Negotiators from developing countries have accused Saudi Arabia, a fossil-fuel superpower, of blocking progress at the Paris climate talks. “They are seeing the writing on the wall,” says Wael Hmaidan, the director of Climate Action Network International. “The world is changing and it’s making them very nervous.” Although specific rules have yet to be established, the climate talks present a breakthrough opportunity for a global shift away from fossil fuels. This prospect is concerning for Saudi Arabia, a nation that has built its powerful economy around its enormous oil reserves.

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Ali Al-Naimi, Saudi Arabia Minister of Petroleum, Saudi Arabia climate talks

The recent decline in global oil prices has already shaken the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest producer of oil until the United States dethroned it in 2014. Although Saudi Arabia seeks to take advantage of its rich solar resources, its highly centralized economy and political system is threatened by a decline in global fossil fuels consumption.

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In Paris, this has resulted in Saudi obstruction. Saudi representatives have objected to limiting global warming to 1.5C, an ambitious goal supported by more than 100 countries, including large emitters such as the United States and the European Union. The Saudis also have protested the idea that the global economy could become carbon-free by 2050.

Measures of accountability are important to implementing such a complicated deal, but Saudi Arabia refuses to participate in periodic reviews of climate plans going forward. “It is unacceptable for developing countries, like my own, to be asked to participate in this so called ratchet mechanism,” said one Saudi representative at the Paris conference. The world’s 15th largest economy, Saudi Arabia has played a pivotal role in the extraction and distribution of oil for the past century. The authoritarian nation has maintained a close relationship with the West, which has consumed this oil to produce most of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions already in the atmosphere.

Saudi Arabia’s reluctance to accept its responsibilities has angered other members of the Arab League. Although Egypt has agreed to a 1.5C goal, the larger Arab League has not done the same. As Morocco prepares to host next year’s UN climate talks, expectations are high for action from the Arab countries. “We feel Saudi Arabia is playing a bully role in undermining the position of other Arab countries,” Hmaidan says. “It is unfortunate that the Arab group is the only group opposing 1.5C.”

Via The Guardian

Images via CarbonBrief/IISD and Grist/Reuters