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Even Saudi Arabia Seems to Understand the Need to Ditch Fossil Fuels

Saudi Arabia became the latest nation to submit to the United Nations its plan for reducing emissions and boosting renewable energy production ahead of climate talks in Paris later this month.
Photo by Ali Haider/EPA

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Saudi Arabia says it will lean heavily on renewable energy and recapturing emissions to cut its carbon output sharply by 2030 while diversifying its oil-dependent economy.

The Saudis say those technologies and other steps, improving energy efficiency and reducing oilfield methane emissions, can help them cut their emissions by 130 million tons a year — slightly over a quarter of their economy's current emissions of carbon dioxide and other planet-warming greenhouse gases. The kingdom submitted the pledge to the United Nations' climate agency this week ahead of the upcoming Paris conference on curbing global warming.


Oil-exporting heavyweight Saudi Arabia was the largest fossil-fuel producer that hadn't submitted its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution to the United Nations before this week.

Thanks Saudi Arabia for #INDC - 158th Party to submit #climateaction plan ahead of #COP21

— Christiana Figueres (@CFigueres) November 10, 2015

The kingdom was the world's 10th-largest carbon emitter in 2013. Its current estimated output is about 470 million tons a year, according to the nonprofit World Resources Institute. And the world's drive to head off climate change has put it in a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't situation: Climate change will pose extensive challenges to the desert nation, while a global drive to reduce fossil fuels jeopardizes its oil-driven economy.

The Saudis say they'll use their oil revenues in the coming decade to reshape their economy, boosting "high value-added sectors" like finance, medicine, and renewable power — solar, wind and geothermal.

"Economic diversification is a key factor influencing the stability and sustainability of the growth of any country's economy, hence an economy's reliance on one income resource puts at risk its ability to maintain a level of growth in the long run," the Saudi INDC reads.

Saudi Arabia has also bet heavily on carbon capture and storage, an ambitious but still-nascent technology that supporters hope will be able to suck large volumes of carbon dioxide out of the air. The Saudis are pledging to build the world's largest carbon-capture plant, one that would allow them "to capture and purify about 1,500 tons of CO2 a day for use in other petrochemical plants."

Related: Persian Gulf Nations Might Be Screwed No Matter What the World Does About Climate Change