World Economy

Saudi-Led Arab Council Resists Tough Climate Agreement

Saudi-Led Arab Council  Resists Tough Climate AgreementSaudi-Led Arab Council  Resists Tough Climate Agreement

Saudi Arabia is being accused of trying to water down the climate agreement at international talks in Bonn this week. But the Middle East is vulnerable to the effects of climate change–and  awareness may be growing.

Delegates meeting in Bonn, Germany, this week are under pressure to hash out the details of a global climate agreement, with a December deadline looming. With so much riding on the Paris summit, the days in which to pin down the final text are numbered, DW reported.

But some countries are still resisting the tough agreement experts say is needed to curb CO2 emissions. Among them are oil-producing countries of the Middle East–as such a climate agreement challenges their operating model, of generating revenue through oil export.

Saudi Arabia in particular is being cast as seeking to prevent a strong agreement.

“There is no doubt that Saudi Arabia’s position is harmful,” Greenpeace’s Jens Mattias Clausen told DW. “We need strong long-term goals and an agreement to phase out fossil fuels–Saudi Arabia is fighting against this tooth-and-nail. And they have a lot of influence, especially on other oil-producing countries.”

The Saudi government has used that influence within the Like-Minded Group of Developing Countries, or LMDC–which includes major players like China and India, and other Middle East oil economies including Algeria and Iraq–as well as the Arab group.

“Saudi Arabia is able to use such groups to increase division,” said Wael Hmaidan, director of the Climate Action Network. “It is good at finding arguments that appeal to these countries.”

Hmaidan believes some Persian Gulf Arab States–such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates–are genuinely there to find a solution. But dynamics of the Persian Gulf region, which is dealing with the threat of Islamic State and conflict in Yemen, means climate change is a low priority, with political alliances on other issues far more pressing.

“It’s a very delicate situation. Negotiators are very worried about appearing to take a different position from Saudi Arabia,” Hmaidan said.

  Politics of Oil

And on the surface at least, there are strong economic incentives for these countries to stand together against climate mitigation. Around 80% of Saudi Arabia’s government revenues come from oil. Kuwait, Qatar, Iraq, Bahrain and UAE have similarly fossil fuel-dependent economies.

Others argue that for Saudi Arabia, oil’s greatest value is as a strategic weapon. Without an oil market, the Saudi regime would lose its geopolitical power and special relationship with the United States.

  In (P)GCC’s Interest

Still, a closer look at the implications of a tough climate agreement suggests that Saudi Arabia’s aversion might be misplaced.

Climate impacts to the Persian Gulf region may cause hotter and dryer conditions, resulting in shortages of freshwater, which would also contribute to security problems. For example, a link between climate change-related drought and conflict has been established in Syria.

In addition, experts say of all fossil fuel reserves, it would make the most sense to leave coal in the ground–which emits far more carbon dioxide than oil. Beyond coal, the more expensive, unconventional reserves–like American shale oil extracted through fracking–would be targeted before cheap Saudi oil.

“My recommendation to the Saudis would be that strong climate action would be in their interest,” Hmaidan told DW. Targeting the more expensive, polluting fuels would “reduce competition and boost the strategic importance of Saudi oil.”

But the House of Saud hasn’t listened to such counsel. The real problem, observers say, is that climate change is just not on the agenda there.

“I don’t think the Saudi royals think about climate change or take the issue seriously at all,” said Hmaidan.

One recent development, however, indicates the tide may be turning. In August, leading Muslim scholars from around the world issued their Islamic Declaration on Climate Change, framing climate action as a religious duty.