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.
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