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Saudi Oil Minister Calls Global Warming “Humanity’s Most Pressing Concern”

By Stephen Lacey on January 31, 2012 at 12:22 pm

"Saudi Oil Minister Calls Global Warming “Humanity’s Most Pressing Concern”"

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Americans use the term “Saudi Arabia of” to describe an abundance of something — usually energy. We are the “Saudi Arabia of wind,” the “Saudi Arabia of coal,” the “Saudi Arabia of efficiency,” and so on and on and on.

I’ve come to jokingly use this term for anything really huge.  (We are, after all, the Saudi Arabia of climate denial.) So in true American spirit, I am dubbing yesterday’s speech by Saudi Arabia’s Oil Minister Ali Al-Naimi the Saudi Arabia of bold statements.

In a speech at the Middle East and North Africa energy conference in London yesterday, Al-Naimi — who once called renewable energy a “nightmare” — hailed energy efficiency and solar as important investments, global warming “real” and “pressing,” and explained that drilling for oil “does not create many jobs.”

“We know that pumping oil out of the ground does not create many jobs. It does not foster an entrepreneurial spirit, nor does it sharpen critical faculties.”

In the U.S., which is definitely not the Saudi Arabia of oil (that would be Saudi Arabia), there is a major industry campaign underway to convince Americans that drilling for fossil fuels will create over a million jobs in the country. However, assuming we drill virtually everywhere possible in America, credible analysis puts the real figure at a small fraction of that claim.

Even the Saudis, who pump out 12% of the world’s oil, understand that simply drilling for more oil isn’t a long-term economic strategy.

A business-as-usual path also puts us deeper into environmental debt, a point that the Saudi oil minister seems to understand as well. While Al-Naimi said he believes that oil production “will continue to play a major role in the overall energy mix for many decades,” he also made some very explicit statements about carbon emissions:

“Greenhouse gas emissions and global warming are among humanity’s most pressing concerns. Societal expectations on climate change are real, and our industry is expected to take a leadership role.”

It’s still not really clear what that “leadership role” is — except to pump out more oil and gas. Although, Al-Naimi did give a plug to efficiency and renewables as increasingly important part of the country’s energy strategy:

“The efficient use of energy is as much an issue for Saudi Arabia, with its huge natural resources, as it is for all countries. Increased efficiency makes sense environmentally, but also economically.”

“We are striving, also, to raise awareness among the public, and specifically addressing children and schools about the tangible benefits of energy efficiency. And we are investing manpower, and brainpower, in efforts to develop new thinking when it comes to energy efficiency.”

“I see renewable energy sources as supplementing existing sources, helping to prolong our continued export of crude oil. And this is why we are investing in solar energy, which we also have in abundance. The Kingdom experiences roughly 3,000 hours of sunshine per year, emitting about 7,000 watts of energy per square metre. Saudi Arabia also features empty stretches of desert that can host solar arrays and it is blessed with deposits of quartz that can be used in the manufacture of silicon photovoltaic cells.”

Saudi Arabia is considering a renewable energy law that would help promote a modest increase in solar photovoltaics, solar thermal, biogas and waste-heat-to-energy. However, if the strategy is seen only as a way to “prolong continued export of crude,” it doesn’t really match Al-Naimi’s statement that carbon-based resources are “among humanity’s most pressing concerns.”

Indeed, the gap between rhetoric and the pace of change in global energy production is one big Saudi Arabia of contradictions.

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20 Responses to Saudi Oil Minister Calls Global Warming “Humanity’s Most Pressing Concern”

  1. prokaryotes says:

    I wonder what it took them so long to realize this. After all they are at one of the many epicenter of climate disruption. I can just wonder how they plan to survive there in the desert.

  2. SecularAnimist says:

    Al-Naimi’s comments about Saudi Arabia’s vast solar energy resources are right on point.

    Indeed, Saudi Arabia could become the Saudi Arabia of solar energy.

  3. Mike Roddy says:

    At least Al-Naimi is better than the heads of our own fossil fuel companies. He’s stuck in the same trap, considering renewables to be supplements, not replacements. Like Koch and Tillerson, he is counting on the huge money in the next couple of decades, as dwindling reserves and higher prices make princes of everyone in the oil business.

    Secular, you’re right about the Arabian desert as a great place for solar. Don’t expect more than demonstration projects for a long time, though.

  4. prokaryotes says:

    Masdar, Abu Dhabi Planned City, Will Lead Way In Low-Carbon Development

    Posted: 01/25/2012 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/25/masdar-abu-dhabi-planned-city_n_1229311.html

    This was planed bigger first, then watered down.

  5. Cal Morton says:

    I’ll give him credit for just having a strategy – even if it is to use the free fuel from the sun in order to save the stuff underground to sell to chumps like us – we’ll never have a national energy strategy.

  6. fj says:

    Yes it is humanity’s most pressing concern. It will be forcing everything. Really naive, ignorant, useless, etc., when plans are made that do not consider climate change

    Netzero2020 means we start acting on it with the due urgency of the scientific and ultimate economic reality.

    Bizarre that a commenter on this blog and apparent climate hawk compared it to Newt Gingrich’s moon colonization indicating the lack of understanding of the general scale and complexity of what is going on.

    As netzero2020 in many instances can make money in a real short time. The RMI/Johnson Controls/etc. Empire State Building retrofit cost about $4 million, will payback in something like 4 years and pay a dividend in the form of $1 million per year in savings for years thereafter.

    Just imagine if extremely expensive New York City real estate had not been mucked up, but had been left the pristine Eden as the early explorers described it; the value would now be astronomical!

    In any case, eco-systems are so very badly undervalued that monetary values have no meaning.

  7. Solar Jim says:

    Even as humanity sets up the conditions (massive carbonic acid contamination) for nuking the climate and civilization, this hypocrisy of goals is exceeded by the definition of petroleum as an “energy resource.” It is not, as it is a state of matter, and is perversely defined only because of human instigated ignition.

    It is precisely the oxidation of ancient, buried carbon (such as petroleum) that will destroy the livable climate. In fact, there is some evidence (Yale, Rice, UCLA) our current carbonic contamination will raise oceans by many building stories, and that it is on an exponentially rising curve now.

    I suggest the minister rethink his nation’s future and get off oil by aggressive cleantech economic diversification. Become the Saudi Arabia of Sun.

  8. A Jessen says:

    Interesting, and nice to see the acknowledgement of the world’s situation. Not that this concept of efficiency combined with supplemental renewables (at least to the extent of freeing up more ‘product’ for export) is terribly inconvenient given that producers can manipulate markets. So if we see a 25% reduction in usage, they can twist a few valves, make their supply last longer, and jack up the price. It’s a potential win-win. We just drag the carbon transfer process out a bit longer. That is, assuming efficiency gains outpace new demand from the many millions of new vehicles coming onto the world’s roads.

  9. Lou Grinzo says:

    What is Saudi Arabia’s greatest economic fear? That importing countries will flee from oil use as quickly as they can. What will make those countries act that way? Not the slow rise of oil prices, as we’ve seen. But an admission that Saudi Arabian exports are set to fall off a cliff due to a combination of their decades old giant and super giant fields peaking, plus skyrocketing domestic consumption (leaving less for export) just might. Therefore, better to help nudge demand in a direction that will delay or avoid that wake-up moment.

    With the vast amounts of money at stake, I don’t trust Al-Naimi any more or less than I trust the Koch brothers, BP, ExxonMobil, et al.

  10. Carl Jones says:

    Creation has been superseded by death. Mankind continues to plunder the wealth of the nature, our very air. The ultimate sin is underway, extermination of us all.

  11. prokaryotes says:

    The Saudis should make some commitment to their words (other than Masdar which has been delayed now 15 years ^^).

    VIDEO: The Dirty Energy Propaganda Of Saudi-Owned Fox News http://thinkprogress.org/green/2011/11/16/369755/video-the-dirty-energy-propaganda-of-saudi-owned-fox-news/

  12. Billyant says:

    Too bad someone can’t convince the Tea Party and Fox News that global warming is real and caused by CO2 emissions from oil and coal.

  13. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    Said:”Greenhouse gas emissions and global warming are among humanity’s most pressing concerns”
    Means: Ain Dar, the best bit Ghawar is almost dry. The comming reductions in Saudi productions are not because they cannot pump it any faster, but because the Saudis are concerned for our welfare.

    • bratisla says:

      Yup, they are shifting narrative since they realized that the end of their wealth is far nearer than thought. And they are not dumb : they see China beginning to take the lead on renewables, and they want to get a better deal for solar energy than they got for oil.
      They also shift for nuclear energy : a nuclear plant will be built shortly near the Kuwait border.

  14. Unidyne says:

    “My grandfather rode a camel, my father rode a camel, I drive a Mercedes, my son drives a Land Rover, his son will drive a Land Rover, but his son will ride a camel.” – Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Emir of Dubai (1912-1990)

  15. NJP1 says:

    Pumping oil out of the ground, (along with coal and gas) creates virtually all or jobs. That is the unacknowledged danger within our developed society as we insist that we can support our infrastructure on renewable energy.
    It just isn’t possible, we’ve spent 200 years building our lives on the products of hydrocarbons, its derivatives are literally countless. Alternative energy means (primarily) electrical energy, which of itself provides relatively few jobs.
    Employment, in the context of modern industry needs a balance of energy and raw materials, and a steady market for what that combination produces. Energy of itself has no end value unless it can produce something for people to make and sell. (our ‘market economy’)
    Until now, those products have been artifacts of minerals (iron and steel etc) or hydrocarbons, (plastics, fertilizers, etc.) or combinations of the two (cars, aircraft) there are a few minor exceptions, but not many.
    We can have an over abundance of electrical energy, but without material input, can anyone suggest a use for it that doesn’t involve an end product that is manufactured from an input of other (finite) resources?

  16. Brett says:

    Don’t trust a word the Saudis say. They have no interest in renewables and have demonstrated this by lack of action in their own country. Their worry is that America will develop domestic shale oil and will become less dependant on Middle East crude. Their fake environmental concern is obviously self-serving and dishonest.

  17. alistair leslie says:

    Short-term politics are the norm today .
    Who is standimg up for tomorrow’s child?