Saudi government document questions environmental impact of renewables

'Renewables are an integral part of the solution.' However, the official's script from Saudi Arabia also noted, 'we must also act immediately to address their lifecycle emissions in the near term. This will require emissions removal.'

Saudi government document questions environmental impact of renewables
Sergei Savostyanov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP
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Saudi Arabia, a nation known for its abundant oil reserves, is calling for international attention to what it perceives as an emerging threat to the Earth's climate: the proliferation of wind and solar power.

This stance is outlined in a document from the Saudi government, Politico reports. The document raises questions about the "lifecycle" greenhouse gas emissions produced by wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources. These sources have gained traction globally as nations seek to replace fossil fuels.

This development emerges as Saudi Arabia intensifies its broader advocacy for costly and largely experimental techniques to extract greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and oceans, presenting them as crucial components in the fight against climate change. However, scientists, environmental advocates, and representatives from island nations at risk argue that the most immediate and necessary solution to climate change is to cease the production and combustion of oil, natural gas, and coal.

Other leading fossil fuel countries, such as the United States, have also shown favor for a technology-focused strategy to diminish carbon pollution, alongside a transition to more sustainable energy sources.

However, Saudi Arabia has taken an additional step in this direction, arguing that carbon removal technologies are necessary to tackle climate pollution originating not only from traditional sources but also from renewable energy equipment like wind turbines and solar panels. This viewpoint was highlighted in the text of a speech, previously undisclosed, scheduled to be delivered before the commencement of the COP28 climate summit last week.

In a closed-door speech to diplomats on October 31, a Saudi official was prepared to contend, as per a copy of the speech, "Renewables are an integral part of the solution." However, the official's script from Saudi Arabia also noted, "we must also act immediately to address their lifecycle emissions in the near term. This will require emissions removal."

“They’ve been at this for years and years and years,” Bill Hare, a climate science adviser to the Caribbean nation of Grenada said. “They come up with all sorts of ways to argue for delay, one way or the other. It’s another twist and turn in their delay playbook.”

Moreover, the Saudi claim regarding significant emissions from the production and installation of renewable energy is "totally exaggerated," according to Hare, who also serves as the CEO of the European think tank Climate Analytics. For example, studies examining the carbon footprint of solar panel-generated electricity have shown that it is substantially smaller compared to that of coal-fired power.

“In the end, the production systems for these technologies are getting cleaner,” Hare said. “So it’s not the overwhelming problem that they claim.”

Hare expressed concern that the discourse from Saudi Arabia and its allies might sway markets by conveying to the financial sector that there is global backing for these emerging carbon technologies. This could potentially shift financial resources and focus away from established strategies to decrease fossil fuel dependence, like the initiation of new renewable energy ventures and the enhancement of efficiency programs.

“It would be a massive victory for those that want to delay action – and delay reducing oil, gas and coal,” Hare stated.

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