Saudi Arabian oil minister today hinted that the end of fossil fuels will be coming soon, even for his oil-rich nation.
Picture it, a Saudi oil minister walks into a business conference. Nick Stern is there, looking sharp with his 2006 climate change economics under his arm, and so are many others. Then, the minister, who goes by the name Ali Al-Naimi, drops the bomb:
“In Saudi Arabia we recognise that eventually, one of these days, we’re not going to need fossil fuels.”
Although this might sound like one of those hoaxes running wild online, the quote seems to be true. It seems to come from a business conference set in Paris, last Thursday, and it was picked by The Boston Globe and The Finantial Times and subsequently startled yawning twitters in Australia and families dinning in Glasgow. How can this be true?
Well, first things first, Mr. Al-Naimi is not powering down their oil fields tomorrow after breakfast. They will wait for some decades, as he puts it.
“I don’t know when — 2040, 2050 or thereafter. So we have embarked on a program to develop solar energy.”
Still, pretty cool thing to hear from the world’s largest crude exporter, but might be a little bit too late (remember how we need to peak our emissions in the next 5-10 years? We need to leave it on the ground to do so).
Saudi Arabia seems to have understood fossil fuels are not looking that strong anymore. Insted, the kingdom aims to export solar and wind energy, thus becoming a major player in the electricity global market, rather than the fossil fuels one.
“Hopefully, one of these days, instead of exporting fossil fuels, we will be exporting gigawatts of electric power,” said the Saudi minister, quoted on the Boston Globe.
Despite this, the Saudi’s might be planning an odd end-game. They will phase out fossil fuels within the next three decades, but the minister discouraged the idea of keeping the vast majority of the world’s oil and gas reserves underground, saying we should store that “in the back of our heads for a while”.
“Can you afford that today?” he asked other conference speakers, including British economist, Nick Stern
“It may be a great objective but it is going to take a long time.”
Saudi Arabia has yet to deliver on this promise, and the June climate negotiations in Bonn will be a good signal if they are ready to put their money where their mouth is.
Until then, we can rejoice quietly on the idea of the saudis phasing out fossil fuels, but we still need them to push that transition a lot closer to now.