Saudi Oil Minister Calls Renewable Energy a "Nightmare"

oil drums saudi arabia photo

This week, executives of major oil companies met at the Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA) annual conference in Houston, Texas and (finally!) expressed a willingness to help combat global climate change.  This is a major step, because these companies denied the existence of global warming and deliberately tried to obstruct political progress on the issue for decades.

Unfortunately, not everyone was equally supportive of transitioning to a renewable energy economy.  In a speech to conference participants, Saudi Arabia’s Oil Minister Ali Naimi warned that promoting the rapid growth of renewable energy without continuing to invest in oil would create a “nightmare scenario.”

“We must be mindful that efforts to rapidly promote alternatives could have a ‘chilling effect’ on investment in the oil sector,” he said. “A nightmare scenario would be created if alternative energy supplies fail to meet overly optimistic expectations, while traditional energy suppliers scale back investment.”

Although Mr. Naimi, an influential voice in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), acknowledged that the world is moving away from fossil fuels, he indicated renewable energy technologies may be unable to grow to the same scale as crude oil.

He called the current energy infrastucture “highly efficient and economical,” and said the costs of replacing it with alternatives would be “prohibitive” in the short term. “A prudent approach demands we recognize that the massive scale of the global energy system makes rapid change costly and impractical,” he said.

At the Poznan climate talks last year, Wael Hmaidan of the Arab Climate Alliance commented that oil wealthy countries, especially Saudi Arabia, rely on the world’s oil dependence as a source of political power, so they act to obstruct or diminish the political will for clean, renewable energy.

The timing of Mr. Naimi’s statement strikes me as suspicious, and seem to confirm Mr. Hmaidan’s conclusions.  Crude oil prices are very low, surely affecting the economies of oil-producing nations (many of which are right here in the Middle East).  OPEC members have even postponed 35 oil-production projects in development because oil prices are so low.  Meanwhile, the new Obama administration has already signaled its commitment to renewable energy and to both domestic and international climate mitigation, which will likely further diminish both the profits and political bargaining chips of oil-rich nations.

All of these facts leave me wondering whether Mr. Naimi’s remarks reflect a genuine concern for the health of the global economy, or a continuation of the international power politics and individual greed that imperil our climate and the future of our world.

:: Environmental Capital – WSJ

Image: Ezioman

For more on renewable energy in the Middle East:
Even Oil Rich Gulf Countries Look to Renewable Energy
Israel, Egypt & Abu Dhabi All Set Renewable Energy Goals

Masdar “Zero Carbon” Super City Breaks Ground This Month in Abu Dhabi

About Rachel Bergstein

When her vegan summer camp counselor explained to a fifteen-year-old Rachel how the dairy industry pollutes the groundwater in poor rural communities and causes global warming, there was no turning back. Her green fire lit, Rachel became increasingly passionate about the relationship between human societies and the natural environment, particularly about the systemic injustices associated with environmental degradation.After snagging a B.A. in Peace and Justice Studies at the University of Maryland, where she wrote an undergraduate thesis on water injustice in Israel/Palestine and South Africa, Rachel was awarded the New Israel Fund/Shatil’s Rabbi Richard J. Israel Social Justice Fellowship to come and spread the green gospel in Israel for the 2009-2010 academic year. She currently interns for Friends of the Earth Middle East in their Tel Aviv office.When Rachel is not having anxiety about her ecological footprint, carbon and otherwise, she can be found in hot pursuit of the best vegetarian food Tel Aviv has to offer. She also blogs about her experience as an NIF fellow and environmentalist in Israel at can be reached at rachelbergstein (at) gmail (dot) com.

6 thoughts on “Saudi Oil Minister Calls Renewable Energy a "Nightmare"”

  1. Nisar Ahmad says:

    I beleive that “Renewable Energy” is the call of time. Saudi Minister must propose alternatives rather than resisting change.

  2. Yousef says:

    The Oil supply constraints in the last 5 years were caused by a sharp shortfall in investment back in the late 1990’s. Mr. Naimi was simply warning against such under-investment that may lead to even worse oil shocks in the future.

    What a cheap shot!

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