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Katowice (Poland) -13 December 2018 – A battle took place last weekend in the negotiating rooms of the UN climate talks, around whether countries should “welcome” or just “note” the findings of the latest IPCC report on the impacts of 1.5 raise in temperature.

Saudi Arabia and Kuwait were excluded from the Arab squadron when they rejected the term “welcome”, a less weighty term in the UN’s language.

What worries Saudi Arabia and the oil-producing countries in the region is that the report – which was commissioned by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and requested by countries at COP21 in Paris 2015 – believes that the current work being done will lead us to an increase beyond 3 degrees and therefore all countries need to be more ambitious.  

What is happening right now is that the developed countries are trying to pressure us into submitting to their demands and giving us responsibility for what they have done,“ said Dr. Ayman Shasly the lead Saudi negotiator. “We are not blocking the negotiations, what the media is saying isn’t right. we are simply seeking justice, asking for our right in development in all sectors and our future generations’ right in living.”

The battle for terms

The drama started when the Maldives, speaking on behalf of the alliance of small island states, requested to change the wording to “welcome” rather than “noted” and this was quickly backed by several countries, leaving US, Russia, Saudi and Kuwait alone in the corner of science deniers.

The lead negotiator of the Saudi delegation and spokesman for the Group of Arab States described what happened as a “political game”, describing the Maldives as trying to attract media attention to the topic and making the Arab group appearing as the “bad guys”

The 1.5 report is not complete, it shows that humanity is within walking distance of falling from a cliff, but it does not mention how we got here in the first place,” says Dr. Ayman Shasly.  

Saudi and Kuwait believe that welcoming this report will give it more legitimacy and they cannot agree to that because “using words such as welcome, encourage, appreciate gives the report more legitimacy and I think this report is not complete and it doesn’t give enough information on what we need to do and who should do it, or even the needed finance in order to achieve 1.5,” says dr.Ayman.

Why does Saudi Arabia consider this report to be unfair?

The UNFCCC is based on equity, I do not see the equity in making us pay for what developed countries have caused,” says Dr.Ayman

The IPCC warns us that in order to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement and keep temperature increases below 1.5C or 2C, the global economy would have to reduce its emissions to net zero by 2050 for a 1.5C trajectory and reduce the emissions by 45% from 2010.

Now this is a problem for Saudi because between 1990 and 2013, Saudi’s CO2 emissions increased by 75% and therefore the recommendation of the reports puts them under great pressure, considering they have the 2nd highest CO2 per capita emissions in the G20 and 87% of the country’s budget depends on fossil fuels industries.

The IPCC should have mentioned how countries who made this problem happen need to start acting now and other countries such as arab countries can have the chance to develop and reach the level of other developed nations,” says Dr. Ayman

Dr. Ayman Shasly, Saudi Arabia. (Source: IISD)

Is it just the Saudis?

Our role is to make sure that all Arab countries get the chance to develop and not be pressured for something they did not contribute to,” says Dr.Ayman “What developed countries did throughout history deprived us of our right to develop and provide a suitable life for our nations without economic crisis and hunger.

Kuwait has backed Saudi’s position in the negotiations and spoke on behalf of the whole arab region during the plenary discussions on the 1.5 report.

We are okay with the idea that Saudi Arabia should remain a locomotive for the Arab world by virtue of its position as one of the world’s largest oil producers, its religious symbolism and “richness” but we are not with its position on the 1.5 report,” says a representative of the Moroccan delegation.

The Tunisian delegation also does not line up behind the Saudi stance but “do not see it as something that will block the world’s path towards limiting greenhouse temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”

We will wait till June to negotiate again on this topic, the Arab group is very open to negotiating but we will not be pressured into submitting to anything that denies us from our right to develop,” a representative from the Tunisian delegation added.

The negotiations are still going on and countries are trying to come up with a rulebook that could change the Paris Agreement to a workable reality  “The Paris Agreement is a balanced agreement that managed to bring in all countries and we expect that the rulebook will have the same level of balance.” said Dr. Ayman

Lina Yassin

About Lina Yassin

Lina Yassin is a chemical engineering student and Climate Tracker's MENA Programme Manager. Lina is passionate about engaging and raising the level of environmental awareness among the youth.