Djibouti(HAN) October 28, 2015 – Public Diplomacy and Regional food Security Initiatives News. By: David Andrew Weinberg. Saudi Sabotage: Oil Giant Looks To Scuttle Climate Accord. That seemed to be the case this weekend, when Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Saudi Arabia to discuss pressing issues with King Salman and other top officials. In addition to reviewing regional security issues, the U.S. readout of these meetings announced that both sides “pledged to work together in advance of the upcoming COP 21 climate conference in Paris,” referring to the twenty-first U.N. conference on climate change this December.Sometimes what diplomats don’t say is more revealing than what they do.
However, Saudi Arabia’s description of the meetings made no mention of such a pledge. This omission by Saudi officials seems like no mere coincidence and could validate existing fears that the kingdom is trying to sabotage talks aimed at reaching a global accord to fight climate change.
When climate negotiators gathered in Bonn during September for preparatory discussions, German broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported that “Saudi Arabia is attempting to water down the treaty as much as possible.” DW’s article carried the provocative title “Led by Saudi Arabia, Persian Gulf oil countries resist tough climate agreement.” The article claimed that Riyadh was using its influence with Arab states, oil producers, and the “Like Minded Group of Developing Countries” that represents over 50% of the world’s population to resist possible regulations on the uses of fossil fuel.
Understandably, any restrictions on oil production would have major implications for the Saudi economy. Even with the recent crash in oil prices, the International Monetary Fund expects oil income to comprise over 80% of Saudi Arabia’s central budget revenue for the year 2015. But the Obama administration is right to encourage Saudi Arabia to at least engage constructively.
The day after DW’s investigation was published, Saudi Arabia’s king happened to be visiting President Obama at the White House. The president had just come back from Alaska to “shine a spotlight” on climate change, warning that “we’re not acting fast enough.”
Auspiciously, a joint statement from their meeting indicated they “discussed the challenge of global climate change and agreed to work together to achieve a successful outcome at the Paris negotiations in December.” But while President Obama said in their public remarks that he “look[ed] forward” to cooperation on climate change, King Salman declined to mention the issue when he was up next.
This would not the first time Saudi Arabia has been accused of trying to sabotage an agreement to fight global warming.
According to the Washington Post, the late King Abdullah’s “chief envoy to climate talks was a global-warming skeptic who boasted of his success at scuttling climate treaties.” The newspaper noted in January that “Saudi officials have taken on the role of spoiler in international negotiations for a climate treaty, joining with other major petroleum producers in demanding politically untenable conditions” such as “billion-dollar compensation packages.”
In 2008, a former staff member for the U.N.’s Climate Change Secretariat published an academic paper entitled “Striving for No: Saudi Arabia in the Climate Change Regime.” As the New York Times put it, her journal article made the case that Riyadh’s climate change diplomacy is “a classic case of parties… getting involved in a process primarily to obstruct it.”
To be fair, last year the CEO of Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil company joined with other fossil fuel executives to launch what they called the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative. Their group met again in Paris this month to insist that petroleum firms are part of the solution, not part of the problem, pointing to efficiency gains through such techniques as carbon capture and reduced gas flaring.
Some environmentalists, however, dismissed the initiative, arguing for example that “arsonists don’t make good firefighters” and pointing out that many of these same firms “have spent years lobbying to undermine effective climate action.”
Saudi Arabia’s minister of petroleum and mineral resources has expressed an aspiration to one day export electricity from solar power instead of shipping crude oil overseas, and at the 2012 U.N. Climate Change Conference he paid lip service to the idea of joint action to fight global warming. However, for the foreseeable future his government’s efforts to diversify energy sources at home are largely focused on freeing up more oil for export, not substituting renewables for existing production of lucrative crude.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is the only member of the G20 that failed to submit a plan to the United Nations on reining in greenhouse gas emissions by the October 1st deadline. In fact, none of the GCC states submitted a plan on time, and like Saudi Arabia its neighbors Qatar, Kuwait, and Bahrain still had yet to do so by this Wednesday. Qatar, which hosted the United Nations talks just three years ago, had the world’s highest greenhouse gas emissions per capita according to the World Bank through at least 2011.
Sadly, experts warn that the Gulf states’ citizens may bear the brunt of some of climate change’s worst expected consequences.
A new study in the peer-reviewed climate change journal from the publishers of Nature found that many Gulf cities will likely experience such extremes of heat and humidity at times as to be uninhabitable outdoors by the end of the century. What today would be one of the hottest days of the year in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha, Dhahran, or Bandar Abbas is expected to be “approximately a normal summer day” after 2070 there according to the paper’s authors. Other researchers warn that already scarce supplies of potable water in the kingdom will dwindle as a result of global warming and that deadly flooding events are likely to increase in frequency and severity.
The Obama administration is raising climate change with Saudi Arabia at the highest levels, even as other concerns such as religious incitement and human rights abuses are being downplayed. It may become clear in just several weeks if that sacrifice was worth it – and whether or not we have been burned.
David Andrew Weinberg is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @DavidAWeinberg
sources: David Andrew Weinberg; Forbes Energy