Saudi Arabia is building solar panels and promoting electric cars to reduce oil consumption at home, but the kingdom has a different plan for the rest of the world—pushing for policies that sustain and even increase oil dependence for decades to come.
“The kingdom’s plan for keeping oil at the centre of the global economy is playing out around the world in Saudi financial and diplomatic activities, as well as in the realms of research, technology, and even education,” the New York Times reports. “It is a strategy at odds with the scientific consensus that the world must swiftly move away from fossil fuels, including oil and gas, to avoid the worst consequences of global warming.”
Saudi representatives and the overwhelming presence of the fossil lobby helped push delegates at the COP 27 climate summit in Egypt to drop language supporting a fossil fuel phaseout from the final conference statement. In March, they attempted to remove a reference to “human-induced climate change” from a United Nations policy document, the Times says.
The country’s government-controlled oil company, Saudi Aramco, produces one of every ten barrels of oil globally “and envisions a world where it will be selling even more.”
“Saudi Aramco has become a prolific funder of research into critical energy issues, financing almost 500 studies over the past five years, including research aimed at keeping gasoline cars competitive or casting doubt on electric vehicles,” the Times writes, citing the Crossref academic database. Aramco’s other initiatives include high-profile research projects on gasoline engines in collaboration with the United States Department of Energy, studies on oil recovery and production, a global network of research centres, and US$2.5 billion poured into American universities in the past decade. I
Saudi Arabia is also one of the top countries spending on lobbying the U.S. government, says the Times.
At home, the kingdom’s efforts to use less oil are motivated by a drive to supply it abroad, rather than a strategy to curb emissions.
“If we keep consuming our own oil, we won’t have any oil left to sell,” said Anvita Arora, who directs the transport team at the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center in Riyadh.
Saudi officials have said they support the goals of the Paris Agreement, while promoting the expectations that hydrocarbons will continue to be an important part of the global energy mix. The kingdom recently announced plans to allocate more than a third of its oil output to chemical production by 2030. The shift is a step to ensure that there is consistent demand for oil, even if nations that import Saudi crude reduce their consumption, says BNN Bloomberg.
“Under a net-zero scenario, petrochemicals could still account for more than half of total global oil demand by 2050,” said Aramco CEO Amin Nasser.