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Oil giant Saudi Arabia pledges ‘net zero’ greenhouse gas emissions by 2060

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince on Oct. 23 set a deadline for his country to produce “net zero” emissions of greenhouse gases 10 years after the United States. (Video: Reuters)

BEIRUT — Saudi Arabia's crown prince pledged Saturday that OPEC's largest producer will reach "net zero" greenhouse gas emissions by 2060, joining other nations in setting ambitious targets before next month's U.N. climate summit.

The announcement was made by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in a televised statement at the kingdom's first Saudi Green Initiative Forum. Previously, the powerful Saudi energy minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, had ridiculed the International Energy Agency's 2050 target for reaching net-zero emissions, calling it "a sequel to [the] 'La La Land' movie."

But there was no indication in Saturday’s announcement that Saudi Arabia aims to slow down its investments in new oil and gas development. The Saudi economy still heavily relies on revenue from fossil fuels, despite an aggressive campaign spearheaded by the crown prince to diversify its commerce away from the production of fossil fuels.

The announcement also provided little detail as to how the kingdom aims to reach its goals and cut emissions in the short term, which experts say is a necessity for capping global warming at the level agreed upon in the 2015 Paris accord.

At next month's COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, more than 100 countries will hold further talks on ways to slow Earth's warming amid alarming evidence that the pace of climate change could be moving faster than earlier predictions.

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The prince emphasized his intention to turn the Saudi capital, Riyadh, into one of world’s most sustainable global cities. He vowed by 2030 to plant 450 million trees, to rehabilitate nearly 20 million acres of land — about the size of South Carolina — and to reduce 278 million tons of carbon emissions a year.

The transition to net-zero carbon emissions, the prince said, will be reached through a “carbon circular economy” — a plan built around initiatives such as recycling and carbon removal — but he gave no specific details.

This transition will be reached in a way that “preserves the kingdom’s leading role in enhancing the security and stability of global energy markets, in light of the maturity and availability of the necessary technologies to manage and lower emissions,” he said.

During the Riyadh forum, the Saudi energy minister said the goal could be achieved earlier than 2060 and would not have any adverse financial or economic impact.

The minister promised that what is happening now “is only a prelude of what kind of a vision we would have that would enable us to build the bridges between sustainability, economic diversity, economic growth and the enhancement of the well-being of Saudi Arabia.”

Saudi Arabia also joined the Global Methane Pledge, an agreement to cut methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030. The pledge has become a high priority for the United States and the European Union. Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s largest producers of natural gas, which is made up almost entirely of methane, much of which leaks into the atmosphere.

About half of the world’s 20 largest emitters have now signed up to reduce their methane, which is one of the most potent greenhouse gases.

Saudi officials and Amin Nasser, chief executive of Saudi oil giant Aramco, expect demand for oil to continue and for it to be the dominant energy source for decades to come, and argue that reducing supply before demand drops risks a dangerous oil price spike, hurting economies such as Saudi Arabia’s that are dependent on oil and gas.

Steven Mufson in Washington contributed to this report.

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