Saudi Arabia denies playing climate saboteur in Glasgow


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GLASGOW, Scotland: The tightest of smiles on his face and the fabric of his traditional thobe swirling around him as he walks through a hallway during UN climate talks, the Saudi Energy Minister voices his shock at repeated complaints that the world’s largest oil producer is working behind the scenes to sabotage negotiations.

“What you have heard is a false allegation, a cheat and a lie,” Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman al Saud said this week during talks in Glasgow, Scotland. He was responding to reporters urging a response to claims that Saudi Arabia’s negotiators were trying to block climate measures that would threaten demand for oil.

“We have worked well” with the head of the UN climate talks and others, Prince Abdulaziz said.

Negotiators from around 200 countries are facing a weekend deadline to find consensus on next steps to reduce global fossil fuel emissions and otherwise tackle climate change.

Saudi Arabia‘s participation in the climate talks itself may seem incongruous – a kingdom that has become rich and powerful because of the oil involved in negotiations where a central issue is reducing the consumption of oil and other fossil fuels. . While pledging to join efforts to reduce emissions in their country, the Saudi leaders have made it clear that they intend to pump and sell their oil as long as demand lasts.

The Saudi Arabia team in Glasgow has put forward proposals ranging from a call to end negotiations – they often extend into the early hours of the morning – at 6 p.m. every day to veterans of the climate talks. claim to be complex efforts to pit national factions against each other in an attempt to block the deal. on tough measures to wrest the world from coal, gas and oil.

This is also the proposal of the “Saudis”. They’re like, just don’t work at night and just accept that it’s not going to be ambitious “when it comes to rapid reductions in climate-destroying fossil fuel pollution,” said Jennifer Tollmann, analyst at E3G, a European think tank on the climate.

And then “if other countries want to agree with Saudi Arabia, they can blame Saudi Arabia,” Tollmann said.

Saudi Arabia has long been accused of playing the role of spoiler in climate talks, and this year it is the leading country so far singled out by negotiators, speaking privately, and observers, speaking in public. Russia and Australia are also grouped with Saudi Arabia in the talks as countries that see their future as dependent on coal, natural gas or oil, and as working for a Glasgow climate deal that does not threaten. that.

Despite efforts to diversify the economy, oil accounts for more than half of Saudi Arabia’s income, keeping the kingdom and the royal family afloat and stable. About half of Saudi workers still work for the public sector, with their wages paid largely by oil.

And there is China, whose dependence on coal currently makes it the biggest climate polluter in the world. He argues that he cannot switch to cleaner energy as quickly as the West says, although the United States and China have jointly pledged to accelerate their efforts to reduce emissions.

A central issue in the talks: Scientists and the United Nations say the world has less than a decade to halve its fossil and agricultural fuel emissions if it is to avoid more catastrophic scenarios of global warming.

Unsurprisingly, the island nations that would disappear under rising oceans at a higher level of warming are the Glasgow bloc pushing hardest for this summit’s tightest deal.

Meanwhile, climate advocates accuse the United States and the European Union of failing so far to weigh in on the demands of island nations, although the United States and the EU often wait for them. last days of climate talks to take firm positions on the issues discussed.

The United States – the world’s worst climate polluter in history and a major producer of oil and gas – has come under much criticism in its own right. The Climate Action Network dishonored the Biden administration with its ‘Fossil of the Day’ award to President Joe Biden for coming to Glasgow last week with an ambitious climate speech – but failed to join a pledge to wean his nation off coal or to hold back the United States. oil production.

Jennifer Morgan, executive director of environmental group Greenpeace, said other governments must “isolate the Saudi delegation” if they want the climate conference to be successful.

Saudi Arabia agreed to join in the feverish climate commitment of governments ahead of the talks. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced as Glasgow approached that the kingdom would phase out its carbon emissions by 2060.

But Saudi leaders have for years pledged to pump the last molecule of oil out of their kingdom before global demand ends – a goal that a rapid shift in fossil fuels globally would thwart.

“Naked and cynical,” says Alden Meyer, senior associate at climate research group E3G, of Saudi Arabia’s role in global climate talks.

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