Saudi Arabia has led a quiet campaign during these and other negotiations — demanding behind closed doors that oil-producing nations get special financial assistance if a new climate pact calls for substantial reductions in the use of fossil fuels.
That campaign comes despite an International Energy Agency report released this week showing that OPEC revenues would still increase $23 trillion between 2008 and 2030 — a fourfold increase compared to the period from 1985 to 2007 — if countries agree to significantly slash emissions and thereby cut their use of oil. That is the limit most countries agree is needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
The head of the Saudi delegation Mohammad S. Al Sabban dismissed the IEA figures as “biased” and said OPEC's own calculations showed that Saudi Arabia would lose $19 billion a year starting in 2012 under a new climate pact. The region would lose much more, he said.
“We are among the economically vulnerable countries,” Al Sabban told The Associated Press on the sidelines of the talks ahead of negotiations in Copenhagen in December for a treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.
“This is very serious for us,” he continued. “We are in the process of diversifying our economy but this will take a long time. We don't have too many resources.”
Saudi Arabia, which sits atop the world's largest proven oil reserves, is seeing economic growth slide because of fallout from the global meltdown, but experts still expect the country, flush with cash from oil's earlier price spike last year, to be better able than other nations to cope with the current crisis.
Al Sabban accused Western nations of pursuing an agenda against oil producers, under the guise of protecting the planet.
“Many politicians in the Western world think these climate change negotiations and the new agreement will provide them with a golden opportunity to reduce their dependence on imported oil,” Al Sabban said. “That means you will transfer the burden to developing countries, especially to those highly dependent on the exploitation of oil.”
Al Sabban said his country wanted a new deal and was not impeding progress in talks as some activists have claimed.
An Arab environmental group IndyACT and the environmental group Germanwatch released a report today accusing Saudi Arabia of blocking key elements of the negotiations. Among their tactics, the groups said, was slowing negotiations by insisting that the economic woes of oil producers be included in the text.
“Despite the variability in the region, the current Arab position is mainly focused around protecting the oil trade rather than saving the planet form the adverse impacts of climate change,” said Wael Hmaidan, the executive director of IndyACT.
Most countries have agreed that any new pact should include provisions to avoid temperature increases of more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) above preindustrial levels — the threshold at which most scientists say serious climate change will ensue.
That would require emissions cuts from industrial countries of 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, far above the 15 to 23 percent cuts rich countries have offered so far. It would also require developing countries to scale back their emissions.
Both rich and poor countries are counting on a transition to a low carbon economy as a key component of meeting their reductions, a move that would require them to away from fossil fuels and toward renewables like solar, wind and hydro power.