Inside the Saudi Strategy to Keep the World Hooked on Oil

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Saudi Arabia’s strategy is playing out at global climate talks.

Back in March, when, Saudi Arabia and Russia pushed to delete a reference to “human-induced climate change” from a policy document at a United Nations meeting, Valérie Masson-Delmotte, a French climate scientist leading the session, fought back and won.

“It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the climate,” she later said. “This is the reason why I took the floor to argue.”

The Saudi intervention was the latest example of what other negotiators describe as a yearslong effort to slow progress by homing in on scientific uncertainties, downplaying the consequences, emphasizing the costs of climate action and delaying negotiations on procedural points.

Last year, Saudi Arabia successfully helped strike a sentence from a United Nations report that called for an active phaseout of fossil fuels. The statement “limits options for decision makers,” a Saudi adviser to the kingdom’s minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources said, according to documents leaked by the environmental group Greenpeace. “Omit the sentence.”

“They have a strategic agenda, said Saleemul Huq, director of the International Center for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh, “which is they don’t want anything to happen.”

At the latest round of talks in Egypt, Saudi Arabia highlighted an alternative vision, one that relies on large-scale carbon capture and storage. By 2027, the kingdom will build a facility capable of storing as much carbon dioxide as 2 million gasoline cars would emit in a year.

That would be a breakthrough, because carbon capture has yet to be proven at scale. Yet it was Saudi Arabia’s way of preparing for a warming world, said Adel al-Jubeir, the kingdom’s climate envoy. “In Saudi Arabia, we’re committed to being ahead of it.”

Vivian Nereim contributed reporting from Riyadh, and Lisa Friedmanfrom Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.

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