The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is publicly committed to curbing carbon emissions — but apparently that's just lip service, according to a new investigation that found the petrostate has plans to get developing countries hooked on its lucrative fossil fuel exports.
Reporting from the nonprofit journalism organization Centre for Climate Reporting (CCR) and Channel 4 News found that Saudi Arabia calls the scheme an "oil sustainability program" on an English-language government website, with one of its stated goals as "increasing sustainability. But in the Arabic version, it's called an "oil demand sustainability programme" that's meant to "sustain and develop the demand for hydrocarbons as a competitive source of energy, by raising its economic and environmental efficiency."
The country will achieve this by focusing on developing countries like those in Africa and by fostering the increased use of fossil fuel vehicles, in addition to developing oil-hungry supersonic air travel, collaborating on the creation of an inexpensive internal combustion engine at scale, and other projects intended to prop up carbon-emitting industry and infrastructure in poorer countries worldwide.
"When asked by an undercover reporter whether the aim of the program is to artificially stimulate oil demand to counter global efforts to reduce oil consumption and tackle climate change," the report reads, "a Saudi official responded: 'Yes… it is one of the main objectives that we are trying to accomplish.'"
This investigation is important because the country's plans could unravel any progress made towards mitigation efforts on climate change, which has already impacted the world in melting polar ice, devastating forest fires, and record high temperatures.
It also shows that while the kingdom seems to be diversifying its economy beyond its heavy dependence on oil, the country seems to be hedging its bets through this fossil fuel scheme. Saudi Arabia has reportedly enlisted the likes of the state-owned Aramco in its quest.
Critics of the plan say any developing country that chooses to rely on fossil fuels in the future risks impacts to its environment and also the grim prospect of being left behind in technological progress on green technologies.
"As an African, I feel insulted that the Saudis think Africa is not ripe for a green economy and just transition," Nigerian environmental activist Akinbode Oluwafemi told CCR and Channel 4. "What Africa needs is sustainable climate financing that will allow the continent to make the transition to a climate resilient economy.”
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