Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, has set a target of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2060, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said at the Saudi Green Initiative (SGI) forum in Riyadh on Saturday.
The kingdom also plans to more than double its target of reducing annual carbon emissions to 278 million tonnes by 2030, he said in recorded comments during the hybrid event. This is up from a previous target of 130m tonnes.
“We announce today the kingdom is aiming to reach net zero by 2060 through a circular carbon economy approach, in a way that’s compatible with the kingdom’s development plans and enables its economy to diversify ... while maintaining the kingdom's leading role in strengthening security and stability of global oil markets,” Prince Mohammed said at the opening of the climate conference.
The kingdom's green initiatives represent investments of more than 700 billion Saudi riyals ($186.6bn) that will create major opportunities for the private sector, create more jobs and develop a green economy.
“The Saudi Green Initiative will provide huge investment opportunities for the private sector, quality job opportunities for the next generation of leaders in the kingdom and enhanced international relationships that will have a positive impact on the region and the world,” Prince Mohammed said.
The announcement at the SGI comes ahead of the crucial UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties, or Cop26, in Glasgow, to be held from October 31 to November 12. The gathering of world leaders aims to agree on steeper emissions cuts to address global warming, amid rising threats from climate change.
In a separate session, Saudi Arabia’s energy minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said that the kingdom could potentially achieve its net-zero target earlier than 2060.
The kingdom also committed to join the Global Methane Pledge to contribute to cutting global methane emissions by 30 per cent from 2020 levels by 2030.
The plans are “not contingent on any type of grants, finances or loans. It's actually more dependent on the evolution of technologies and collaborative work on how we develop and mobilise technologies,” Prince Abdulaziz said.
The kingdom is “waiting anxiously” for Cop26 to bring clarity around Article 6 of the 2016 Paris Agreement on climate change, he said, regulating the use of carbon credits domestically among local industries and entities.
Saudi Arabia had a “successful” energy efficiency programme for over a decade and so far reduced 48m tonnes of annual CO2 as a result and plans to further reduce more than 90m tonnes annually with a focus on three sectors of industry, transportation and building that together constitute 90 per cent of its energy use, he added.
Dr Sultan Al Jaber, Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology and UAE Special Envoy for Climate Change, called Saudi Arabia's decision a “landmark, bold, long-term” strategic initiative.
“If anyone can pull this off, it is the weight, depth and strength of the kingdom that will help enable the world to seriously and in a progressive manner address the threats of climate change in a real, true, practical manner,” he said during a discussion at the SGI.
Dr Al Jaber called it a “paradigm shift” on how business is conducted and a “step-change” for climate dialogue.
“This is just another example of how this region can help address global challenges,” he said.
“It is simply an open invitation for the world to partner with the UAE and now with Saudi Arabia to help address gaps and build bridges and develop the necessary and seriously required solutions to help progress the discussions for climate action,” he said.
Meanwhile, Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said Saudi Arabia’s target sends a “powerful signal at the right moment” and added that more countries need to come to Cop26 with bold decisions and high levels of ambition.
“For an oil-producing country, this is a game-changing, history-changing decision,” she said.
Prince Abdulaziz said that the kingdom, a signatory of the 2015 Paris Agreement, has already sent its nationally determined contributions (NDCs) to the UNFCCC. These are goals for individual states under global efforts to prevent average global temperatures from rising beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
The SGI will be a platform to launch more than 60 environmental initiatives this week and will be held every year as part of efforts to hold the kingdom accountable to its goals, he said.
“There’s no question in my mind, that if we wanted to do this event for a PR stunt, we wouldn’t commit to do this event on a yearly basis,” the energy minister added.
During the climate conference, Saudi Arabia expects to sign agreements related to renewables and gas on Sunday with other oil-producers in the Middle East such as Iraq, Prince Abdulaziz said.