Saudi Arabia isolated as UN climate talks make progress

By Ed King

Saudi Arabia signalled its determination to block an ambitious global climate treaty yesterday, warning countries tough mitigation targets would be “highly political” and leave a “bad taste”.

The world’s second largest oil producer could find the value of its huge reserves  steadily decrease if nations commit to a legally binding deal in 2015.

Intervening in discussions at UN negotiations in Bonn, one of the country’s delegation made clear its opposition to moves that could jeopardise its main export.

“We need to be extremely careful,” he said. “Mitigation is an action done for an environmental reason which has great implications on other areas – economic and social.

“These are areas which are highly political and sensitive. Many parties feel there are great implications – social and economic. We know these areas.”

He added: “Do we want to spend these two years in a debate… losing efforts and time on highly political efforts…whatever agreement that comes out will have a bad taste.”

Government officials, climate experts and NGO observers are in Bonn for the first week of Durban Platform negotiations (Pic: Sébastien Duyck)

While Saudi Arabia has a reputation for frustrating discussions at the UN talks, these were surprising remarks given the context of discussions, which were aimed at highlighting effective green growth strategies.

Representatives from 195 states are in Bonn this week to discuss what a global climate deal could look like, but with just over two years until it is scheduled to be agreed, time is running short.

“Let’s hope we could do better than you indicated”, session chair Harald Dovland, a former lead negotiator for Norway, said when the Saudi intervention concluded.

Other parties offered more positive perspectives on how climate action and green growth could be integrated into economic planning.

“We see it not to put a brake on development but as a better model,” said Mexico’s delegation. “It’s not a question of whether we will take part. We have identified clear co benefits.”

Mexico has some of the toughest climate legislation in the world, and despite fears new President Pena Nieto would backtrack on laws agreed in 2012, the government appears content to maintain energy efficiency and renewables incentives.


Saudi Arabia’s isolation was illustrated by additional statements backing low carbon development from Norway, Ethiopia, Senegal, Japan, South Korea, Samoa, China, the EU and Canada.

Ethiopia’s delegate said the country is on course to operate a carbon neutral electricity system by 2014, based on hydropower, solar and thermal sources, adding that the government had targeted a carbon neutral economy by 2025,

“Whether the world likes it or not sooner or later the whole of humanity has to shift to fight global emission,” he said.

“If we start from the beginning not being locked into a high economic growth in the long run it is to our advantage, more importantly we are in Africa – the continent that is more or less equally divided by equator and where consequently global warming is going to be the most intense.”

Canada has recently courted bad publicity for abandoning a UN drought treaty and ditching the Kyoto Protocol, but its statement pointed to the health bonuses of abandoning fossil fuels.

Legislation to phase out coal power plants that did not use carbon capture and storage technology would provide benefits of $7 billion, their delegate said.

China added that access to technology would determine how successful the world is at meeting emission targets, calling for greater focus on allowing developing nations to exploit existing clean energy solutions.

Zou-Ji, Deputy Director General at the National Center for Climate Change said his department had identified 40 technologies they would exploit if intellectual property rights could be negotiated.

“Energy efficiency should be the priority in the coming years, especially in terms of international cooperation,” he said.

“We can do better sector by sector, such as cement and steel, and develop more opportunities for joint research and development.”

Talks will continue this week and resume in June before heading to Warsaw for the main Conference of the Parties in November.

On Monday UN climate chief Christiana Figueres called on all participants to realise the urgency of the situation, given recent reports from the USA that the world is about to hit a new record for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

“We are just about to cross the 400 parts per million threshold, hence this conference meets in a heightened sense of urgency,” she said.

“We must meet the deadlines set by the UNFCCC’s Conference of the Parties. The ADP working group has already used one third of the time allocated, so we must use the remaining time wisely.”

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