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Tue 22 Nov 2011 03:44 PM

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OPEC 'pays more than fair share' on climate action

Gulf state should take seriously the risk of oil peaking in 2050, says its chief negotiator

OPEC 'pays more than fair share' on climate action
The oil cartel OPEC is opposed to emission-cutting targets such as the Kyoto Protocol

Saudi Arabia and its OPEC partners are asked to bear too much of the burden of cutting greenhouse-gas emissions because of their economic dependence on oil and gas exports, the kingdom’s climate envoy said.

“Climate policies on the international level are mainly targeting the transportation sector, so they will impact the demand for oil,” Mohammed al-Sabban, the country’s chief negotiator at talks on global climate change, said in Riyadh. Saudi Arabia should “take seriously” the potential impact of oil demand peaking in 2050, he said.

Members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, which supply 40 percent of the world's oil, are opposed to emissions reductions targets imposed on industrialized nations by the Kyoto Protocol that threaten global oil demand growth.

Saudi Arabia has asked for compensation for the loss of income from oil sales as consumers look to obtain energy from cleaner fuels such as natural gas or renewable energy.

UN climate negotiators gather in Durban, South Africa, on Nov 28 for two weeks of talks aimed at agreeing a successor to the present commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, which obliges developed countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions by about 5 percent below 21990 levels by 2012.

A second commitment period of the protocol faces many difficulties because of the huge differences between nations, and the outlook for a renewal or new treaty is “very narrow,” al-Sabban said. Instead, countries have started to implement their own local policies, he said.

“The momentum is there,” said al-Sabban, speaking at an energy conference.

“Different countries are taking their own actions without waiting for global policies. We see different visions being put into place by different countries, so while there is a reluctance to participate in legally binding agreements, they are going ahead with domestic policy changes.”

Saudi Arabia is pushing for carbon capture and storage to be included in the Clean Development Mechanism, the second-biggest carbon market that was set up by the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. Carbon capture, or CCS, is an experimental technology that siphons off carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and factories and pumps the gas underground for permanent storage.

 “We are facing a lot of resistance internationally to have CCS included in the CDM,” al-Sabban said. “All depends on the future of Kyoto. Industrialized countries are not willing to go for a second commitment period. And if there is no second period, there is no CDM.”

Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, is focusing on developing solar power plants as it seeks to reduce its own use of crude to generate power, al-Sabban said. The kingdom’s energy use may be 8 million barrels of oil equivalent a day by 2035, according to Khalil al-Shafie, interim president of King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center.

That’s almost two thirds of its total oil output capacity of 12.5 million barrels a day.

“It is risky to go on doing what we are doing,” said al- Sabban. “We are doing a lot to diversify, but we are still far behind reaching a full diversification of our economy. Industrialized nations have said: we don’t want your oil, so let us not be under any illusion that oil demand won’t change.”

OPEC’s members are Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela.

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