With only three days left from the Paris Climate Summit, the time for populist talks has passed, and we’re expecting concrete solutions. But one of the largest oil producers in the world is getting in the way of a deal, making implausible objections.

Ali bin Ibrahim Al-Naimi, minister of petroleum and mineral resources

More and more fingers are being pointed at Saudi Arabia, who stands accused of trying to wreck the climate deal. More and more groups from the conference are becoming vocal about what the kingdom is doing, and why they’re doing it:

“They are seeing the writing on the wall,” said Wael Hmaidan , director of Climate Action Network, the global campaign group. “The world is changing and it’s making them very nervous.”

Their concern is that their economy is based strictly on oil, and couldn’t adapt to a renewable future.

“Anything that would increase ambition or fast forward this energy transition that is already taking place is something that they try to block,” Hmaidan said.

Saudi Arabia at COP21

No one was available for comment regarding this issue, but the Saudis had a very nice (and large) pavilion, and many representatives were eager to tell us about their projects for a sustainable future. We had our doubts about this – how could the inhabitants of a country where water is more expensive than oil be expected to support a shift from fossil fuels? Was it all nation-wide greenwashing, or was it serious talk? Last month Saudi Arabia proposed a “significant deviation” in emissions, but was the last G20 country to submit its offer to the United Nations – and many have regarded their targets as opaque.

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In many ways, they hold a very complicated position; on one hand, they hold very large oil reserves and would financially have much to lose if people stop buying oil from them, but on the other hand, they are geographically very vulnerable to the adverse effects of global warming and other climate change-induced extreme weather phenomena. In addition, as a fast-growing economy, Saudi Arabia is experiencing a rapid growth in demand for energy, as well as demands to diversity their energy sources.

So, on stage, at a discourse level, they’ve made efforts to be perceived as a country with vast resources that wants to change for a sustainable future, but behind closed doors, they’ve vehemently opposed any climate pact.

“It is unacceptable for developing countries, like my own, to be asked to participate in this so called ratchet mechanism,” the Saudis were reported to have told the session. “It was tough, we had to go to every ministry, every part of government. We developing countries don’t have the capacity to do this every five years. We are too poor, we have too many other priorities. It’s unacceptable,” a Saudi delegate said.


First of all, they’re not as “developing” as they’d want people to think. With a GDP per capita of over $24.000 / year, they’re doing better than European countries like Portugal or the Czech Republic, and way better than Brazil or Russia. Their GPD/capita is 5 times larger than that of Iran – heck, they’re the 15th largest economy in the world! They’re hardly in a position to complain about being poor and not affording to do something most countries in the world, especially those much poorer than them have already agreed to do.

Unreasonable objections

As if that wasn’t enough, they came up with another unreasonable claim: if Pacific islands are to be compensated for the damage they suffer due to climate change, Saudi Arabia also wants to be compensated for loss of future oil income! It doesn’t work like that, guys. The idea is to compensate the areas that suffering from climate change that is none of their fault – not to reward those who have been pushing the usage of fossil fuels for decades. Saudi Arabia even asked for financial support to develop renewable technologies – after they told the press that they are already developing these technologies.

Their objections are becoming so absurd that even other countries from the Arab bloc are distancing themselves. Egypt officially embraced the 1.5C goal at the start of the talks, something which the Saudis were opposed to.

“We feel Saudi Arabia is playing a bully role in undermining the position of other Arab countries,” Hmaidan said. “It is unfortunate that the Arab group is the only group opposing 1.5C.”