GHGs in the Gulf

saudi oilNewsflashSaudi Arabia has filed its intended nationally determined contribution (INDC) for mitigating GHG emissions under the UNFCCC.  Yup, a country that depends on oil for 80% of its national budget publicly filed a document on November 10 laying out its efforts to combat climate change.

Andrew Freedman of Mashable points to a comment that Christiana Figueres made in the New Yorker article we featured here on our blog, about the Saudi negotiators regularly throwing well calculated and aimed wrenches into the UNFCCC negotiations.  I’ve witnessed this personally during the ADP negotiations all this year.  So it surprised me when Freedman mused that “those wrench-throwing days may be over, and the Saudis may have realized they too have a lot to lose from global warming, and that they may have more to gain by joining with other countries to push for the most favorable deal possible in Paris.”

So what does the INDC actually say?

First, that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) pledges to reduce its GHG emissions by up to 130 millionsaudi flare tons of CO2 by 2030. Second, that it will achieve this goal primarily by shifting its economy away from oil and gas, and launching adaptation initiatives. Third, that specific GHG mitigation efforts include energy efficiency standards, renewable energy development, carbon capture and storage (CCS), methane recovery, and increased use of natural gas.  Fourth – implicitly – that the price of oil, which has dropped dramatically during the last year, makes this transition that much easier.  Even if KSA sits on roughly 16% of the world’s oil reserves.

Why is this newsworthy, in terms of next week’s COP21 kickoff?

KSA negotiated hard, along with other OPEC nations, for the language in UNFCCC Article 4(10) that notes the adverse impact of treaty-induced GHG reductions on “Parties with economies that are highly dependent on income generated from the production, processing and export, and/or consumption of fossil fuels and associated energy-intensive products and/or the use of fossil fuels for which such gulf oilParties have serious difficulties in switching to alternatives.”  For the past 20 years or so, this language has served as the toolbox from which negotiators plucked and threw those wrenches.  Notably, it also fueled a negotiating position that demanded compensation for mitigation targets’ impacts on oil-dependent bottom lines for a countries that figure among the top 10 GDPs in the world (according to the World Bank and CIA; KSA slips to the #11 slot on the IMF’s list). Other Gulf countries in the KSA-dominated UNFCCC negotiation group have asserted this position, including Qatar, UAE, Kuwait, and Bahrain, who all rank among the top 15 global GDPs.

The KSA’s INDC marks progress by letting go of this folly. “The implementation of Saudi Arabia’s INDC is not contingent on receiving international financial support, but the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia sees an important role for technology cooperation and transfer as well as capacity building for INDC implementation.” The government says that it requires “technical assistance and sustained capacity building efforts” to ensure implementation of its new plans.  In this way, KSA clearly aligns itself with developing countries that are seeking assistance with their GHG mitigation efforts.

In making these mitigation and adaptation pledges, the Saudi INDC makes clear its motivation.  “In the long term, a significant share of the infrastructure on the coastlines may be vulnerable to sea level rise. Trade and services may also be vulnerable to heatwaves and sandstorms as well as other indirect vulnerabilities including price volatility in exports and imports of goods and services.”

Yet, while claiming “ambitious plans” on renewable energy use (notably solar), it provides no specific targets as China and India did in their INDCs filed earlier.

And the Saudi INDC went back to its Article 4(10) toolbox.  “These ambitions are contingent on thesaudi unfccc Kingdom’s economy continuing to grow with an increasingly diversified economy and a robust contribution from oil export revenues to the national economy. It is also premised on the fact that the economic and social consequences of international climate change policies and measures do not pose disproportionate or abnormal burden on the Kingdom’s economy.”

Was U.S. bilateral discussion an instigator, as with the INDCs of China, India, and Brazil? The past nine months have seen harsh words exchanged over the Iran nuclear agreement. But Mashable’s Freedman highlights that after a summit meeting between President Obama and Saudi King Salman, a joint statement noted they had “discussed the challenge of global climate change and agreed to work together to achieve a successful outcome at the Paris negotiations in December.”