In the fall of 2006, former presidential candidate Al Gore called global decision-makers to action: “It is your time to seize this issue. It is our time to rise again, to secure our future.” Over more than a decade since he spoke those words, any resident of Planet Earth has started feeling the critical consequences of climate change caused by global warming. While Donald Trump denies its existence, Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish activist with Asperger’s started a series of protests and school strikes and Extinction Rebellion, a socio-political movement group, have organised massive global protests. But the elephant in the room, then as now, is Saudi Arabia and its the oil policies.
Yet environmental activists are making sure climate change is a constant topic of discussion. It is being debated in parliaments and people are being educated more and more as governments finally realise the urgency of the problem. However the real issue is that almost all of this is happening exclusively in the Western world, while the real sufferers in the rest of the world remain largely silent.
The Physical Consequences
The MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region, where Saudi Arabia, as the top oil producing country is a key player, is also in a most fragile position because of its hot, water-scarce and dry climate. Studies such as Bucchignani et. al.’s demonstrate that the projections on climate change are alarming. According to The World Economic Forum , the Nile delta is shrinking while cities like Jeddah are experiencing floods and the Dead Sea risks losing its delicate ecosystem as it continues to shrink by 1.2 metres every year. And a World Bank report predicts that, in the next decade, 80-100 million people will be exposed to water stress while 6-25 million people could experience coastal flooding with abnormal rises in temperature, leading to ground ozone formation affecting public health and worsening living conditions.
Long story short, the people of Saudi Arabia and the MENA region are in great danger of experiencing the fatal consequences of climate change at a much faster pace than the rest of the world.
The Trump Influence
Yet what are the key decision makers of this region doing to stop this?
First of all the US, a strong ally of the oil-industry leaders of the Middle East, seems to be tracing its steps back regarding climate change. Donald Trump keeps reversing environmental regulations and increasing the use of fossil fuel, to such a delusional extent that he claimed “we have the cleanest water, the cleanest air” at the G20 summit in Japan while residents of Flint still have no access to clean water.
With the US setting such an example for its ally to the extent of withdrawing from the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement that Obama had signed, of course Saudi Arabia’s chief climate negotiator Ayman Shasly feels free to wish not to ‘formally welcome’ the IPCC report- which he finds to have ‘scientific gaps’ in it.
The first question to ask here is what Shasly, and therefore Saudi Arabia, can gain from not advancing climate change negotiations. How can someone who has been described by Saudi Aramco as their ‘official in charge of investments in the Chinese province of Fujian’ be the responsible person for climate change negotiations? Does this not automatically reveal the intentions of the Saudi policy? How can then the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia fulfil one of the goals of their Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture which reads to ‘strengthen the national capability to adapt to climate change’ when their negotiator has ties to one of the world’s biggest oil companies?
In the picture: Donald Trump at the G20 Summit Photo Credit: Politico Europe
The Saudi Greed
It is no surprise that Saudi Arabia, with control over the second largest oil reserves in the world, is leading the loose coalition of oil-producing nations. On top of having refused to endorse the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Saudi representation is currently attempting to undermine a proposed study on how to limit global warming and have it dropped from the agenda of formal UN climate talks at the Bonn Climate Change Conference.
The reasoning for this is that as climate change negotiations advance, participant countries will have to play their part to stop it, starting with reducing CO2 emissions. The more decision-making is delayed, the more economic benefits Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other oil-dependent countries will gain. Even delaying by 5 to 10 years points to massive economic growth for the oil industry. How can then Saudi Arabia, with such a greedy attitude, aim to ‘raise environmental compliance across all sectors and reduce pollution and adverse impacts on the environment’?
‘Today we use 100 million barrels of oil every single day. There are no rules to keep that oil in the ground… the rules have to be changed’ points out Greta Thunberg. She then says that instead of urging the heads of key governments, she will ‘ask the people around the world to realize that our political leaders have failed us, because we are facing an existential threat and there is no time to continue down this road of madness.’
As Saudi Arabia, backed by the US, blocks more discussions like the 1.5 C° one at Bonn, decision-makers will not have enough time to tackle climate change. Yet by 2050 if the whole world is not at ‘net zero’ regarding CO2 emissions, will it really matter which money-driven oil kingdom traded the most of it while completely ignoring the fatal damage it was causing upon its land and the people of the earth?