x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Saudis say trust in climate science 'shaken'

Riyadh is adopting a tough stance at the Copenhagen summit. It is refusing to take any action to combat global warming that might affect the kingdom's economy,

Environmental activists dressed as stopwatches stand outside the venue of the Copenhagen summit on Monday.
Environmental activists dressed as stopwatches stand outside the venue of the Copenhagen summit on Monday.

Saudi Arabia, the world's largest exporter of oil, has renewed its hardline stance that it will oppose any action taken at the Copenhagen summit to combat global warming that might hurt the kingdom's economy. Saudia Arabia said at the opening day of the summit yesterday that its trust in climate science had been "shaken" by recently leaked e-mails in Britain between top scientists tied to the government. Some of the e-mails allegedly indicate that data had been manipulated to support the argument that the Earth's climate is warming. Riyadh called for an investigation into the matter.

Speaking after the United Nation's panel of climate scientists strongly defended the findings that humans are warming the planet, Mohammad al Sabban, the lead Saudi Arabian climate negotiator, said: "The level of confidence is certainly shaken. We believe this scandal is definitely going to affect the nature of what can be fostered [in Copenhagen]. "The size of [economic] sacrifices must be built on a secure foundation of information, which we found now is not true," Mr al Sabban said, according to Agence France-Presse.

Mr al Sabban called for an "independent" international investigation, but said that the UN climate science body was unqualified to carry it out. "The IPCC, which is the authority accused, is not going to be able to conduct the investigation," he said, referring to the Nobel Prize winning UN Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change. The Saudi negotiator rejected the IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri's defence of the integrity of the panel's findings - delivered earlier in the plenary session - as "general statements".

"In light of recent information - the scientific scandal has assumed huge proportions," Mr al Sabban said. The e-mails issue arose two weeks ago when hundreds of messages between scientists at the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit and their peers around the world were posted on the internet, along with other documents, after they were accessed by unknown hackers. The e-mails, some written as long as 13 years ago, showed that top climate change scientists had manipulated evidence to support the case that climate change is a result of human activities.

Sayed al Kholi, the vice president of the Cairo-based Centre for Environment and Development for the Arab Region and Europe, writing in the Saudi daily Okaz on Sunday, argued that the e-mail revelation added weight to the position of Saudi negotiators and other developing countries in Copenhagen - that wealthy countries should pay compensation to oil producers if they cut their oil consumption. "Saudi negotiators will reject 'hasty' measures that will affect [the country's] economic growth and they will insist on not letting industrial nations run away from their obligations to solve [global warming] that they caused through the years when they saw economic growth," Mr al Kholi wrote.

The Finnish Institute of International Affairs issued a briefing paper on December 1 entitled "Bargaining in the Saudi Bazaar: Common Ground for a Post-2012 Climate Agreement", in which it stated that the Saudis were following a strategy to hinder the development of climate negotiations or new climate protocols that might affect its oil revenues. Mr al Kholi said in response to the Finnish paper that despite the criticism, Saudi negotiators had asked industrial nations to provide Riyadh with the technology and know-how to develop clean energy.

Saudi Arabia is a signatory of the Kyoto Protocol, a global treaty intended to achieve stabilisation of greenhouse gases such as methane and carbon dioxide (CO2) at the atmospheric level. But the Saudi government has opposed any global action to reduce emissions that would affect the price or supply of oil. It has, however, invested US$300 million (Dh1.1 billion) in research on cutting CO2 emissions and protecting the environment.

Climate change is not a common topic of discussion in Saudi Arabia, which has one of the world's highest per capita levels of CO2 production, as the kingdom relies heavily on fossil fuel to produce electricity, according to a United Nations report. The UN Development Programme's Human Development Report for 2007/2008 showed that Saudi produced an average of 13.6 tonnes of CO2 per person, accounting for 1.1 per cent of global emissions with only 0.4 per cent of the world's population.

"If all countries in the world were to emit CO2 at levels similar to Saudi Arabia's, we would exceed our sustainable carbon budget by approximately 511 per cent," the report said. wmahdi@thenational.ae