The real message that came out of the inaugural Middle East Green Initiative is that the transition to a net-zero future must be gradual and must not damage regional economic growth. (GettyImages)
Regional leaders want the energy transition to be carried out in a ‘gradual manner’
LONDON: Leaders of the Middle East emphasized their commitment to step up investment in renewables when they met in Riyadh earlier this week.
But the real message that came out of the inaugural Middle East Green Initiative is that the transition to a net-zero future must be gradual and must not damage regional economic growth.
The economies of the Gulf states, of course, rely heavily on oil income.
But it wasn’t just the heads of oil-producing countries making the case for realism as the world seeks to combat global warming.
Larry Fink, the billionaire chairman of US investment giant BlackRock expressed the same view. Fink was one of several high-profile financial and political figures who made the trip to Riyadh to attend MGI, a list that included the US climate czar John Kerry, UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, and HSBC UK boss Noel Quinn.
While Fink predicted that the next thousand “unicorns” — startups valued at over $1 billion — will be sustainable companies, he also confirmed BlackRock, the world’s largest fund manager, had no plans to divest from hydrocarbons.
Fink said: “We’re supportive of hydrocarbon companies, and believe they will be part of the solution of the green revolution of new green technology.”
This was echoed in comments made at MGI by Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman. Prince Abdulaziz said: “We are working on technologies to ensure we extend the duration of use of hydrocarbons albeit in a way that would let it be mitigated and therefore not contribute to any additional emissions.”
He reiterated that Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, supplying 10 percent of global demand, was “not moving away” from oil and gas but “diversifying” to broaden the Kingdom’s energy base and the wider economy.
Saudi Arabia will reach net zero emissions by 2060, a target the Kingdom insists is more realistic than the global benchmark of 2050 because many of the new technologies required for the energy transformation won’t be fully effective before 2040 at least.
Prince Abdulaziz added: “We are the holders of the cheapest solar kWh, the cheapest when it comes to wind, and we believe we will continue to be competitive. We believe we will continue to produce hydrogen, and again, we will be the cheapest producer of hydrogen.” Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Ali Allawi, whose country is the sixth-largest oil producer, also called for the transition to be carried out in a “gradual manner.” He added the West needed to do more to transfer knowledge and technology to developing countries to help them reach emissions goals.
During the summit, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reiterated his pledge that Saudi Arabia will reach net zero emissions by 2060, a target the Kingdom insists is more realistic than the global benchmark of 2050 because many of the new technologies required for the energy transformation won’t be fully effective before 2040 at least.
Bahrain has also pledged to reach net-zero by the same date, while the UAE has said it will do so by 2050 — at the same time as it also plans to expand its oil production capacity 25 percent by 2030.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman also announced the Kingdom will invest $1 billion in climate change initiatives as part of a regional $10.4 billion fund to reduce Middle East carbon emissions. Saudi Arabia also announced plans to establish a regional carbon capture and storage center, a regional early storm warning center, a regional cloud seeding program, and a hub for climate change.
Meanwhile, the Kingdom’s own Saudi Green Initiative program will involve a range of separate investments, totaling around $190 billion by 2030, which will include carbon capture, direct air capture — a technology capable of pulling the greenhouse gas out of the air — and hydrogen.
Saudi Arabia also plans to plant 450 million trees in a bid to reduce almost 300 million tons of carbon emissions a year.
Commenting on MGI, the UN’s Amina Mohammed said the summit offered a strategic vision to transition regional economies away from unsustainable development, to a model “fit for the challenges of the 21st century.”
She said: “It will not only help reduce emissions from the oil and gas industry in the region but will also create new carbon sinks and help restore and protect vast swaths of land through afforestation.”