How carbon can be our ally in a post-Covid-19 world

It can help us balance economic growth and sustainability

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For more than a century, carbon has been a primary component of energy systems that have enabled economies across the world to prosper. But as the world seeks solutions to address the emissions challenge, and in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, and its economic and social impact, we must balance the need for sustainability with economic growth. The Circular Carbon Economy (CCE) can do just that.

The CCE encompasses four "Rs" – reduce, reuse, recycle and remove carbon. The Earth has been achieving this balance for billions of years; a natural and stable flow of carbon between the atmosphere, ocean and terrestrial ecosystems.

Until recently, humans have played a simple role within this cycle. We have extracted carbon from the ground and biosphere for hundreds of years, used it as a fuel to create energy and released it into the atmosphere. But by copying the natural process of the Earth, we can close the loop; and therefore, not only reduce emissions but also reuse, recycle and remove them entirely through energy efficiency, the use of renewables, technology and nature-based solutions.

When many people think of Saudi Arabia they think of oil, as we have been an energy leader for decades. However, in a new world of changing energy sustainability requirements, there is a need for reduced emissions. We want to build on our heritage and strengths to continue to be an energy leader in the next generation of sustainable technologies, particularly those related to the CCE approach.

We are one of the leading global investors in clean energy technologies, and already use carbon-capture to extract CO2 from the industrial process, employing it to maintain pressure in oil reservoirs and for enhanced oil recovery as well as reusing as feedstock for other industrial processes.

As a leading global energy producer and early adopter of carbon capture technology, it is our responsibility to drive towards a solution that balances the need to reduce global emissions, improve sustainability while not impacting economic growth.

Safeguarding the planet is one of the key pillars of our G20 presidency and CCE is key to achieve this aim, and ensure we pass on a better world to future generations.

There is still plenty to be done in order to scale up the CCE. There is a need to rapidly advance research, development, deployment and dissemination and commercialise promising technologies, innovations and practices. The G20 has launched the "CCE Accelerator" as a vehicle to do just that – a place where G20 members and non-members can identify, leverage, scale up and facilitate national and international collaboration on CCE – advancing global transition towards affordable, reliable and more sustainable energy for all.

The Accelerator will support collaboration on technologies and help move technologies at mature readiness levels into the market, thereby reducing costs and achieving economies of scale. The Accelerator will also look at advancing innovative business models, policy and regulatory options, and financing mechanisms to help create stronger public-private partnerships.

The Saudi G20 presidency believes that carbon does not need to be the enemy but can be an ally in achieving sustainability, reducing emissions while balancing an inclusive economic growth in a post-Covid-19 world. And we have taken a significant step forward during this years' presidency to make that vision become a reality.

Khalid Abulief is the chief negotiator for climate agreements at the Saudi Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources