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Oil-Rich Saudi Arabia Tries to Claim Clean Energy Is Bad for the Environment

The 2023 COP28 UN Climate Change Conference is underway, and the oil-rich kingdom of Saudi Arabia is extremely concerned about the damage unchecked use of energy resources — specifically the growth of renewable energy — might do to the planet. It has nothing to do with their status as a fossil fuel-dependent economy, of course.

A Saudi government document, obtained by Politico, contains a pitch to conference attendees raising concerns about the “lifecycle” emissions produced by renewable energy sources, including solar and wind energy. Instead, Saudi Arabia proposes costly and largely theoretical methods of removing existing carbon and other forms of contamination from the earth’s atmosphere and water.

According to the document, which contains details of an unreported, closed-door speech to other diplomats attending the conference, Saudi officials planned to argue that while “renewables are an integral part of the solution” to climate change, “we must also act immediately to address their lifecycle emissions in the near term. This will require emissions removal.” Lifecycle emissions refer to the “overall greenhouse gas (GHG) impacts of a fuel, including each stage of its production and use.” While, at this point, the manufacturing of renewable energy technology does produce greenhouse gasses, the lifecycle emissions of renewables remain exponentially lower than that of the extraction and consumption of fossil fuels.

The proposal speaks to the ongoing friction between nations arguing for a dramatic decrease in the planet’s reliance on fossil fuels, and nations whose wealth and geopolitical power rests on their control of increasingly valuable oil reserves. As governments attempt to negotiate emissions caps and reduction goals, Saudi Arabia’s proposal represents a broader effort to slow-walk progress in expanding the share of global energy produced through renewable methods. It’s no coincidence that COP28’s host nation — the United Arab Emirates — selected Sultan al-Jaber, CEO of the nation’s state-run energy company ADNOC, to head the conference.

Earlier this week, The Guardian reported comments made by Al-Jaber in November, when he claimed that there “is no science out there, or no scenario out there, that says that the phase-out of fossil fuel is what’s going to achieve” the necessary reductions in carbon emissions to stave off catastrophic climate change.

“Please help me, show me the roadmap for a phase-out of fossil fuel that will allow for sustainable socioeconomic development,” he said, “unless you want to take the world back into caves.”

It isn’t just heads of oil-rich states who are wielding influence at the climate conference.

Lobbyists are everywhere at COP28. According to data compiled by Kick Big Polluters Out (KBPO) a record number of 2,456  fossil fuel lobbyists have attended the conference this year, outnumbering every country delegation save for Brazil, which will host the conference next year. Additionally, the number of oil and gas-affiliated industry officials present has quadrupled since 2022’s record-breaking COP27 conference.

In recent years, activists and representatives from nations vulnerable to the effects of climate change have increased their calls for the United Nations to crack down on the presence of corporate interest groups in climate talks. It was only this year that the UN began requiring attendees to COP to disclose their affiliations and potential conflicts of interest — and the revelations have been staggering.

“Do you really think Shell or Chevron or ExxonMobil are sending lobbyists to passively observe these talks? To advance climate solutions for the benefit of communities whose air and water they pollute? To put people and the planet over profit and their greedy dollars?” Alexia Leclercq, co-founder of Start Empowerment said in a statement responding to KBPO’s findings about the lobbying presence at the summit. “Big Polluters’ poisonous presence has bogged us down for years, keeping us from advancing the pathways needed to keep fossil fuels in the ground. They are the reason COP28 is clouded in a fog of climate denial, not climate reality.”

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