement of fossil capital stock) but still a good idea to summarize research articles in a way that actually represents their findings and not some other point. Also, the ministers do make a point that ought not be dismissed frivolously: For sure, there will be winners and losers of the transition and in the case of some losers (say, multi-millionaires), perhaps society doesn’t have to be too concerned about their well-being, but there are others where the transition could bring unacceptable hardship, especially in developing countries, and we need to take that seriously. Though not by delaying the transition.
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